April 27, 2011 / 6:56 AM / 8 years ago

Indian guru Sai Baba buried in state funeral, thousands grieve

PUTTAPARTHI, India (Reuters) - Indian spiritual guru Sri Sathya Sai Baba was buried on Wednesday as hundreds of thousands of devotees flocked to pay their last respects at his temple in south India to a man revered as a living God.

Indian cricketer Sachin Tendulkar (2nd R) pays his last respects to spiritual guru Sri Sathya Sai Baba at an ashram at Puttaparti in the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh April 25, 2011. Sai Baba, revered by millions of followers as a living god, died on Sunday in a hospital in southern India. He was 86. Sai Baba, who was admitted to hospital in his hometown of Puttaparti a month ago, died of multiple organ failure, media said. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

Tibetan monks, Muslim clerics, top politicians and military officers sat with hundreds of family members to commemorate the charismatic guru who drew millions of followers around the world with his diverse teachings that blended Hindu and Muslim beliefs.

Revered as the reincarnation of Hindu and Muslim saint Sai Baba of Shirdi, Sai Baba was a cultural icon in a rapidly modernizing Indian economy, where religion and spirituality still remain an integral part of daily life.

Sai Baba, who last month was admitted to hospital in his hometown of Puttaparti, in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh, died of multiple organ failure on Sunday. He was 85.

Hindu chants echoed around the temple during the funeral, conducted with full state honors, before the guru’s body was hidden behind a curtain for a private family burial. Giant screens around the town broadcast the ceremony to crowds of devotees.

Top politicians such as opposition leader L.K. Advani attended the ceremony, a day after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and ruling Congress party chief Sonia Gandhi visited the temple in Puttaparthi.

Hundreds of thousands of people have queued for hours in the stifling heat to file past the guru as his body lay in state since Sunday, dressed in his trademark orange robes. Local officials extended the viewing time to midnight on Tuesday to meet demand.

Queues stretched for kilometers through the town, which has shuttered its shops and businesses since Sunday. Authorities blocked traffic entering the town on fears of overcrowding, as devotees walked tens of kilometers to reach the temple.

His followers, estimated to number six million worldwide, included top Indian politicians, business tycoons and Bollywood stars. Indian cricket superstar Sachin Tendulkar wept as he crouched by the glass casket on Monday.

Sai Baba, with his distinctive frizzy hair and credited with mystical powers including conjuring objects out of thin air, ran schools and hospitals through trusts in numerous countries.

Questions have arisen over who will take over the management of his substantial assets.

Writing by Henry Foy; editing by Matthias Williams and Sanjeev Miglani

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