Sunday, 24 April 2011

BBC News - Satya Sai Baba, Indian guru, dies at 84

24 April 2011 Last updated at 09:14

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Satya Sai Baba, Indian guru, dies at 84

Rickshaws with pictures of Sathya Sai Baba, in Puttaparti, India, April 2011 Sri Satya Sai Baba had followers across Indian society and around the world

One of India's most revered spiritual leaders, Sri Satya Sai Baba, has died in hospital at the age of 84.

Doctors say the guru, who is thought to have millions of followers around the world, died following a cardiac arrest.

He had been admitted to hospital in his hometown of Puttaparthi last month, suffering from respiratory problems and kidney failure.

He enjoyed support from all areas of Indian society - including Bollywood filmstars and senior politicians.

His high-profile followers include former Indian Prime Minster Atal Behari Vajpayee and cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar.

Many devotees considered him a living god, and credited him with mystical powers including the ability to conjure objects out of the air.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh described his death as an "irreparable loss".

"He was a spiritual leader who inspired millions to lead a moral and meaningful life even as they followed the religion of their choice," said Mr Singh.

Reincarnation claim

His organisation has financed health and education projects, among them hospitals and clinics that claim to cure illnesses beyond the capabilities of mainstream medicine.

Devotees grieve on hearing the news of the Sai Baba's death, outside Baba's ashram in Puttaparthi April 24, 2011 Devotees grieved in Puttaparthi at news of the guru's death

But his career was dogged by controversy. He had been accused of faking some of the so-called miracles attributed to him.

And some former followers accused him and other members of his ashram of sexual abuse.

He denied the allegations and was never charged with any offence.

The hospital said his body would be available for public viewing on Monday and Tuesday before a funeral ceremony is held.

"We appeal to all not to rush to the hospital, but to remain calm and have Darshan [viewing] in an orderly manner," the hospital said in a statement.

In recent weeks, the hospital has been mobbed by groups of devotees praying for the guru's wellbeing.

Satya Sai Baba's hometown has been transformed into a vast complex of hotels, resorts, university buildings, and an enormous ashram thronging with devotees.

He rose to prominence as a youngster after announcing to his family that he was the reincarnation of Shirdi Sai Baba, a 19th Century Indian holy man who had been equally venerated by Hindus and Muslims.

By 1950 he had built his first ashram, and in recent decades managed to build up a global following.