Sathya Sai Baba was the unquestionable master of their faith, a belief that no controversy or rational disquisition could shake. While rationalists were obsessed with his miracles, his followers saw beyond them and adopted him as the guiding light of their life.Born on Nov 23, 1926 to Eswaramma and Peddavenkama Raju Ratnakaram in a family of humble means, Sai Baba rose to command the devotion of millions of common devotees. As happens with men of the spirit, he following included prime ministers, presidents, statemen, generals, business captains. The protocol of potentates falling at his feet was often questioned, but such is faith.From his childhood, Baba was keenly involved in divine pursuits. In 1936, At 10, he started organising a group of children to sing hymns, at which he was very good. His spiritual inclination and contemplative nature set him apart from the other children. Sai lore has it that the boy with a soulful voice was transformed into a veritable spiritual guru as the result of a scorpion sting. The boy lost consciousness for several hours and woke up reciting slokas in Sanskrit, a language he had never learned. Moreover, he declared himself an incarnation of Shirdi Sai Baba, the 19th century seer venerated by Hindus and Muslims alike.The boy wonder’s popularity began to spread and a small temple was built to him. He began to reign from a seat he called Prashanthi Nilayam, which today is the centrepiece of a spiritual empire. But even in those early days, Sai Baba’s vision had a secular dimension. In 1954, he began to get his flock involved in service activities by building a humble free general hospital, which today has grown into the Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Medical Sciences, where he died on Sunday.A soft-spoken man, always dressed in flowing robes of saffron or white, his popularity extended to the poorest of the poor. He often declared, “I have not come to disturb or destroy any faith, but to confirm each in his own faith, so that a Christian becomes a better Christian, a Muslim a better Muslim and a Hindu a better Hindu.”His formula to lead a meaningful life was a five-fold path of satya (truth), dharma (righteousness), shanti (peace), prema (love) and ahimsa (non-violence). Love for god, fear of sin and morality in society were his prescriptions for the world at large. But controversy has always dogged the Sai Baba, the most startling of them happening in June 1993. The stillness of Prashanthi Nilayam was shattered when an attempt on his life was made by associates, six of whom were killed.Observers say Satya Sai Baba’s following, especially foreign devotees, dwindled in recent years as a result of such controversies. But at the same time, the focus of discourse ceased to be centred around his miracles, which left him to do his work unhindered. His followers have stayed unflinching in their devotion, gaze fixed on his message rather than his miracles.