Cricketer Tendulkar Joins 200,000 Paying Homage to Indian Guru
Cricketers Sachin Tendulkar and Sunil Gavaskar joined tens of thousands of devotees to pay homage to Sathya Sai Baba, the Indian spiritual guru whose charities and claimed miracles won him both devotion and scorn.
“He is going to live in our hearts permanently,” former Indian cricket captain Gavaskar told reporters in the southern town of Puttaparthi in Andhra Pradesh state where Sai Baba, who died yesterday aged 84, built his ashram. “He will still continue to inspire us,” Gavaskar said in a televised address.
Politicians and film stars were also among followers who queued for a last glimpse of the preacher, taking turns to kneel besides his saffron-robed body placed in a glass casket at the town’s Sai Kulwant Hall. A state funeral is scheduled for Tuesday.
“At least 200,000 devotees have paid their respects. Schools and other establishments are closed,” senior police official B. Narasimhalu said in a phone interview.
Hard Rock Café founder Isaac Tigrett sold his stake in the restaurant chain and donated the entire proceeds of $108 million to Sai Baba for a specialty hospital in Puttaparthi to provide free health care to the rural poor, the Open magazine reported in April.
Sai Baba, who sported afro-style hair reminiscent of rock musician Jimi Hendrix, died after his heart and respiratory organs failed, A.N. Safaya, director at the Sri Sathya Sai Baba Institute of Higher Medical Sciences, said in a statement on the hospital’s website.
Sai Baba “endeared himself to the people through various institutions,” Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said in a statement yesterday. “He believed that it is the duty of every person to ensure that all people have access to the basic requirements for sustenance of life.”
Sai Baba’s trust has set up schools, universities and hospitals, with various Indian political leaders providing support for his charities. Former Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao and ex-president Shankar Dayal Sharma were present during the opening of a water project in 1995 in Andhra Pradesh state, while former premier Atal Bihari Vajpayee inaugurated a hospital in Bangalore.
At the age of 14, the guru told his family that he would be known as “Sai Baba,” the title of a past Indian ascetic of whom he claimed to be a reincarnation, according to a statement on his website. In 1960, he told his followers he would “leave his body” in 2019.
While devotees believe in his miracles, including acts of producing holy ash, rings and necklaces, fruits, sugar candy and watches out of thin air, critics have dismissed them as tricks.
They “remained controversial to others and he shied away from scientific tests that would have settled forever the issue of their genuineness,” said Erlendur Haraldsso, professor emeritus, faculty of social sciences at the University of Iceland, who did research on Indian “miracle-makers.”
Allegations by some former devotees that Sathya Sai Baba had sexually abused them tarnished his image. K. Chakravarty, secretary of the Sri Sathya Sai Central Trust didn’t answer calls made to his office yesterday.
“We don’t regard him as a genuine miracle worker,” said David C. Lane, a professor of sociology and philosophy at San Antonio College in Texas. “I have a number of reports from former disciples that they were molested under the guise of spiritual unfoldment.”
Sai Baba denied all charges against him and has not been charged with any offenses in India.
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