April 25, 2011— -- Sathya Sai Baba, a Hindu guru who was considered a holy man by followers, died Sunday at a southern Indian hospital. He was 84 years old.
Sai Baba was born on Nov. 23, 1926 as Sathyanarayana Raju. He reportedly performed miracles and claimed he was the reincarnation of Hindu holy man Sai Baba of Shirdi in 1940, the Associated Press reported.
"Sri Satya Sai Baba was a spiritual leader who inspired millions to lead a moral and meaningful life, even as they followed the religion of their choice," Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said in a statement, the Associated Press reported. "The nation deeply mourns his passing away."
Throughout his life, Sai Baba garnered a large community of followers and devotees that included celebrities and politicians.
He helped to expand his hometown of Puttaparti with the construction of the Prasanthi Nilayam ashram – a religious retreat, in 1950. He also set up a hospital and schools operated by his Satya Sai Central Trust through donations, according to the Associated Press.
Funds from the $8.9 million trust helped to build spiritual centers in other major Indian cities such as Mumbai.
Health problems had prevented Sai Baba from appearing in public in recent years.
In 1963, he suffered a stroke and heart attacks and began using a wheelchair after he fractured his hip in 2005, according to the Associated Press.
On March 28, Sai Baba was hospitalized and on dialysis.
Miracle Worker or Fraud?
While devotees consider Sai Baba a holy man, critics and former followers questioned his claims as a miracle worker.
Some news media outlets reported that he allegedly abused followers and devotees – which Sai Baba had denied, the Associated Press reported.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.