The death of an Indian guru who built up a worldwide following of up to 50 million people has triggered an unholy scramble for control of his £5.5 billion empire.
Sathya Sai Baba's claims to divinity, and his apparent ability to magic holy items out of thin air were enough to win him an army of devotees, including celebrities such as Goldie Hawn, Sarah Ferguson and Hard Rock cafe founder Isaac Tigrett.
India's president and prime minister both attended his latest birthday celebrations.
Their devotion was tested to the limits in recent years by persistent allegations that the guru indulged in widespread sexual abuse of young acolytes at his ashram in Puttaparthi in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh.
Yet even when video footage proved beyond doubt that his "miracles" were simple sleight of hand and he was implicated in the murders of four followers, millions still refused to believe the worst.
His death on Sunday, however, is another matter. Sai Baba had built his empire on the myth that he was the reincarnation of an earlier – and much loved – Indian saint of the same name. In doing so, he had prophesied his own death at the age of 96 – and his reincarnation eight years later...
...He was never slow to proclaim his own divinity, insisting that his arrival on earth was prophesied by Jesus, that he was the one who originally sent Jesus to Earth and that he was clearly the Lamb of God because his name – Ba Ba – is the noise a sheep makes.
He inspired devotion among his followers, who flocked to the ashram just to catch a glimpse of him and maybe to be given a sprinkling of the holy ash he claimed to be able to materialise from thin air. The lucky ones received watches or gold statues, which he would apparently produce from his mouth.
But for his growing army of critics, he was nothing short of a child-molesting fraud who had for years taken advantage of the gullibility of his young male followers to sexually abuse them during private audiences in his rooms.
Victims have told in harrowing detail how they were groped during private audiences and required to take part in sexual acts with the man they had trusted.
So seriously were the claims taken that for many years the US government warned its citizens to stay away from the ashram because of the risk and UNESCO, the UN's Educational, Social, and Cultural Organisation, pulled out of a conference at the ashram citing deep concerns about "widely-reported allegations of sexual abuse".
Sai Baba had dismissed the sex abuse allegations as false and described them as the "cawing of crows".
"All that is written on walls [or] said in political meetings, or the vulgar tales carried by the print media, should not carry one away."
But former devotee Barry Pittard said Sai Baba was a dangerous confidence trickster who should have been allowed to have anything to do with children.
"For the worst victims of his depredations, the victims of murder and maiming and people being beaten by his officers and families being broken up and the boys, some of them very young, their sufferings have been very great."
And former Sai organisation teacher Robert Priddy, who helped set up the teacher training model, said most people teaching the programme were unqualified to do so.
"The aim of embedding 'spiritual' values in children was heavily imprinted with indoctrinating them to believe in Sai Baba's divinity and doctrine," he warned.
The Daily Telegraph also published a lengthier obituary on April 24, 2011.
Tal Brooke, who has been with Spiritual Counterfeits Project for many years, was Sai Baba's leading western disciple before he came to know Jesus Christ as his Saviour and Lord. Mr. Brooke's book Riders of the Cosmic Circuit (1986) contains sections on Sai Baba, Muktananda, and Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh.
£5.5 billion is approximately $12 billion Canadian. I always find it amusing the way that Hindu gurus preach that the material world is one of illusion as they accumulate large fortunes. The justification for this, no doubt, is that worldly wealth doesn't mean anything to them since it's all illusionary, so they can acquire as much as they want without risking damage to their souls.