Thousands passed by the body of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi as it lay in state on a throne of flowers at his meditation retreat in northern India on Sunday, paying tribute to the guru celebrated for bringing meditation to the West.
Maharishi, who died last week at his headquarters in the Netherlands, was to be cremated Monday at his retreat, or ashram, overlooking one of Hinduism's holiest sites, the confluence of the sacred Ganges and Yammuna rivers in Allahabad.
He was believed to be 91.
Maharishi won international prominence for himself and his meditation techniques when the Beatles attended one of his lectures in Wales in 1967 and visited his ashram in India in 1968.
He brought the ancient Hindu practice of mind control, which he called transcendental meditation, or just TM, to the West, creating a global movement with more than 5 million practitioners.
On Sunday, his body was placed on a throne, seated in a lotus position as if in meditation and covered with a white robe. All day long people filed by throwing scarlet petals at his feet and chanting mantras.
Hundreds from abroad
About 2,000 followers from around the world came to India for his funeral, while some 5,000 Indians, mostly from Allahabad, also came to pay their respects.
"In a nutshell Maharishi has been the nicest thing for me in my whole life," said 62-year-old Barry Franklin, who came from East Yorkshire in England. "I just came out of respect for him," said Franklin, who has been practicing TM for 35 years.
While Maharishi gained medical respectability for meditation — with scores of studies showing that meditation reduces stress, lowers blood pressure and improves concentration — skeptics scoffed at his notions that group meditation could harness the power of the universe to end all conflicts and cure world hunger.
Nevertheless, a group of 48 ministers and rajas led by Maharaja Adhiraj Rajaraam, who took over Maharishi's leadership duties, vowed Sunday to continue to strive for these goals.
Rajaram announced that 48 "towers of invincibility" — 12-story buildings that would house schools or universities teaching TM and "Yogic flying," showcased as the ultimate level of transcendence — would be built in 48 countries to continue Maharishi's teachings as a memorial to him.
Rajaram's "royal proclamation" was read out by John Heglin, another senior leader in the movement, as Rajaram does not speak in public because he believes he can better lead by silence.
The leaders addressed the media wearing ceremonial creme robes and gold medallions and crowns.
Not well known in India
Even though Maharishi was an iconic figure in the West, he was virtually unknown to a majority of Indians.
While some 5,000 Indians came to his ashram on Sunday, several hundred thousand more were gathered less than a mile away at the confluence of the Ganges and Yammuna rivers to take part in an annual Hindu pilgrimage.
Every year millions of pilgrims come to the site — where according to Hindu mythology, gods and demons spilled nectar during a celestial war — in one of the largest regular gatherings in the world. Last year some 70 million people took part.
Along the banks of the river, talk of Maharishi was met with blank stares.