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PM Manmohan Singh to join mourners for Sathya Sai Baba
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PUTTAPARTHI(AP): Prime Minister Manmohan Singh headed Tuesday to join mourners in southeast India paying respects to Sathya Sai Baba , a charismatic Hindu guru who had millions of followers worldwide.

Huge crowds have descended on Sai Baba's ashram in Puttaparthi in Andhra Pradesh state to bid a final farewell to the spiritual leader who died of multiple organ failure on Sunday aged 85.

Grieving devotees including poor villagers, foreign pilgrims and cricket stars such as Sachin Tendulkar have filed past the corpse on display in a transparent casket.

Singh, a Sikh who described Sai Baba as "an inspiration to people of all faiths", was expected to pay his final respects on Tuesday evening along with Sonia Gandhi , leader of the ruling Congress party, and other dignitaries.

Sergey Eliseev , 41, from Nizhniy Novgorod in Russia, said he had travelled to Sai Baba's hometown when the guru fell seriously ill.

"I was attracted by his teachings and principles," he said after queueing for hours in the heat to see the body. "I came to Puttaparthi on hearing that he was in hospital.

"I wanted to see him in person but I could see only his body now. I am at peace, though sad that I could not meet him when he was alive."

Eliseev said he would return home after the funeral on Wednesday, when Sai Baba will be buried in the custom of Hindu holy men instead of cremated.

Sai Baba's followers believe he had magical powers to conjure objects out of thin air, visit people in their dreams, perform miracles and cure terminal illnesses.

He had ashrams in 126 countries and also ran a network of hospitals, clinics and schools that were often free due to funds donated by the faithful.

However his critics accused him of being a persuasive fraudster who used his huge popularity to avoid being investigated over allegations of murky financial practices and sexual abuse.

Sai Baba, who had a mass of frizzy black hair and always wore saffron robes, claimed to be the reincarnation of a former holy man, Sai Baba of Shirdi, who died in 1918.

Madhav Gangadhar, 24, a post-graduate student at Sai Baba's university in Puttaparthi, said she believed her guru would himself be reincarnated.

"He will be born again," she said. "He has been a living god in human form for me. He may have left the body but his soul is immortal."

Source - ET
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