Sathya Sai Baba passed away on Sunday around 7.40am following multiple medical complications. He was 84.
A pall of gloom descended on this pilgrim town, 450 km south of Hyderabad, as he died in hospital after battling a heart condition, respiratory congestion and renal failure for 28 days.
Dr AN Safaya, director, Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Medical Sciences, where Sai Baba was admitted on March 28, said the spiritual leader died due to cardio-respiratory failure.
Sai Baba's body was taken to Sai Kulwant Hall inside his ashram, Prasanthi Nilayam, where it will lie in state for two days. Arrangements have been made for devotees to pay their last tributes to the spiritual leader, who changed the face of the town with his focus on education and healthcare and saw the value of his trust being estimated between Rs40,000 crore and Rs100,000 crore.
Sai Baba will be buried — not cremated — on Wednesday in line with the practice adopted for Hindu spiritual leaders.
The Andhra Pradesh government has declared a four-day state mourning for Sai Baba. Karnataka has declared a two-day state mourning.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi condoled Sai Baba's demise.
The PM said, "Sri Sathya Sai Baba as a preacher of the highest human values was an iconic figure for over five decades… His passing away is an irreparable loss to all."
Gandhi said, "The news of the death of Sai Baba of Puttaparthi has greatly pained me… At this sad hour, I express my deep condolences to his followers."Cricketer Sachin Tendulkar, a devotee of Sai Baba, did not celebrate his 38th birthday. A police source said Tendulkar would visit the town on Monday to pay his last tributes. Former cricketer Sunil Gavaskar, who introduced Tendulkar to Sai Baba, has already arrived, the source added. Sai Baba's death has intensified speculation over his successor. His aide Satyajit and nephew RJ Ratnakar are being viewed as the leading contenders to head the multi-thousand crore Sri Sathya Sai Central Trust.
The state government has denied reports of infighting within the trust. Chief minister N Kiran Kumar Reddy said, "The trust is in order. It will run in the same way as it is running now."Meanwhile, a 12,000-strong police presence has turned the town into a virtual fortress. Police had to resort to mild baton charge on several occasions during the day when Sai Baba's devotees tried to force their way into the ashram.
The administrative caution is being attributed to circulation of rumours at a time when Sai Baba's devotees are emotionally distressed. The purported discovery of a sealed envelope from among Sai Baba's belongings became the latest talking point. A trust official said no such envelope had been found.