The body of Sathya Sai Baba is displayed in a transparent casket as devotees, including Indian cricketer Sachin Tendulkar (2nd R), seen wiping his tears, pay their last respects. (DIBYANGSHU SARKAR - AFP/Getty Images)
Indian guru Sri Satya Sai Baba died at the age of 84 on Sunday, following a protracted stay in hospital, reports the BBC. The spiritual leader "counted presidents, prime ministers, judges and generals amongst his millions of followers around the world," the news channel said. However, he was also confronted on numerous occasions by opponents who claimed his "miracles" were parlor tricks designed to fool India's ignorant masses, and dogged by allegations of sexual abuse, writes the Guardian.
With a basketball-sized Afro and trademark saffron-colored robes, Sai Baba symbolized a supposedly bygone India--beloved by the Beatles and a generation of "freaks"--that has never really disappeared, only gone mainstream.
At his peak of influence, he had perhaps 6 million followers and commanded a financial empire claimed to be worth billions of dollars -- which may yet result in a succession crisis. But various former followers accused him of abusing young male devotees in a 2004 BBC documentary called the Secret Swami. Among the claims: he massaged young followers' testicles with oil and commanded them to perform oral sex.
Documentary maker Tanya Datta writes his obit for the Beeb here...