Puttaparthi: Amid chanting of Sai mantras, the last rites of spiritual guru Sri Sathya Sai Baba were performed at Sai Kulwant Hall in his Prashanti Nilayam ashram on Wednesday in accordance with Vedic customs.
The rites were performed by his nephew RJ Ratnakar in the presence of thousands of grieving devotees, following which the mortal remains of the 85-year-old spiritual leader, whose clout spread far and wide, were buried.
The spot is now expected to become an eternal memorial for Sathya Sai Baba, who at the age of 14 announced himself as a reincarnation of Shirdi Sai Baba.
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 Hall, from where the spiritual leader used to make his preaching for his followers for a number of years.
Baba’s resting place is 3 by 6 by 4.5 ft deep pit. It is 10ft behind from where his body was placed in the glass casket in the hall since Sunday evening.
After the body was laid to rest in the sleeping position, holy water from seven sacred rivers and soil from the Saraswati Teertha, a pilgrimage spot – near present day Kurukshetra - from where the ancient Saraswati river is said to have emerged, alongwith salt, silver, gold and navaratnas were used to fill in Baba’s Samadhi. The process took about 25 minutes.
Later a memorial with a golden statue of Baba would be built at the spot.
While nearly half the ceremony was open to those present in the hall, including a litany of politicians and bureaucrats, the burial was performed by only a handful of relatives and disciples besides priests.
In their homage to a man who never spoke against any religion, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist and Jewish priests also read out their scriptures before the rituals began around 9.00 am.
Disciples of Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama also attended the last rites.
A guard of honour was given by the Andhra Pradesh Police who came in a slow march and draped the national flag on the transparent casket, before the body was moved for the burial.
The buglers sounded the Last Post and policemen fired three shots in the air outside the hall.
Outside Prashanti Nilayam and across the town, despite the searing weather, hundreds of thousands of men, women and children watched the last rites on giant screens. Many broke down, knowing they would never again see in flesh and blood a man they viewed as god.
A host of VIPs including Governor ESL Narasimhan, Chief Minister Kiran Kumar Reddy, BJP leader LK Advani, Punjab Governor Shivraj Patil, Venkaiah Naidu, Chandrababu Naidu, and Karnataka Chief Minister BS Yeddyurappa attended the funeral ceremony.
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.