Prime Minister, Sonia Gandhi pay homage to Sathya Sai Baba

Puttaparthi: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress President Sonia Gandhi today joined thousands of mourners in paying homage to godman Sathya Sai Baba, who will be interred here tomorrow morning after a state funeral.

An estimated two lakh people filed past the body of the spiritual leader at the Sai Kulwant Hall where prominent personalities including Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, Union Ministers S M Krishna, Ambika Sonia, and Cabinet Secretary K M Chandrashekhar paid their last respects.

In keeping with the secular traditions at the Prashanti Nilayam, Sai Bhajans invoking Shiva, Ram, Allah and Jesus Christ were rendered as Singh and Gandhi sat for 10 minutes near the body of the spiritual leader, who attracted millions of followers across the globe.

Both the leaders flew here from Delhi by a special aircraft and drove straight to Prashanti Nilayam. They placed wreaths at the feet of Sai Baba, whose body was lying in state in a glass case. They stood in silence for a few moments, prayed and then sat for 10 minutes listening to the bhajans.

Singh and Gandhi exchanged a few words with Srinivas, a member of the Sri Sathya Sai Central Trust before leaving Prashanti Nilayam from where the godman ran his spiritual empire that included educational and medical institutions and developmental and philanthropic activities.

Andhra Pradesh Governor E S L Narasimhan and Chief Minister N Kiran Kumar Reddy accompanied the two leaders to Prashanti Nilayam.

With mile-long queues of Baba's followers waiting to have a glimpse of his mortal remains, the authorities decided to extend the darshan till midnight tonight. Till evening today, police have estimated that about 3.5 lakh people would have visited Prashanti Nilayam and paid their homage.

There was some commotion occasionally when the milling crowds got impatient at the long wait. Arrangements were modified to allow people to stand in four rows instead of two.

They also decided to thrown open the 'samadhi', where the Baba will be interred in line with the practice adopted for Hindu spirital leaders, for two days till April 29 from 12 noon tomorrow.

Pontiffs from various religious mutts, especially in South India, are expected to attend the burial ceremony tomorrow between 9 am and 9:30 am in Kulwant Hall, where a memorial is expected to be erected.
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