South Asia

Satya Sai Baba, Indian guru, dies at 84

Rickshaws with pictures of Satya Sai Baba, in Puttaparti, India, April 2011
Image caption Sri Satya Sai Baba had followers across Indian society and around the world

One of India's most revered spiritual leaders, Sri Satya Sai Baba, has died in hospital at the age of 84.

The guru, who suffered respiratory problems and kidney failure, died in his hometown Puttaparthi after a cardiac arrest, doctors said.

He enjoyed support from all areas of Indian society and had followers around the world.

But he was dogged by controversy including allegations, never proven, of sexual abuse and charlatanism.

High-profile followers included former Indian Prime Minster Atal Behari Vajpayee and cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar.

Many devotees considered him a living god, and credited him with mystical powers including the ability to conjure objects out of the air.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh described his death as an "irreparable loss".

"He was a spiritual leader who inspired millions to lead a moral and meaningful life even as they followed the religion of their choice," said Mr Singh.

Reincarnation claim

His organisation has financed health and education projects, among them hospitals and clinics that claim to cure illnesses beyond the capabilities of mainstream medicine.

Image caption Devotees grieved in Puttaparthi at news of the guru's death

But his career was dogged by controversy.

He was accused of faking some of the so-called miracles attributed to him and some former followers accused him of sexually abusing young male followers.

The allegations were denied and he was never charged with any offence.

The hospital said his body would be available for public viewing on Monday and Tuesday before a funeral ceremony is held.

"We appeal to all not to rush to the hospital, but to remain calm and have Darshan [viewing] in an orderly manner," the hospital said in a statement.

In recent weeks, the hospital has been mobbed by groups of devotees praying for the guru's wellbeing.

Satya Sai Baba's hometown has been transformed into a vast complex of hotels, resorts, university buildings, and an enormous ashram thronging with devotees.

He rose to prominence as a youngster after announcing to his family that he was the reincarnation of Shirdi Sai Baba, a 19th Century Indian holy man who had been equally venerated by Hindus and Muslims.

By 1950 he had built his first ashram, and in recent decades managed to build up a global following.

More on this story