x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Sathya Sai Baba's death causes outpouring of grief across UAE

Followers of Indian spiritual guru pray in homes and gather at day-long meetings organised by social welfare groups.

Sathya Sai Baba during a public gathering in New Delhi. The spiritual figure died in India yesterday morning.
Sathya Sai Baba during a public gathering in New Delhi. The spiritual figure died in India yesterday morning.

DUBAI // Thousands of UAE-based followers of Sathya Sai Baba, who died yesterday morning, chanted his name and recited ancient Indian Vedic mantras in memory of the famed spiritual guru.

Devotees prayed in their homes or gathered at day-long meetings organised by social welfare groups.

Many shared a sense of disbelief. "We were very emotional when we heard the news, we cried a lot," said Sujatha Sunder Rajan, a Dubai housewife whose family annually visits their leader's Puttaparthi ashram in India's southern Andhra Pradesh state.



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"We calmed down afterwards because we believe his soul is with us everywhere."

She said it was tough to comprehend the news, which came in early yesterday, that the man they revered died of multiple organ failure at the age of 84.

"It's difficult for us to believe that he is not bodily with us," said Sunder Rajan, 47, whose family has lived in Dubai for 24 years.

"Now all we can do is say his name and keep our mind cool. He taught us the importance of a life of service and that's what we must continue."

People met in homes, where heads were bowed. Marigolds decorated the room and incense sticks burnt near portraits of the famed saffron-robed leader. The guru had followers all over the world from all walks of life; from government ministers and Bollywood stars to housewives and students.

Sai volunteer groups in the UAE have organised medical camps and blood donation drives in the past decade, and raised funds for schools in India.

"I can't believe this news, I can't believe he has left his mortal remains behind," said a follower, who asked to be identified as AV.

"His main teaching that service to mankind is service to god will be what we live by."

AV said groups in Dubai would continue visiting labour camps and serving workers with nutritious meals as part of the service many devotees have vowed to complete.

"It's not just prayer alone, satisfaction also comes from seva [service]," AV said. "It is a spiritual recharge after a mundane mechanical life."

Several fought back tears as they left yesterday's meetings, others gave thanks that they had visited his Indian ashram for his blessings.

"Nothing we say will be normal today. We can just pray and live a life of love, truth and ahimsa [non-violence]," said one follower.

Rema Menon, a director of Counselling Point, an educational services group, said the guru brought hope to families.

"He gave comfort to a lot of people," said Ms Menon, who has addressed meetings organised by Sai volunteer groups in the Emirates.