Friday, April 29, 2011

Sai Baba laid to rest with state honours

Sai Baba laid to rest with state honours

As the government declared a state funeral, Baba's casket was draped in the tricolour. Besides, the Kurnool Battalion of Andhra Pradesh Special Police presented a 21-gun salute as a mark of respect

The last rites of Sathya Sai Baba at Puttaparthi was conducted with state honours and his casket was draped in the tricolour. The police gave him a 21-gun salute and his body was laid to rest amidst Vedic chants by nine priests.

Although it was a closed-door affair exclusively for and by Baba's family members many VVIPs and prominent figures close to Sathya Sai Baba flew in to attend the ceremony.

Galaxy of VVIPs

Amongst the family members who conducted the last rites were Baba's nephew R J Rathnakar, and his son Shantiram.

Also, senior BJP leader L K Advani, Punjab Governor Shivraj Patil, Karnataka Chief Minister B S Yeddyurappa, Andhra Pradesh Governor E S L Narasimhan, Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Kiran Kumar Reddy, Venkaiah Naidu and former Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu were present.

The ceremony started at 9 am and was telecast live on many local TV news channels for lakhs of devotees who couldn't come down to pay their last respects. It was also telecast live on big screens for thousands of devotees gathered outside the ashram.

Prominent leaders of every religions were also present for the ceremony. According to the Hindu rituals mentioned in the Vedas, a holy cow was brought in for the ceremony before the Samadhi was built.

9, the pious number

Also, nine different kinds of flowers and food grains were offered along with water flown in from nine different holy rivers. Nine precious stones symbolising the nine planets were offered at the mantle.
Post the rituals, Baba's body was taken out of the glass casket and moved to the Samadhi. The drapes came down as the family wished to conduct this part of the ceremony privately.

After the body was laid in the Samadhi, nine priests conducted the managala aarti as a concluding ritual.

The miracle

While devotees outside the ashram witnessed the whole ceremony on the big screens, a miracle strengthened their faith in the godman who had left his mortal body on Sunday.

The huge crowd stood up in joy as they saw the moon shown brightly in the sky, amidst the powerful rays of the sun. The crowds cheered and sang praises to Sathya Sai Baba of Puttaparthi.

see more  pictures:

Sai Baba, spiritual guru to millions, dies at 85

The death of Sri Sathya Sai Baba at the age of 85 from heart and breathing problems has prompted scenes of mass grief across India – where his distinctive frizzy hair, trademark saffron robes, controversial miracles and simple message of ecumenical spiritualism had made him a new-age icon.

But though revered by millions around the world as a living god, he was a controversial figure, criticised by some as a fraud protected by political influence. His later years were dogged by allegations of sexual abuse.

The government of the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, where Sai Baba was born, declared four days of mourning. Hundreds of police were deployed in his hometown of Puttaparthi, to maintain order among the thousands of devotees who had gathered over recent days.

In the city of Bangalore, followers walked through the streets carrying portraits of the dead spiritual leader and chanting "Baba is not with us physically. But he remains with us forever."

In Delhi, worshippers gathered to pray at temples across the city. Many refused to accept that the guru was dead.

"Sai has not gone anywhere. Wait 48 hours. He will be back," Vandana Bhalla, a 38-year-old housewife in the Indian capital's middle-class Ashok Vihar neighbourhood told the Guardian.

Among Sai Baba's estimated six million followers are hundreds of top Indian politicians, industrialists, tycoons, Bollywood stars and sportsmen such as cricketer Sachin Tendulkar. Overseas, they include Goldie Hawn and Isaac Tigrett, the founder of Hard Rock café. Sarah Ferguson has visited one of his ashrams.

Since Sai Baba founded his first permanent meditation centre more than 60 years ago, a vast construction programme funded by donations has converted the remote village where he was born into a thriving small city with dozens of temples, its own 220-bed specialised hospital offering free treatment, a university and an airport where charter planes bringing devotees from around the world arrive every day.

Volunteers working with Sai Baba's NGOs have effectively delivered disaster relief and undertaken large-scale developmental works that have brought water or sanitation to hundreds of thousands of people.

There are thought to be more than 1,200 centres of his Sathya Sai organisation in over a hundred countries around the world.

Sai Baba did not appoint any successor to run his sprawling spiritual and temporal empire, currently run by a trust, after his death. The local Economic Times newspaper estimated its worth at up to £5bn though admitted no accurate valuation was possible. There are now fears of a clash between Sai Baba's family and the trust, which could also provide an excuse for the local state government to step in.

"If the government has to take over the affairs of Sai Baba's mission that could spell its end," devotee Shivanand Shetty told the Sunday Guardian newspaper in Puttaparthi.

In Delhi, devotees said the spirit of the dead guru would maintain peace.

"His trust is run very professionally and … it will be Sai who will be guiding them," said Dr Amala Venugopal, a general medical practitioner.

Born without wealth or advantage as Sathyanarayana Raju, Sai Baba declared himself the reincarnation of Sai Baba of Shirdi, a 19th century guru, when he was 14. Followers claim that, after being stung by a scorpion, the teenager began singing devotional chants in the ancient language of Sanskrit, which he neither spoke nor read.

The young religious leader, who accepted devotees from all faiths, quickly won fame for supposed mystical powers including the ability to conjure objects including gold watches out of thin air and to heal. Critics said his miracles were simple magic tricks.

Sai Baba was also the subject of a series of allegations of sexual abuse of young male followers. Participants in a 2004 BBC documentary, The Secret Swami, accused him of massaging their testicles with oil and coercing them into oral sex.

Former devotee Barry Pittard told the Guardian Sai Baba was a dangerous confidence trickster who should not have been allowed to have anything to do with children. "For the worst victims of his depredations … their sufferings have been very great," he said.

Sai Baba was never been charged with any offence over the sex abuse allegations and had denied all the charges against him, claiming they were part of a campaign to defame him.

"Some people out of their mean-mindedness are trying to tarnish the image of Sai Baba. I am not after name and fame. So, I do not lose anything by their false allegations. My glory will go on increasing day by day," the guru told followers in 2000.

In 1993, six people died violently in the spiritual leader's private rooms. The incident has never been fully explained. One possibility is a dispute between followers over money.

Sai Baba, spiritual guru to millions, dies at 85

India's prime minister Manmohan Singh said Sai Baba's death was "an irreparable loss" to all: "He was a spiritual leader who inspired millions to lead a moral and meaningful life even as they followed the religion of their choice."

Sai Baba had predicted his own death in 2019 but said that, having been reborn as the second reincarnation of Sai Baba of Shirdi, he would be reborn as the holy man's third and final reincarnation in 2023 in a small village in the state of Karnataka. His followers claim that, as he has died earlier than foreseen, he could return as early as next year.

State funeral for Sai Baba, Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi attend

India: State funeral for Sai Baba, Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi attend

After a multi-faith ceremony in which Muslims, Christians and Sikhs read from their sacred texts, hundreds of thousands of people followed the body to its burial ground. The guru was not cremated but laid to rest in the public hall of his ashram in Andhra Pradesh, an honour reserved only to those ...

Puttaparthi – Hundreds of thousands of people took part in the funeral of Sai Baba, who was buried rather than cremated, a privilege reserved only for those Hindus consider saints. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress Party leader Sonia Gandhi attended the ceremony.

Sai Baba was buried with full state honours inside the public hall in the ashram in Puttaparthi. Huge crowds followed the ceremony, singing and praying.

A multi-faith ceremony preceded the actual funeral. Muslim, Christian and Sikh clerics read from their scriptures before orange-robed Hindu priests took over. The service included a gun salute.

Sai Baba created a large movement with followers around the world.

In Kathmandu, about 30,000 followers met in the heart of the capital, singing hymns and saying prayers in front of a picture of the guru.

Hundreds of Nepalis left for India, but many of those who could not travel organised a parallel ceremony in the Kathmandu. “Come back, our dear almighty; we are all waiting for you! Sai! Our dear Sai”, the faithful sang. Some said they expect Sai Baba to rise again.

As popular as he was, Sai Baba was not free from controversies. He was accused of “organising” some of the miracles attributed to him. Some of his followers also accused him of sexual abuse, something he steadfastly denied.

Conversely, others see his work in a more positive light. “He did a lot of good in the poorest districts, opening schools and hospitals,” Bishop Moses D. Prakasam of Nellore told AsiaNews. “Through his compassion, he built water systems, provided water to the villages in Anantpur district, as well as irrigation. What he did is worthy of respect.”