Outraged by recent allegations of mishandling of funds of the Sri Sathya Sai Central Trust, the body that manages the ashrams founded by spiritual guru Sathya Sai Baba, Puttaparthi came to a halt on Saturday.
Shops and business establishments remained closed, as 100 traders took to the streets blaming the trustees for bringing disrepute to the ashram.
First came the revelation of hidden wealth inside Yajur Mandir, the private quarters of Sai Baba at Prasanthi Nilayam on June 16. Following this Rs 85.5 lakh of trust money was seized from Bangalore-bound vehicles on June 19 and 20.
The economy of Puttaparthi, around 400 km from Hyderabad, is largely dependent on the pilgrim flow to the Sathya Sai Ashram, and traders are worried recent controversies may have an adverse impact on their business.
"The ugly turn of things has spoiled the reputation of the ashram. We want the government to take over the ashram and the Trust so that the legacy of Sathya Sai Baba is protected," said Mohammed Basith, a shopkeeper, who participated in the rally.
Protesters took out a rally from the Hanuman Temple Circle to the office of the revenue divisional officer. Later, they submitted a memorandum demanding the takeover of the trust, appointment of an executive officer by the government on the lines of the one appointed in Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam and arrest of trust member RJ Ratnakar.
Ratnakar, who is Sai Baba's nephew, was questioned by the police on Saturday in connection with the cash seizure.
The police issued notices to Ratnakar and another trust member V Srinivasan after three people arrested with Rs 35.5 lakh on July 19 revealed they were transporting the cash from Puttaparthi to Bangalore on the instruction of the Trust members.