Satya Sai Baba dead, millions mourn

Devotees gather to pay their last respects to Satya Sai Baba at his ashram in Puttaparthi on Sunday. PHOTO: P. Surendra

Devotees gather to pay their last respects to Satya Sai Baba at his ashram in Puttaparthi on Sunday. PHOTO: P. Surendra

The many days of uncertainty came to an end on Sunday morning when Satya Sai Baba, who has been battling for his life in a hospital here since March 28, passed away at 7.40 am. He was 84.
His death was confirmed in a bulletin issued by Dr A.N. Safaya, director of the Sri Satya Sai Institute of Higher
Medical Sciences, at around 10 am. “Bhagwan Sri Satya Sai Baba is no more with us physically. He left his earthly body on 24th April 2011 at 7.40 am due to cardio-respiratory failure,” the bulletin said.
Draped in the trademark ochre-coloured long gown, the body has been kept in an airconditioned glass casket with a gold-plated rim at the Sai Kulwant Hall in Prashanti Nilayam, his home for six decades, for people to pay their respects. The burial is scheduled for Wednesday.
Even though his health was known to be critical, his many devotees could not believe that the Baba has passed on. Chants of “Sai Ram!” rent the air as thousands thronged Prashanti Nilayam to confirm the sad news. By the evening the numbers had swelled considerably as devotees from across the country and from overseas began to arrive.
The police had to resort to a mild lathicharge to contain the grieving crowds that tried to barge into the Prashanti Nilayam. Devotees from the United States, Brazil, France, Japan, Russia and other nations were huddled in corners with tears in their eyes. “I can’t believe he is no more. He was the life of the ashram,” lamented one woman. Satya Sai Baba had a huge and diverse following, from ordinary people to the rich and famous in the world of politics, sports, films, entertainment, finance. Prime Ministers, civil servants, business magnates from all religions, regions, nations, races and economic levels professed to be his followers.
He was loved for his spiritual teachings as well as his many philanthropic activities administered by a trust that is worth at least `40,000 crores, the largest service trust ever set up by an individual.
Andhra Pradesh governor E.S.L. Narasimhan, chief minister N. Kiran Kumar Reddy, Karnataka chief minister B.S. Yeddyurappa, BJP president Nitin Gadkari, Praja Rajyam chief K. Chiranjeevi, former Maharashtra chief minister Ashok Chavan, Andhra revenue minister N. Raghuveera Reddy, as well as other ministers, MPs, MLAs and MLCs paid tributes to the Baba.
Born Satyanarayana Raju on November 23, 1926, in the village of Puttaparthi in Anantapur district of Andhra Pradesh to Eswaramma and Peddavenkanma Raju Ratnakaram, the young boy showed early signs of
intelligence and spiritual learning. He was known early on for pulling out gold chains, rings, watches, lingams and other valuables from thin air and presenting them to devotees.
The Baba was suffering from heart and lung ailments, had been hospitalised for almost a month, and the end came at 7.40 am on Sunday after all efforts by a team of medical experts failed to revive the organ system failure. The Baba’s death brings to an end one of the most glorious chapters of spirituality, religious tolerance, and selfless service in modern Indian history.
A great spiritual leader and healer, educationist par excellence and messiah for the poor, no spiritual guru in the country had the charm and attraction the Baba had over his devotees. His ardent followers comprise a who’s who from the worlds of politics, sports, films and entertainment and science. From Prime Ministers to civil servants and from top business magnates to the fruit vendor on the streets, the Baba’s followers transcended all religions, regions, nations, races and economic barriers.
But all this relegated to the background once he focused on social service and took up several drinking water projects in the parched areas of Anantapur, Medak, East and West Godavari, and constructed hospitals in Puttaparthi and Bengaluru providing free treatment.
As the Baba’s mortal remains were brought from the hospital to Prashanti Nilayam, a distance of 5 km, in a motorcade, devotees lined up the road were seen crying uncontrollably.
The Baba made his last public appearance on March 25 and subsequently fell ill, never to recover. Ironically, the Baba breathed his last in the prestigious hospital — Sri Satya Sai Institute of Higher Medical Sciences — which he had constructed and nurtured over the years to provide life-saving treatment free of cost to the poor.
The town’s already-tight security was further intensified on Sunday in anticipation of the arrival of devotees and VIPs from all over the world. There were police checkposts all over Puttaparthi and entry to Prashanti Nilayam was restricted.
The indication that Baba was no more came when the hospital authorities failed to release the regular morning bulletin at 8 am. Close relatives of the Baba, members of his trust, state major industries minister J. Geeta Reddy and other senior officials rushed to the hospital after the news broke.
Devotees recalled the golden words of the Baba’s “Bangaru Bagunnava” when they interact with him. “We will miss the golden words,” a devotee said with emotion.

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