Sea of humanity descends on Puttaparthi to mourn Sai Baba (Intro Roundup)

April 25th, 2011 - 11:02 pm ICT by IANS  

Sachin Tendulkar Puttaparthi (Andhra Pradesh), April 25 (IANS) A sea of humanity descended on this pilgrim town in southern Andhra Pradesh Monday to pay tearful homage to Sathya Sai Baba and have a final “darshan” of the spiritual guru.

As the body of the godman, wrapped in saffron cloth, lay in state inside a flower-decked transparent casket at Sri Kulwant Hall in Prasanti Nilayam (abode of peace), thousands of people from across the country and abroad continued to stream in, despite the blazing sun and sizzling heat.

The last rites of Satya Sai Baba, who died Sunday morning, will be performed Wednesday morning inside the Prashanti Nilayam with state honours.

The time for public “darshan” will end 6 p.m Tuesday to make preparations for Wednesday’s rites, according to officials.

Men, women and children stood patiently in queues that meandered through the thoroughfares of the town, to enter the hallowed precincts to pay homage to one of the most revered Indian gurus.

“About 150,000 people have come to bid farewell during the past 24 hours. An equal number of people are expected by Tuesday evening (6p.m.) when the body will be handed to the Baba’s family for final rituals and burial Wednesday in the Kulwant hall,” Andhra Pradesh Revenue Minister N. Raghuveer Reddy told reporters here.

Unlike late Sunday, when thousands of devotees faced a harrowing time in reaching the huge iron gates of the ashram, the flow of people was more orderly Monday.

“To prevent any untoward incident, especially stampede on such occasions, we have not only formed separate queues for men and women, but also ensured their entry and exit were in opposite directions to avoid crowding and congestion in the narrow areas,” Puttaparthi Deputy Superintendent of Police S. Narasimhulu told IANS.

As a mark of respect and a precautionary measure, shops, hotels and offices were shut Monday and will continue to remain so till Wednesday.

As a result, there has been a virtual scramble for food, snacks and beverages in the town for the second day.

Hundreds of foreign devotees were among those who had rushed to Puttaparthi during the last three weeks after learning about Sai Baba’s deteriorating health. They have remained here to mourn the loss of their spiritual leader.

The authorities have also erected tents on the roads to protect the devotees from the scorching sun and provided them with drinking water and free food packets.

Cricket icon Sachin Tendulkar with wife Anjali and a close friend flew into the town for a last glimpse of his spiritual guru. Test batsman V.V.S. Laxman and speedster S. Sreesanth had also come to pay homage.

Sachin, who reached here from Hyderabad, was in tears after seeing the body of Baba.

Union ministers Praful Patel and Vilas Rao Deshmukh, actor Riteish Deshmukh and Telugu film actress of yesteryears Anjali Devi were among the other prominent devotees who paid homage to Baba.

Authorities have imposed traffic curbs to ensure smooth movement of VIPs visiting the town.

Six special trains and a large number of buses are being run from different parts of Andhra Pradesh and also from the cities of Bangalore and Chennai to Puttaparthi for the devotees.

The railways and Andhra Pradesh Road Transport Corporation (APSRTC) have made special arrangements so that devotees can reach the pilgrim town in Anantapur district closer to the border with Karnataka.

Six trains will be operated Monday and Tuesday from Secunderabad, Vijayawada and Bangalore, an official said.

The South Central Railway (SCR) will run two special trains from Hyderabad to Puttaparthi.

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