Thousands gather for guru's funeral
Thousands of tearful devotees, including top politicians, have gathered for the funeral of Sathya Sai Baba, one of India's best-known Hindu ascetics revered as a divine incarnation with miraculous healing powers.
The 84-year-old guru's death on Sunday triggered an outpouring of grief from followers who included politicians, film stars, athletes and industrialists.
Hindus usually cremate their dead, but infants and people considered pure and saintly are often buried. The guru was to be buried inside the same auditorium at his ashram, or spiritual retreat, in the southern Indian town of Puttaparti where his body had been on display and where he gave his sermons.
Hindu priests chanted verses from Hindu texts and anointed Sai Baba's body with oil and flowers as they prepared for the burial. The mourners, both Indian and foreign, sat on the cool marble floor surrounding the guru's glass casket and chanted hymns and sacred verses.
Most remembered Sai Baba as a pious, selfless person who worked to help others with the billions donated to his charitable trust. However, he had also been dismissed by some in the past as a charlatan who passed off magic tricks as miracles.
Senior politicians joined the throng of mourners in the packed hall. Since Sai Baba's death, Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh, leader of the ruling Congress party Sonia Gandhi and cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar have been among the visitors to the auditorium.
Religious leaders from different faiths, including a Christian priest and a Muslim imam, addressed the crowd before the funeral. Several portraits of the guru - with his halo of dark, frizzy hair and in his trademark orange robes - decorated the hall.
Outside the auditorium, several thousand devotees watched the ceremony on a large screen.