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Sathya Sai Baba (Telugu) born as Sathyanarayana Raju (23 November 1926 – 24 April 2011) was a popular Indian guru, spiritual figure and educator. He is described by his devotees as an Avatar, god man, spiritual teacher and miracle worker. The apparent materializing of vibuthi (holy ash) and other small objects such as rings, necklaces and watches by Baba has been a source of both fame and controversy – skeptics consider these simple conjuring tricks, while devotees consider them evidence of divinity. Sathya Sai Baba claimed to be the reincarnation of the spiritual guru, Sai Baba of Shirdi, whose teachings were an eclectic blend of Hindu and Muslim beliefs.

Sathya Sai Baba and his organizations support a variety of free educational institutions, hospitals, and other charitable works in India and abroad. The number of active Sathya Sai Baba adherents was estimated in 1999 to be around 6 million, although followers’ estimations are far higher. Since there are no formal ties of membership, the actual figure may never be known. The Sathya Sai Organization reports that there are an estimated 1,200 Sathya Sai Baba Centers in 114 countries worldwide. In India itself, Sai Baba draws followers from predominantly upper-middle-class, urban sections of society who have the “most wealth, education and exposure to Western ideas.” He was a cultural icon in India and drew an audience with presidents and prime ministers from India and beyond who have become his devotees; in 2002, he claimed to have followers in 178 countries.

He was born to Eswaramma and Peddavenkama Raju Ratnakaram in the village of Puttaparthi, Andhra Pradesh, India. Almost everything known about his life stems from the hagiography that has grown around him, the presentation of narratives that hold special meaning to his devotees and are considered evidence of his divine nature.

His birth, which his mother Eswaramma asserted was by miraculous conception, was also said to be heralded by miracles. As a child, he was described as “unusually intelligent” and charitable. He was exceptionally talented in drama, music, dance and writing, and was an avid composer of poems and plays. He was said to be capable of materialising objects such as food and sweets out of thin air.

On 8 March 1940, while living with his elder brother Seshama Raju in Uravakonda, Sathya was apparently stung by a scorpion. He lost consciousness for several hours. Within the next few days there was a noticeable change in Sathya’s behavior. There were “symptoms of laughing and weeping, eloquence and silence.” “He began to sing Sanskrit verses, a language of which he had no prior knowledge.” Doctors believed his behavior to be hysteria. His parents brought Sathya home to Puttaparthi. Concerned, they took him to many priests, “doctors” and exorcists.

On 23 May 1940, Sathya called household members and materialised prasad and flowers for his family members. His father became furious upon seeing this, thinking his son was bewitched. He took a stick and asked him who he was. To this Sathya announced calmly and firmly “I am Sai Baba,” a reference to Sai Baba of Shirdi. He proclaimed himself to be a reincarnation of Sai Baba of Shirdi—a saint who became famous in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century’s in Maharashtra, and who had died eight years before Sathya was born.

Later that year, Sathya Sai Baba declared that he had no worldly relationship with anyone,[13] and around this time, devotees began to gather to him. In 1940, Sathya Sai Baba began to travel to Madras and elsewhere in South India and soon had a large regional following.

In 1944, a mandir (temple) for Sathya Sai Baba’s devotees was built near the village. It is now referred to as the old mandir. The construction of Prashanthi Nilayam, the current ashram, began in 1948 and after 2 years, was completed in 1950. In 1957 Sathya Sai Baba went on a North Indian temple tour. In 1954, Sathya Sai Baba established a small free General Hospital in the village of Puttaparthi.

Illness, death and reaction

Sathya Sai Baba was admitted to a hospital at Prashantigram at Puttaparthi on 28 March, 2011 following respiration-related problems. After many days of hospitalisation, during which his condition progressively deteriorated, he died on 24 April at 7:40 IST. His funeral is scheduled to be held 27 April. Many of his devotees, some of whom had held vigil outside the hospital for many days, gathered around the hospital causing police to be concerned about a breakdown in law and order. Police resorted to lathicharging the huge crowds. More police were expected to be deployed for his funeral.

His body would lie in state for two days.

Karnataka declared 25 and 26 April as days of mourning and Andhra Pradesh declared 25, 26 and 27 April as days of mourning. The government of Karnataka was also organising charter buses to go to Puttaparthi.

Political reactions were swift with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and opposition leader Lal Krishna Advani offering their condolences. Lalu Prasad Yadav and southern politicians such as the Karnataka Chief Minister B. S. Yeddyurappa, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi, J. Jayalalitha and Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N. Kiran Kumar Reddy also offered their condolences.Other notable figures who expressed their grief are Sachin Tendulkar,Sunil Gavaskar,Ricky Martin,Arjuna Ranatunga and many more. It is notable that Sachin Tendulkar canceled all his Birthday party celebrations for the demise of his spiritual Guru.

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