Chants of ‘Om Sai Ram’ filled the air in this pilgrim town as lakhs of Sathya Sai Baba’s devotees thronged his ashram to catch his last glimpse. Among them are top political leaders, Bollywood personalities and sportsmen. The spiritual leader passed away on Sunday.
Sachin Tendulkar reached Puttaparthi to pay last respects. Top politicians including BJP president Nitin Gadkari, Andhra Pradesh chief minister Kiran Kumar Reddy, Karnataka chief minister B Yeddyurappa, TDP president Chandrababu Naidu and Prajarajyam chief Chiranjeevi will also pay homage today.
With tears in their eyes, devotees continued to queue up on the barricaded streets of Puttaparthi overnight and were led into the large hall where Sathya Sai Baba’s body, wrapped in saffron attire, was kept in a glass coffin.
Prominent VIPs seated close to the casket were Andhra Pradesh Health Minister J. Geetha Reddy, Ratnakar, Baba's nephew and son of his younger brother Janakiramaiah and Baba's personal caregiver Satyajit.
Sai Baba, 84, considered by many as reincarnation of Shirdi Sai Baba, breathed his last on Sunday after battling a heart condition, respiratory congestion and renal failure for 28 days. The final rites would be performed on April 27.
Devotees thronged the pilgrim town and were forced to walk for nearly 6 km before reaching the ashram.
After initial crowd frenzy near the ashram that prompted police to use mild force last night, devotees formed disciplined queues by late night.
Police had turned the town situated 150 km from Bangalore, into a virtual fortress banning any kind of vehicular movement.
Security was beefed up in the city as over 12,000 policemen, including special task force and rapid action force, were deployed in Puttaparthi and all routes to the town were sealed.
A stampede broke out outside the ashram late on Sunday night. No injuries were reported and police raised barricades to keep the crowds at bay.