Puttaparthi sorrow deep but muted

Once the news spread at Puttaparthi shops, offices and hotels closed down and within no time, the town was engulfed in grief over the loss of its most famous son.

At Prashanthi Nilayam, Baba’s headquarters, devotees began coming in and sat for silent prayers. At 11:30 am, a heartbroken Gowramma (name changed) stormed into the Ashram and began weeping inconsolably. Her cries of ‘Swami, Swami’ made a few other devotees wail as well.

But a woman devotee warned her against mourning and said aloud to others: “What’s this non-sense? Don’t allow anybody to do this.”

Barely a few feet away, a foreign devotee, wearing dark spectacles, sat in meditation. His unobtrusive way of mourning reflected his devotion to the Baba. He could not stop his tears but wiped them and regained his composure.  

Later, police put wooden barricades outside the ashram. Entry into and exit from, the area are restricted.

Cut to Chitravathi Road. A petty shopkeeper cried while attending to his customers. He asked a group of carefree teenagers to leave when their chatter became loud.
Noon, Coconut Grove: The neighbourhood is quiet. Devotees are not mourning but on their faces, the expression is unmistakable. It’s disbelief and shock. Sivalayam, Baba’s birthplace where a small temple has been built, is surprisingly silent. It gives no indication that the man who was born here has left this world. Inside the temple where hand portraits of Baba’s parents are hung, an old man is sleeping on the floor and a middle-aged woman is snoozing outside with her palm on the cheek.

Some distance down the street, life is normal as people appear relaxed. Maybe they were sad, but nothing indicated so. Prashanthi Nilayam, 3 pm. Baba’s body was taken in an ambulance. The route, made out of bounds for people, suddenly bustles like Bangalore’s Majestic area. As the ambulance reaches the ashram, a large crowd chants slogans.

Shortly, devotees line up in thousands for the ‘darshan’. Separate queues for men and women. As time elapses, devotees’ anxiety increases but they continue to chant Baba’s name intermittently.

On Samadhi Road where Baba’s parents are buried, women’s queue starts from the ashram’s main exit gate and extends up to another gate where devotees are to be let in. Men’s queue reaches the Sri Venugopala Swamy Temple at the far-end of Gopuram.
At 7.30 pm, devotees shout slogans against police for their alleged high-handedness. But the time to have Baba’s ‘darshan’ is still far.

Thousands of policemen, drawn from almost all districts of Andhra Pradesh, finally had to be on their toes as the town turned into a fortress. Within two hours of Baba’s death, the entry of vehicles was banned at various places. Barring the ashram and its vicinity, people walked freely in Puttaparthi.

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