Sai Baba laid to rest

Puttaparthi: Sathya Sai Baba, who had a phenomenal following across the globe with his message of universal love and brotherhood, was bid adieu at a solemn ceremony today when he was laid to rest at the very spot from where he used to meet and address his disciples for years.

The Sai Kulwanth Hall in Prasanthi Nilayam, the abode from where Sai Baba ran a spiritual empire, reverberated with hymns from the vedas and chants of "Om Sai Ram" as the last rites were performed by the Baba`s nephew R J Ratnakar.

The Kurnool Battalion of Andhra Pradesh Special Police presented a 21-gun salute as a mark of respect to the spiritual leader for whom the government declared a state funeral.

Watched by a galaxy of political personalities including Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka chief ministers N Kiran Kumar Reddy and BS Yeddyurappa, Governors ESL Narasimhan and Shivraj V Patil, BJP leaders LK Advani, M Venkaiah Naidu, Bandaru Dattatreya, former AP chief minister N Chandrababu Naidu and former Maharashtra chief minister Ashok Chavan and hundreds of his followers, Sai Baba`s body was laid to rest amidst chanting of "Sai" mantras.

Once the last rites were performed by vedic pandits, red curtains were drawn around 9:45 am and the process started for laying the body in a pit created at the spot in Sai Kulwant where he used to make his preachings for his followers for a number of years.

Navratnas were placed in Sai Baba`s mouth while `vibhudi` (sacred ash) and cow milk were sprinkled on his body. Priests from Rajahmundry in Andhra Pradesh and Bengaluru conducted the process that lasted about 25 minutes.

The spot where he was buried is now expected to become an eternal memorial for Sai Baba, who at the age of 14 announced himself as a reincarnation of Shirdi Sai Baba.

He made his mark initially with miracles but later founded institutions of excellence in education and medical facilities besides undertaking development work and philanthropy.

Sai Baba died on Sunday morning after fighting illness for nearly a month caused by multi-organ failure.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Congress President Sonia Gandhi, political leaders from various parties, chief ministers and personalities from various fields including cricket and films had visited Puttaparthi in the last two days to pay their homage.

An estimated five lakh people from various parts of the country and abroad had filed past the body to have a final glimpse of their spiritual guru.

The curtains were removed after 40 minutes for the people to have a glimpse of the `samadhi` where the body was laid to rest in line with the practice adopted for Hindu spiritual leaders. Normally, Hindus cremate their bodies.

Governor Narasimhan, Chief Ministers Reddy and Yeddyurappa, Advani, Chandra Babu Naidu and other leaders went to the samadhi, had a word with Ratnakar and sprinkled sacred ash at the spot as a mark of final respect.

Earlier, at 8.55 am, the national tri-colour was placed for a brief while on the glass casket in which Sai Baba`s body was lying in state from Sunday night.

Men of the Andhra Pradesh Special Police sounded the last post and fired three shots in the air as a mark of respect.

Prior to this, verses from Hindu, Christian, Islamic, Sikh, Judaism and Buddhist scriptures were read out by leaders from these sects. Later, they joined in sprinkling the sacred ash at the samadhi spot as `mangal aarti` was performed.

With Sai Baba`s body draped in his favourite saffron robe, the last rites were performed by Ratnakar, who wept inconsolably, while priests recited vedic chants.

Ratnakar is a member of the powerful Sathya Sai Central Trust, estimated to be in possession of wealth to the tune of Rs 40,000 crore, and is believed to be a contender in the race to head the trust.

Water from sacred rivers from all over the country were sprinkled on Sai Baba`s body along with cow milk. A Cow and calf, honey, ghee and silk were given as gifts to priests as per custom.

After the ceremony was over, people queued up once again to have a look at the samadhi, which was opened for public viewing after 11.35 am.The samadhi darshan will continue till the 29th.