Puttaparthi (Andhra Pradesh): Sathya Sai Baba, who on Sunday died of cardiac arrest after battling for life for 28 days, was seen as a reincarnation of god by millions. Baba claimed to be an 'avatar' at a young age of 14 preaching an eclectic blend of Hindu religion across the world and achieved demi god status in India and abroad. Satya Sai Baba's influence had no barriers as his millions of followers spanned the globe.

Born Sathyanarayana Raju on November 23, 1926 in Puttaparthi, his devotees claimed he started singing Sanskrit verses, of which he had no knowledge, one day in March 1940 after being apparently stung by a scorpion.

In no time, the boy gathered a following as he stepped into the world of spirituality. Word spread that Raju could make objects such as food and sweets materialise out of thin air.

As time went by, and he came to be recognised for his mane and flowing orange robes, the boy transformed into Sathya Sai Baba, frequently producing with a flick of his hand 'vibhuti' (sacred ash) and small objects such as Shiv lings, rings and necklaces.

It was on October 20, 1940 at the age of 14 that Satyanarayana Raju declared himself as the reincarnation of Sai Baba of Shirdi.
Satya Sai Baba invariably referred to Shirdi Sai Baba as "my previous body" whenever he spoke about him.

Puttaparthi became his base, eventually transforming the once small village into a lively pilgrimage centre, with its own railway station and air strip.

The spiritual guru built a temple in 1944. Four years later he founded Prasanthi Nilayam (Abode of Supreme Peace) at Puttaparthi.

He also opened ashrams at Whitefield on Bangalore's outskirts and at Kodaikanal in Tamil Nadu. He made it a point to tell his followers not to give up their original religion.

He preached: “My objective is the establishment of sanatana dharma, which believes in one god as propitiated by the founders of all religions.”

Sathya Sai Baba, however, ran into critics who repeatedly challenged him to make the objects materialise in 'controlled conditions' -- to prove that he was not indulging in trickery.

The godman brushed away the attacks, which abated over the years, even as his spiritual empire expanded. Today, his devotees are spread over some 130 countries and number in millions.

Simultaneously, Sai Baba plunged into charitable work. His movement began providing free medical treatment, both in Puttaparthi and Bangalore, as well as free education for the poor.

Sathya Sai Baba was also credited with unveiling drinking water schemes in drought-prone Anantapur district, where Puttaparthi is located, and to the city of Chennai.

Food is sold at hugely subsidized rates at his ashram here - even to those who do not follow him. In 2001, the digital radio network, Radio Sai Global Harmony, was launched to spread Sai Baba's message of harmony and peace.

The Satya Sai Central Trust manages all the service activities and also runs the Satya Sai University (formerly Satya Sai Institute of Higher Learning) at Puttaparthi.

Besides, the trust also runs many schools and dispensaries in different states while it has also completed large water supply projects in Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra.

Volunteers from the Satya Sai Seva Organisation are always found in the forefront carrying out relief and rehabilitation work during natural calamities not only in AP but also in other states.

Satya Sai Baba established three primary mandirs (spiritual centres) in India - Dharmakshetra in Mumbai, Shivam in Hyderabad and Sundaram in Chennai. Besides, there are Satya Sai centres located in over 114 countries in the world.

In 1957, Satya Sai Baba went on a temple tour of north India and made his only overseas trip to Uganda in June 1968.

In 1963, Satya Sai Baba suffered a stroke and four severe heart attacks but survived. From 2005, Sai Baba had been using a wheelchair and his failing health had forced him to make fewer public appearances.

He acquired a huge following that included political leaders, film stars and industrialists -- and millions of ordinary folk.
But controversies always dogged Sai Baba. He was accused of sexual abuse. The BBC once produced a documentary that showed him in poor light. Sai Baba remained single. Not much is known about his personal life.

The killing of four alleged intruders into Sai Baba's bedroom by police in 1993 still remains a mystery. Two of his elder sisters, an elder brother and a younger brother have died. Some of the children of his sisters and brothers are today active in the trusts formed by him.

Many believe he died a day after he was admitted to the hospital March 28 and that his relatives waited for an auspicious time to make the announcement.