Thousands pay last respects to Sai Baba

Thousands of devotees, including celebrities like Sachin Tendulkar and Sunil Gavaskar, paid their last respects to spiritual leader Sathya Sai Baba who died here on Sunday.

Serpentine queues of devotees including a large number of women were seen outside Prashanti Nilayam, Sathya Sai Baba's ashram where the body has been kept in an air-conditioned glass case, for a 'last darshan' of the spiritual leader.

Besides Tendulkar and former Indian captain Sunil Gavaskar, there were also yoga guru Ramdev and singer P. Susheela among the important personalities who paid their last respects at the sprawling Sai Kulwant Hall in Prashanti Nilayam.

Sachin, who reached here from Hyderabad, was in tears after seeing the body of Baba. He was accompanied by his wife Anjali and friend V. Chamundeshwarnath.

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.

Officials said about 100,000 people paid their respects to Baba during the last 24 hours while thousands of more continue to pour in from different parts of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and other parts of India.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and United Progressive Alliance chairperson Sonia Gandhi will arrive here on Tuesday evening to pay their last respects.

The two leaders would arrive at 4.30 p.m., Andhra Pradesh's Major Industries Minister J. Geeta Reddy announced.

She said devotees would be allowed a 'last darshan' till 6 p.m. on Tuesday.

According to Revenue Minister Raghuveera Reddy, the family of Baba and Sathya Sai Central Trust have made all arrangements for his burial at the Sai Kulwant Hall on Wednesday. It was in this hall that Baba used to give 'darshan' to his devotees coming from different parts of India and abroad.

Raghuveera Reddy said that 100,000 devotees had so far had a last glimpse of Sai Baba.

"All arrangements are in place to receive any number of devotees but they will be allowed only up to 6 p.m. on Tuesday," he said.

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 on 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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