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.

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
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

    Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

    £40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

    Guru Careers: Software Developer

    £35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

    £18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

    Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

    £25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

    Day In a Page

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
    Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

    Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

    Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
    Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

    Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

    Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
    Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

    Join the tequila gold rush

    The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
    12 best statement wallpapers

    12 best statement wallpapers

    Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
    Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

    Paul Scholes column

    Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?