Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2011

Sathya Sai Baba

Hundreds of thousands of people showed up for the funeral. The coffin was draped in the Indian national flag. Prayers were said by representatives of several religions. The pomp wasn't surprising. Sathya Sai Baba, who died April 24, was the most famous guru in India, the most prominent of what are called "godmen," with millions of devotees, many prominent and prosperous, throughout the country and the rest of the world. Sathya Sai Baba himself had been enormously rich, amassing a fortune in the form of a charitable trust valued at an estimated $8.9 billion. According to its most recent filings with India's Home Ministry, the Sathya Sai Trust received $19.5 million in foreign donations in 2009 alone. But as TIME's New Delhi bureau chief Jyoti Thottam wrote, "His influence afforded him a large measure of impunity. When a 2004 BBC documentary aired accusations that he had sexually abused boys and young men, the claims caused alarm among his followers outside India but were never investigated or prosecuted by Indian authorities. Sathya Sai Baba dismissed the accusations as the mere 'cawing of crows.' " And after his death, devotees flocked to his coffin and tomb to pay their respects and obeisance, believing he was still able to bless them from the great beyond.

This text originally appeared on on Dec. 7, 2011.