One of India’s most renowned spiritual leaders, Sathya Sai Baba—who was considered a living god by millions of followers in India and abroad—died in a hospital funded by his organization in the town of Puttaparthi in the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, doctors treating him said Sunday. A medical bulletin posted on the hospital website Sunday morning said he died following heart and respiratory problems, which had left him in critical condition for the past three weeks.
“Bhagwan (God) Sathya Sai Baba is no more with us physically. He left his earthly body on April 24, 2011 at 7:40 am due to cardio-respiratory failure,” the hospital statement said. Hospital director A.N. Safaya said the body will lie in the hospital hall for two days for devotees to pay homage and appealed to people to remain calm. As doctors announced the death of the Hindu holy man, hundreds of devotees gathered outside the hospital to catch a last glimpse of their revered guru. Shahnawaz Qasim, superintendent of police in Andhra Pradesh said Sunday security has been tightened in the area.
“So far, the situation is under control. All roads leading to the hospital have been blocked and shops have been ordered to close at Puttaparthi,” he said. Mr. Qasim said there were also concerns that unrest could be triggered if there is a succession battle to control the organization named after Sathya Sai Baba. The 85-year old Hindu mystic, known for what he claimed were miracles and his bushy head of curly hair, has claimed to be the re-embodiment of the great 19th-century spiritual guru, Sai Baba of Shirdi, who was from the western state of Maharashtra and whose teachings were a combination of Hindu and Muslim beliefs. Sai Baba of Shirdi, who lived an extremely simple and austere life, died in 1918.
According to his Web site, Sathya Sai Baba renounced the world aged 14, left home and began traveling around south India, acquiring a following along the way. He set up his ashram in Puttaparthi at the age of 24, and devotees from different Indian states and abroad began to converge there. A million people attended his 70th birthday celebrations in 1995. Sathya Sai Baba is believed by his followers to be an avatar of God in human form. He has also impressed devotees by recounting his memories of past lives. The saffron-robed guru, according to his website, has won acclaim for his work in education and health. His hospitals also claim to have cured ailments that could not be treated by conventional medicine.