Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi led thousands of mourners, who came from different parts of the country, in paying their last respects to Sathya Sai Baba on Tuesday evening.

They flew in here by an IAF aircraft, accompanied by External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna and Union Minister for Information and Broadcasting Ambika Soni and drove straight to Prashanthi Nilayam, where Sai Baba's body has been placed in a gold-rimmed casket.

Dr. Singh and Ms. Gandhi sat in silence with folded hands near the body while bhajans rendered by devotees added to the sombre mood in the hall. After spending about 25 minutes, both flew back to New Delhi. A little later, cricketer V.V.S. Laxman and his wife too paid homage. Senior Bharatiya Janata Party leader L.K. Advani is expected to arrive on Wednesday morning for the funeral.

A large crowd that thronged this tiny town during the past three days for the last ‘darshan' is expected to trickle down as work on the “samadhi” will be given a final shape. Though details were not forthcoming, it will be as ornate as everything to do with Prashanthi Nilayam usually is and will be located at the very place the Baba used to sit and deliver his discourses. An impressive idol of the Baba in a sitting position is being readied to give a feeling to the devotees that he is addressing them.

As many as 11 ‘peetadhipathis' from all over the country will participate in the final rites while priests from other religions would render prayers. Water from the Ganga and other sacred rivers is being brought to sprinkle on the place where he will be laid to rest.

Meanwhile, the Sathya Sai Central Trust members who met on Tuesday morning, for the first time in the absence of the founder-chairman, Sai Baba, paid “reverential homage” to him and in a resolution “offered themselves in all humility and with sense of total unity at the feet of Sai Baba and prayed to him to guide and inspire all the work they do…”

The resolution, significantly signed by R.J. Ratnakar, one of the trustees and Sai Baba's nephew, spoke of how he “shed his mortal frame to return to his natural state of pure universal consciousness…”