Renowned Indian guru Śrī Satya Sai Baba dies aged 84


Śrī Satya Sai Baba, one of India’s most prominent spiritual leaders and revered by millions of followers worldwide, died Sunday in a Puttaparthi hospital, following a cardiac arrest. He was 84 and had been in hospital since last month, suffering from kidney failure and respiratory problems.

Followers and devotees of Śrī Baba considered him to be the manifestation of a “living God” on Earth and believed he had powers of magic, such as being able to pull things from out of thin air.

Former Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee was one of Śrī Baba’s followers, as was international test cricketer Sachin Tendulkar.

Sathya Sai Baba, Indian spiritual guru.

Worshippers carried Baba’s image through the streets of Bangalore and extra police were deployed in his hometown of Puttaparthi. In Delhi, masses gathered in temples and some refused to accept Baba’s death.

With an estimated six million followers, Baba saw donations allow for the expansion of his home village to include many temples, a hospital offering free medical care, a university, and an airport. His first permanent facility opened 60 years ago.

Born Sathyanarayana Raju, Baba decided at the age of fourteen that he was the reincarnation of 19th-century guru Sai Baba of Shirdi. The legend runs that Baba was stung by a scorpion and then sang religious chants in a language previously unknown to him. He predicted his death in 2019, as well as a third and final reincarnation in Karnataka state in 2023.

Nobody has been appointed to take over running the trust that promotes the faith, which has over 1,200 centres worldwide. There are fears the family and trust could argue, leading to a government takeover. “If the government has to take over the affairs of Sai Baba’s mission that could spell its end,” warned one devotee.

“Some people out of their mean-mindedness are trying to tarnish the image of Sai Baba,” said Baba in 2000, after allegations of sexual abuse were made against him by young men, claims the BBC highlighted in 2004. “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,” Baba added.

Claims that Śrī Baba was a charlatan and allegations of sexual abuse dogged him constantly. In 1993, six people “died violently in the spiritual leader’s private rooms,” The Guardian reported. No full explanation has ever been given for the deaths, though speculation of a money dispute has been raised.

In a statement, current Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said that the death of the guru was an “”irreparable loss” to India, adding, “He was a spiritual leader who inspired millions to lead a moral and meaningful life even as they followed the religion of their choice.”

The guru’s body is being kept at the hospital amid appeals for his devotees not to flood them to see his body. The public viewing of Śrī Baba’s body will take place Monday and Tuesday, and a funeral will follow. There are to be four days of mourning in his home state, Andhra Pradesh, by decree of the state government.

 

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