Sheikh Imran Bashir
Agence India Press
Puttaparthi: Indian Spiritual leader Sri Sathya Sai Baba’s last rites took place at the Prashanti Nilayam ashram in his home town of Puttaparthi today.
The 85-year-old Sai Baba has been buried during the nearly two-hour private ceremony at Kulwant Hall in the ashram, where his casket was kept for glimpses (Darshan). Ten priests conducted the private funeral. The burial was in accordance with the practice for Hindu spiritual gurus.
The burial was not open to the general public, but big screens erected around the town. The vast crowds of followers who have converged on Puttaparthi. Only family members, some members of the Prashanti Nilayam Trust and some important leaders gathered there were inside Kulwant Hall.
Baba’s nephew R.J. Ratnakar performed rituals on the mortal remains under the guidance of a priest.
Christian, Muslim, Buddhist and Jewish priests read out their respective scriptures before the rituals began around 9 a.m. A group of disciples of Tibetan Buddhist leader Dalai Lama also attended the last rites, which were performed with full state honours.
A guard of honour was given by policemen who came in slow march and draped the national flag on the transparent casket, before the body was moved for the burial.
The buglers sounded the Last Post and policemen fired three shots in a gun salute outside the hall. A general salute was also offered by the men in uniform.
Darshan hours had to be extended until midnight on Tuesday for the thousands of devotees who wanted to pay their last respects to their spiritual leader. There were nearly four lakh devotees in Puttaparthi on Tuesday.
Millions of Sai Baba’s devotees followed the funeral live on various television channels.
After four days of state mourning, today is a holiday in all of Ananthapur district to allow people to pay homage.
The spiritual leader, loved by millions, passed away on Sunday after cardio-respiratory failure. Since then, his body has lain inside a transparent casket to allow grieving devotees, including poor villagers, foreign pilgrims and celebrities, to pay their respects.
On Tuesday, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi visited the ashram to pay their last respects.
Besides this, many top politicians paid homage to Sathya Sai in Puttaparthi today like BJP patriarch LK Advani, Karnataka Chief Minister BS Yeddyurappa and Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Kiran Kumar Reddy.
Star cricketer Sachin Tendulkar, an ardent devotee of Baba, also visited Puttaparthi on Monday. Accompanied by wife Anjali and friend V. Chamundeshwarnath, Sachin sat beside the body of Sathya Sai Baba at Kulwant Hall and prayed for him. He was seen wiping his tears with a handkerchief handed over by his wife. Sachin, who turned 38 Sunday, did not celebrate his birthday due to Baba’s death. Former India captain Sunil Gavaskar also paid his last respects to Sai Baba on Monday. Tears could be seen in the batting legend’s eyes even as his wife, Marshneil, sobbed uncontrollably. (AIP)
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