The roads of Puttaparthi continued to swell with grieving devotees on Monday. Cricketer Sachin Tendulkar, one of the first dignitaries to arrive with wife Anjali, broke into tears when he saw the body of spiritual leader Sathya Sai Baba.
Sai Baba, 84, breathed his last on Sunday morning after battling a heart condition, respiratory congestion and renal failure for 28 days. His mortal remains lie in state in a glass casket in Sai Kulwant Hall at Prashanti Nilayam Ashram. He will be buried on Wednesday in line with the practice adopted for Hindu spiritual leaders.
After the news of Sai Baba's death spread like wildfire, police turned the town, 150 km north of Bangalore, into a virtual fortress banning any kind of vehicular movement. Over 12,000 policemen, including special task force and rapid action force were pressed into action. But even the heavy security cover could not deter earnest devotees, who stood in queues as long as 6 km for a glimpse of their guru.
Tendulkar spent nearly 40 minutes in the hall before driving off in silence.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi are expected to visit Puttaparthi on Tuesday, and so are BJP leader LK Advani and Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi.
Among the visiting VIPs on Monday were, yoga guru Baba Ramdev, Maharashtra chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh, actor-turned politician Chiranjeevi, heavy industries minister Praful Patel, and former cricketer Sunil Gavaskar.
Meanwhile, panic spread in Sai Kulwant Hall, when a snake was detected near the body of Sai Baba. Though no one was harmed, devotees linked the appearance of the snake with a Sai Baba legend. Vasudev Reddy, a devotee, recalled how a curse led to the death of all cows in the region rendering it 'a place full of ant-hills and snakes', till Sai Baba "exhorted people to conduct pooja following which the curse was lifted".