Puttaparthi: Godman Sathya Sai Baba, a cult like figure who had a phenomenal following, including the high and mighty, across the globe died here on Sunday, battling illness caused by a multi-organ failure for nearly a month.

86-year-old Baba, whose clout ran far and wide with millions of followers died at 7:40 AM following multi-organ failure at the Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Medical Sciences founded by him in this backward Anantapur district town in Andhra Pradesh, the place from where he ran his spiritual empire.

"Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba is no more with us physically. He left His earthly body on April 24 at 7:40 AM due to cardio-respiratory failure," A N Safaya, Director of the Institute, said.

"Baba's body will lie in state at Sai Kulwant Hall for two days- Monday and Tuesday. Arrangements have been made for darshan after 6:00 pm on Sunday at the Hall," he said.

Baba will be buried at the Sai Kulwant Hall in Prashanti Nilayam on Wednesday in line with the practice adopted for spiritual leaders in India, contrary to the Hindu custom of cremating bodies.

State Major Industries Minister J Geetha Reddy said the members of Baba's family and the Sri Sathya Sai Central Trust have decided that his burial will take place on
Wednesday morning. The exact time will be announced later.

Four-day state mourning in Andhra

Considering his huge following and the social and developmental work he had undertaken in Andhra Pradesh and elsewhere, the state government announced a four-day state mourning. The government also decided to give a state funeral in honour of the Baba.

Chief Minister N Kiran Kumar Reddy, who along with Governor E S L Narasimhan paid homage to the Baba,announced that Anantapur district will have a local holiday on Wednesday when Baba will be buried.

Born as Sathyanarayana Raju in a humble backward caste family in 1926, Baba emerged as one of the most popular godmen in India in modern times. Initially, he attracted attention through acts like producing articles like sacred ash and 'lingam' which his detractors claimed was a sleight of hand, but later he came to be known for his founding institutions of learning and philanthropy.

Baba, who considered himself a reincarnation of Sai Baba of Shirdi was hospitalised on March 28 following problems related to heart and respiration and had been critical following multi-organ failure.

Surviving on ventilator support, his kidneys stopped functioning and his health suffered deterioration a few days ago when his liver also stopped functioning.

The Sai Baba leaves a big empire estimated from a conservative figure of Rs 40,000 crore to a staggering Rs 1.5 lakh crores raising questions over who will manage the Trust.

However, Reddy, who has been camping here for the past two weeks, said there is no controversy on the issue of trust activities.

Reddy said, "I have not seen any infighting. It is just a media creation. The trust activities will go on as usual. The Sai Baba has put in place everything. He has taken care of everything. He knew when he will leave his body."

"Baba has put in place everything, the whole missionaries in-charge. All his activities will run as it is. We have no suspicion about any differences over running the trust," he said.

Police reinforcements were rushed to the town as VIPs started descending on it.

VVIPs mourn Baba’s death

An array of personalities, including Vice President M Hamid Ansari, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Congress President Sonia Gandhi, Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar, BJP leaders L K Advani and Nitin Gadkari and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M Karunanidhi condoled the death of Baba, saying he was a spiritual leader who inspired millions to lead a moral and meaningful life.

Star cricketer Sachin Tendulkar, who considers Baba his spiritual guru, did not celebrate his 38th birthday and chose to remain in his hotel room in Hyderabad. However, the Mumbai Indians team captain will play the IPL match against Deccan Chargers here this evening.

Top-ranking politicians including Prime Minister, union ministers, governors, chief ministers, filmstars, sportspersons, industrialists and virtually the 'who's who' of the country rank among the high-profile devotees of the Baba.

Puttaparthi - which metamorphosed into a self-contained city - finds itself on the international map, thanks to a large number of the Baba's foreign devotees who visit Prasanthi Nilayam day in and day out. It boasts of an exclusive airport where chartered flights, carrying Baba's devotees from different parts of the globe, land.

Frequently, reports alleging scandals in his ashram appeared. Questions were also raised over his sexual preferences but they were dismissed by him and his followers as vilification by his detractors or those who had fallen out with him.

On June 6, 1993, an attempt was allegedly made on his life by his close aides. Six inmates of Prasanthi Nilayam were killed right inside the Baba's bedroom. All of them were part of the "inner circle" of Baba. His personal assistant Radha Krishna Menon was among those killed in the incident. Facts of the case still remain a mystery.

Water of 'Saraswati Teertha' for Sai's last rites

A pitcher of holy water and soil from the Saraswati Teertha, a pilgrimage spot from where the ancient Saraswati river is said to have emerged, will be flown to the Prashanti Nilayam for the last rites of Sai Baba.

A devotee of the Haryana unit of the Sri Sathya Sai Baba Organisation (SSSBO) has been informed of this decision on phone from Puttaparthi, sources said.

President of Haryana unit of the SSSBO, Subhash Dheer, along with scores of other devotees from Haryana, has been camping in Prashanthi Nilayam for the last couple of weeks after the Baba's condition worsened.

A message was received from Prashanti Nilayam, the abode of the Baba, regarding the holy water and soil from the holy city of Kurukshetra where Lord Krishna sermonised his celestial song in form of Shrimad Bhagwadgeeta.

A 12-hour hawan-yagya was also being organised by the local Sai Sewa Samiti in which hundreds of devotees and others from the city and surrounding areas were participating.

Sathya Sai Baba devotees pouring in to pay last tributes

Death of spiritual leader Sathya Sai Baba has sent ripples around the globe and devotees have poured in Puttaparthi to pay final tributes to the departed soul.

Sri Lankan Airlines, the country's national carrier, will fly additional flights to India for the devotees want to pay last respects to Godman Sathya Sai Baba, who died on Sunday in Puttaparthi.

"The airline will have additional capacity on their daily flights to Bangalore from April 26 onwards in order to accommodate all devotees who wish to pay final homage to their spiritual leader," a spokesman of the airline said today.

Besides, the airline will also provide special charter flights, he said.

Sai Baba, a cult like figure who had a phenomenal following across the globe died yesterday battling illness caused by a multi-organ failure for nearly a month.

85-year-old Baba will be buried at the Sai Kulwant Hall in Prashanti Nilayam on Wednesday.

Sri Lanka has a sizable quantity of Sai followers, foremost of them are country's political leaders.The main opposition leader Ranil Wickremesinghe in a message of condolence said the ultimate homage one can pay to the guru was to carry forward his spiritual teachings.

JPN/Agencies

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