The stage is set for the last rites of spiritual leader Sathya Sai Baba, on Wednesday at the same place in Sai Kulwant Hall where he used to sit in an ornate chair to give darshan to devotees.
The State government has already announced its decision to conduct the last rites with State honours and a holiday has been declared in Anantapur district on Wednesday. But for the movement of devotees who continued to descend on the pilgrim township in thousands to have a last glimpse of the departed spiritual leader, normal life came to a virtual standstill in this town as realisation dawned on the devotees that the Sai Baba is no more. The deadline for darshan was initially fixed at 6 pm on Tuesday to enable the Sathya Sai Central Trust to make arrangements for the last rites on Wednesday. However, in view of the ever swelling number of devotees, Rayalaseema IG Santosh Mehra and other senior police officials decided to extend the darshan till Tuesday midnight.
While the international town has the capacity to accommodate an estimated one lakh people, over two lakh devotees have descended on it since Sunday. The prospect of covering a distance of over five km from the parking lot under the scorching sun did not deter the devotees from within the State and outside. The residents of the town volunteered to provide them with water sachets, breakfast and other services.
A few number of devotees collapsed on their way to Prashanti Nilayam, unable to bear the agony. The Sathya Sai volunteers rushed them to the hospital for treatment.
The town has virtually been taken over by the police who are regulating the movement of the surging crowd forming four separate queue lines and avoid stampede. Stray incidents of jostling were witnessed, particularly at the Satyamma temple where a woman fell unconscious. Police used mild force at some other points of entry .