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.

News
Ben Little, right, is a Labour supporter while Jonathan Rogers supports the Green Party
general election 2015
News
The 91st Hakone Ekiden Qualifier at Showa Kinen Park, Tokyo, 2014
news
Life and Style
Former helicopter pilot Major Tim Peake will become the first UK astronaut in space for over 20 years
food + drinkNothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
News
Kim Wilde began gardening in the 1990s when she moved to the countryside
peopleThe singer is leading an appeal for the charity Thrive, which uses the therapy of horticulture
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates scoring a second for Arsenal against Reading
football
Life and Style
health
Voices
An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
News
Japan's population is projected to fall dramatically in the next 50 years (Wikimedia)
news
Life and Style
Buyers of secondhand cars are searching out shades last seen in cop show ‘The Sweeney’
motoringFlares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
  • Get to the point
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

    Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

    £18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

    Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

    £16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

    Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

    £18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

    Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

    £28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

    Day In a Page

    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
    Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

    UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

    Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
    John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

    ‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

    Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
    Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

    Let the propaganda wars begin - again

    'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

    Japan's incredible long-distance runners

    Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
    Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

    Tom Drury: The quiet American

    His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
    Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

    Beige to the future

    Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

    Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

    More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
    Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

    Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

    The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own