Hindu guru Sathya Sai Baba, worshipped as a god by millions of followers worldwide, died this morning in a hospital near his southern Indian ashram. He was 86. Sai Baba had spent nearly a month on breathing support and dialysis while struggling with multiple-organ failure. Hundreds of thousands of devotees are expected to pay last respects. A funeral with state honors is planned Wednesday morning.
The saffron-robed Sathya Sai Baba had a huge following, with ashrams in over 126 countries and Indian devotees including high-placed politicians, movie stars, world-class athletes and industrialists. He was said to perform miracles, conjuring rings, watches, and "vibhuti"—a sacred ash that his followers applied on their foreheads—from his overgrown and unkempt Afro-style hair. But rationalist critics denounced him as a charlatan whose miracles were fake. Several news reports also alleged he committed sexual abuse against devotees—allegations he denied as vilification campaigns. Officials and celebrities expressed sadness at the guru's passing, remembering him as a "great pious personality" who worked selflessly to help others.