Since the death of Sai Baba in April, the town of Puttaparthi has lost not just its centre of gravity but much of its sheen. Allegations of vast money being siphoned away from Sai Baba's Ashram have led to speculation about whether the Sri Sathya Sai Central Trust can preserve the Sai Baba legacy. Without the huge crowds the spiritual and religious leader drew, those who made their living catering to tourists are suddenly unemployed.
But today, the old Puttaparthi made a comeback. This morning, a white marble Samadhi was unveiled -it marks the place where Sai Baba was buried in the Sai Kulwant Hall at his world-famous Prashant Nilayam ashram. When he died, his body was kept on display here for three days. A stream of VIPs from cricketer Sachin Tendulkar to politician LK Advani had offered their last respects. (See
Today, there were non-famous devotees. Present in thousands. "I have been coming here for 15 years. His body has gone but that makes no difference to me," said Amir Zenus from Sudan.
The Samadhi was unveiled on the occasion of Guru Purnima
, which signifies a full-moon, and pays tribute to the sage Vyasa, regarded in Hinduism as one of the greatest-ever gurus or life-instructors.
And Puttaparthi wants nothing more than a new beginning that compares to the era that's just ended. "We are hopeful that with the mahasamadhi
, business will improve again," says Bash Ahmed, a shopkeeper.
Even the Trust used the occasion for a cleansing of sorts. It placed ads in local newspapers to stress that finances are being carefully accounted for and managed.