Although Sathya Sai Baba breathed his last at 7.40 a.m. at the Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Medical Sciences, the hospital did not officially break the news till 10.15 a.m. However, well before that, rumours of the death swept through Puttaparthi, for all practical purposes turning it into a town under curfew. By 8.30 a.m., shops had downed shutters and roadside eateries closed down. Vehicle movement on the narrow bylanes was stopped and police personnel took position.
Once the announcement was made, the entire town came to a standstill. Security was stepped up with nearly 11,000 policemen from 10 districts of Andhra Pradesh positioned at vantage positions and on the State Highway leading into town. Devotees, grim-faced and teary-eyed, started trickling into Prashanthi Nilayam.
The 6-km stretch from the hospital was cordoned off. Around 8 a.m., Sai Baba's family members were seen rushing to the hospital in their vehicles.
All traffic from the Hindupur main road to Puttaparthi was stopped 5 km from the hospital.
The administration expects some three to four lakh devotees from outside the State and a couple of lakhs from neighbouring villages and districts to reach Puttaparthi over the next three days.
The normally quiet Puttaparthi airport, roared to life after Sai Baba's death, with a number of private aircraft and helicopters arriving. The first among the VIPs to come were Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N. Kiran Kumar Reddy and Governor E.S.L. Narasimhan. The road connecting the airport was sanitised and the security forces were on top alert.
Public announcement systems were set up and mobile LCD vans with digital display screens to telecast happenings in the ashram took position.
As news spread that the Baba's body would be brought to the ashram in the afternoon, people ran onto the streets in a frenzy of emotion. Men and women of all age groups could be seen crying without any restraint. The air was filled with the slogan, ‘Satya Sai Bhagwan ki jai.'
The Baba's body was brought to the ashram through the Gopuram Street entrance by 3.10 p.m. Foreign devotees who had congregated at the ashram began reciting bhajans. The ashram had a sea of humanity – people unable to control their tears and those trying to retain their composure by singing Baba bhajans.
Krishna Reddy, an ashram insider, said: “All of us thought Baba will live for 96 years. This is a big shock to us. We'll believe his soul will live in the ashram with us.”