Indian guru Sai Baba dies, mourners gather

Sathya Sai Baba, one of India's most famous gurus, died in hospital on Sunday, triggering a global outpouring of grief and tributes from devotees across politics, sport and entertainment.

He was 85 and finally succumbed to heart problems after being in a critical condition for more than three weeks, his doctors said.

Thousands of Hindu followers massed at the Institute of Higher Medical Sciences hospital where Sai Baba had been treated in his hometown of Puttaparthi, in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh.

Police used barriers to hold back mourning crowds, and appealed for public calm after the death was announced.

"Sai Baba is no more with us physically. He breathed his last at 7:40 am and died due to cardio-respiratory failure," a statement from the hospital said. "His body will be kept for public worship for two days on Monday and Tuesday."

Devotees had congregated in the town over recent weeks to hold special prayers asking for a miracle to allow Sai Baba to recover.

He was credited by millions of followers across the globe with having supernatural powers, including an ability to conjure objects out of thin air, remember past lives and cure terminal diseases.

He counted former Indian prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, judges, actors, generals and politicians as followers, as well as Indian cricketing legend Sachin Tendulkar and Hollywood star Goldie Hawn.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said the Indian nation would deeply mourn the death of Sai Baba, who "was an inspiration to people of all faiths."

"He was a spiritual leader who inspired millions to lead a moral and meaningful life even as they followed the religion of their choice," Singh said, adding that the guru taught "the universal ideals of truth, right conduct, peace, love and non-violence."

Tendulkar had said on his Twitter page Sunday that he was praying for Sai Baba's health and asked others to join him.

The guru claimed to be the reincarnation of a former holy man, Sai Baba of Shirdi, who died in 1918.

His organisation has funded health and education projects in India, including hospitals and clinics that say they are able to cure ailments beyond the capabilities of mainstream medicine.

From his ashram in Puttaparthi, he built an empire of schools and centres that spread his influence worldwide.

One of his biggest financial supporters was the former owner of the Hard Rock Cafe chain of restaurants, Isaac Burton Tigrett, who went to live in Puttaparthi and donated much of his fortune to the Sai Baba trust.

Puttaparthi expanded into a major pilgrimage town, boasting a university and even an airport as Westerners, Indian students and the destitute clamoured to be close to a man they saw as an incarnation of God in human form.

As well as hospitals and clinics, the Sai Baba organisation operates drinking water schemes, a museum, a planetarium and prayer rooms and centres across the globe.

Always dressed in saffron-coloured robes with his trademark afro-style hairdo, his showman antics in which he would miraculously produce gold coins or watches on stage at public meetings brought him both fame and notoriety.

He also faced allegations of sexual abuse of young male followers, which his opponents said were ignored by Indian authorities due to his power and popularity.

His death on Sunday was covered by Indian television news channels with reverence as interviewees remembered meetings with Sai Baba, his apparent miracles and long record of charity work.

He had used a wheelchair since 2005 and made fewer public appearances after fracturing his hip in 2006.

The guru narrowly avoided death in 1993 when four men armed with knives burst into his private apartment in what was described as an assassination attempt.

A fight ensued in which two devotees were stabbed to death before police shot and killed the assailants.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
News
Bryan Cranston as Walter White, in the acclaimed series 'Breaking Bad'
news
News
Those who were encouraged to walk in a happy manner remembered less negative words
science
Sport
footballChelsea 6 Maribor 0: Blues warm up for Premier League showdown with stroll in Champions League - but Mourinho is short of strikers
Arts and Entertainment
Princess Olga in 'You Can't Get the Staff'
tvReview: The anachronistic aristocrats, it seemed, were just happy to have some attention
News
Renee Zellweger as Bridget Jones
i100
Life and Style
tech

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

News
There have been various incidents of social media users inadvertently flouting the law
news

Life and Style
Stack ‘em high?: quantity doesn’t always trump quality, as Friends of the Earth can testify
techThe proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
News
Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
i100
Sport
CSKA Moscow celebrate after equalising with a late penalty
footballCSKA Moscow 2 Manchester City 2: Premier League champions let two goal lead slip in Russia
Environment
Sudan, the last male northern white rhino
environmentThe death of a white northern rhino in Kenya has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    IT Project Manager

    Competitive: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsford a...

    Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

    £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

    Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

    £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

    IT Manager

    £40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

    Day In a Page

    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

    Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

    'You need me, I don’t need you'

    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
    How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

    How to Get Away with Murder

    Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
    A cup of tea is every worker's right

    Hard to swallow

    Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
    12 best children's shoes

    Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

    Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
    Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

    Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

    Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
    Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

    Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

    Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
    Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

    Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

    Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
    British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

    British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

    Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells