Sathya Sai Baba, a South Indian guru with devotees around the world, died Sunday morning at the age of 88. The AP reports:
Hindu guru Sathya Sai Baba, worshipped as a god by millions of followers worldwide, died Sunday morning in a hospital near his southern Indian ashram. He was 86.
Sai Baba had spent nearly a month on breathing support and dialysis while struggling with multiple-organ failure after being admitted March 28 to the Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Medical Sciences, near his ashram in Puttaparti village in Andhra Pradesh state.
Women selling marigold garlands broke down in tears outside the ashram when the news of his death was announced, and followers began trickling into the temple complex where the guru’s body would lie in state Sunday night through Tuesday. Hundreds of thousands of devotees are expected to pay last respects. A funeral with state honors is planned Wednesday morning.
The saffron-robed Sathya Sai Baba had a huge following, with ashrams in over 126 countries and Indian devotees including high-placed politicians, movie stars, world-class athletes and industrialists.
He was said to perform miracles, conjuring rings, watches and “vibhuti” — a sacred ash that his followers applied on their foreheads — from his overgrown and unkempt Afro-style hair.
Sai Baba was part of the twentieth century wave of gurus that impacted America and falls outside my current research interest, but I’ve read about him here and there during coursework and exams. I also know that there’s a chapter written by Norris W. Palmer about Sai Baba in Gurus in America edited by Thomas A. Forsthoefel and Cynthia Ann Humes that I’ve been meaning to look back over in the wake of his death.
The AP report doesn’t mention Sai Baba’s ability to attract devotees from various religious traditions, be it Christianity, Islam, or Hinduism. He also drew on religious sources (texts, shrines, holy people) from myriad traditions as well. I also always thought the ability to produce jewelry from his fro was remarkable, modern and downright cool. He was a global guru and he’ll be missed by devotees and academics alike.