Devotees flock Puttaparthi to pay last respect to Sai Baba

Lakhs of devotees from home and abroad on Monday poured into this town to have a last glimpse of Sathya Sai Baba whose body has been kept in a hall here even as police tightened security for crowd control.

With grief writ large on their faces, the devotees, both young and old, made their way to the Sai Kulwant Hall at Prashanti Nilayam Ashram to have a darshan of the 85-year-old Sai Baba's mortal remains.

Union ministers Vilasrao Deshmukh and Praful Patel and cricket maestro Sachin Tendulkar along with wife Anjali were among those who paid their last respects to the Sai Baba who died on Sunday after battling serious illness for nearly a month.

The body will lie in state at the hall till on Tuesday to enable devotees pay their last respects. Sai Baba will be buried at the Sai Kulwant Hall on Wednesday in line with the practice adopted for spiritual leaders in India, contrary to the Hindu custom of cremating bodies.

The police have set up barricades all over the town to control the surge of devotees flocking the area.

DIG (Rayalaseema range) Charu Sinha said, "We have put up the barricades for the convenience of devotees. We have been told to ensure that devotees manage to have last darshan of Sai Baba. Traffic restrictions have also been imposed for the convenience of the devotees".

Anantpur district collector Janardhan Reddy said food and water have been made available to the devotees who have arrived from near and far.

Foreign devotees also flocked the Ashram to pay their last respect to Baba. "I feel sad as Baba is no more with us. However, he is in my heart and he is everywhere," a foreigner said.

A devotee from Karnataka said, "Baba has not gone anywhere. He will soon come back in a new avatar".

An elderly couple from Orissa said despite his sudden death, they are sure that the Baba will again appear before them soon.

Expecting a large number of devotees to converge here, police have made elaborate arrangements at the Puttaparthi airstrip and railway station. Two temporary helipads have been constructed to allow VIP landings.

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