Sathya Sai Baba passes away, leaving millions to grieve (Roundup)

April 24th, 2011 - 8:20 pm ICT by IANS  

Manmohan Singh Puttaparthi (Andhra Pradesh), April 24 (IANS) Sathya Sai Baba, who remained one of India’s most revered spiritual leaders, passed away here Sunday after prolonged illness, plunging millions of his followers across the world into gloom. He was 85.

Sai Baba, whom many worshipped as god despite attacks from critics, breathed his last at the Sathya Sai Super-speciality hospital, where he was admitted March 28 with cardiac problems.

The spiritual guru’s last rites will be performed Wednesday morning with state honours. Andhra Pradesh has declared four days mourning.

Thousands of devotees, from commoners to VIPs and celebrities, are making their way to this pilgrim town for a last glimpse of Sai Baba, whose body lies in state at the Sai Kulwant Hall of Prashanti Nilayam, the ashram he founded.

A final “darshan” of the hugely worshipped face will, however, not be possible for the tens of thousands of his followers arriving in Puttaparthi because Sai Baba’s body lies fully wrapped in saffron cloth.

“Sri Sathya Sai Baba is no more with us. He left his physical body at 7.40 a.m. April 24, 2011 due to cardio-respiratory failure,” said a statement from the hospital released around 10.30 a.m.

The body was shifted from the hospital to Prashanti Nilayam in the evening, where it will be kept till Wednesday for his devotees to pay homage.

Prashanti Nilayam, where heads of states and prime ministers used to forego protocol to seek his blessings, will also become the guru’s last abode with the last rites being performed there.

Puttaparthi became a wailing town with hundreds of devotees lined up its streets with tears in their eyes as Sai Baba’s body was brought to Prashanti Nilayam in a convoy of vehicles amid tight security.

Only a few close disciples of Baba dressed in white, members of the Sathya Sai Central Trust and relatives of the spiritual leader were allowed near the body.

The town is getting ready to receive tens of thousands of devotees arriving here from all parts of India and abroad in the next two days.

Andhra Pradesh Governor E.S.L Narasimhan, Chief Minister N. Kiran Kumar Reddy and his cabinet colleagues paid their last respects to the departed Baba at the hospital.

However, they too could not see his face covered by the saffron cloth.

Massive security arrangements have been made in the town as several VIPs are expected here.

Transport authorities are operating special buses to Puttaparthi from various parts of Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka.

Puttaparthi, a small hamlet in Anantapur district, which Baba turned into a town with state-of-the art medical, educational and infrastructure facilities, has plunged into gloom.

The entire population of the town has come out towards the ashram, tears overflowing and words choking.

“I can’t believe that Swamy is no more,” said Sharada Devi, a devotee, her voice choked with emotion.

“Today is the saddest day of my life,” said T. Raghav, another devotee trying to control his sobs.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh condoled Baba’s death, saying he was an inspiration to people of all faiths and that his death was an irreparable loss to all.

Vice-President Hamid Ansari said Baba’s message of service to humanity is of eternal relevance.

Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader L.K. Advani, a follower of Sai Baba, said: “I offer a tearful homage to his great soul. I would like to go for the ‘anthyesthi kriya’ (last rites).”

Over 6,000 policemen had already been deployed and additional forces are being rushed to the town to beef up security.

Messages of sorrow poured from all quarters of the society, from common devottes to celebrities, corporate heads and film personalities.

Sathya Sai centres across India and abroad witnessed gatherings of followers in prayer sessions.

Sai Baba, whose real name was Sathyanarayana Raju, was born Nov 23, 1926 at Puttaparthi. In 1940, he claimed he was an avatar of god.

The “miracles” he performed captivated his followers while also prompted scathing attacks from critics.

Sai Baba later focused his attention to social and charitable works that covered vital areas of ordinary life to many.

He had reportedly visited only two foreign countries - Uganda and Kenya.

Sri Sathya Sai Central Trust, which runs several hospitals, educational institutions, drinking water projects and undertake other charitable works in India and abroad, is estimated to have movable and immovable assets of Rs.40,000 crore.

The trust members include former chief justice of India P.N. Bhagvati, former Indian Administrative Service officers K. Chakravarthi and S.V. Giri, chartered accountant turned entrepreneur Indulal Shah, Venu Srinivasan of TVS Motors and the Baba’s nephew R.J. Ratnakar.

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