Sathya Sai Baba, the God-man Who Preyed on His Followers

Despite pedophilia allegations and efforts to expose him, the multibillion-dollar cult of the guru continues to live on.

sai baba feature
Devotees wait for their turn to pay their last respects to Sathya Sai Baba (DIBYANGSHU SARKAR/AFP via Getty Images)

Mehr Singh


July 10, 2023


13 min

In 1940, a scorpion stung a 14-year-old boy in India. The boy lost consciousness for hours, and upon regaining it, burst into fits of laughter and tears, and began reciting Sanskrit verses. Doctors diagnosed it as hysteria. Concerned, his parents sought help from priests and exorcists. One exorcist even resorted to torturing him to try to cure him.

Days later, the teen allegedly surprised his family by conjuring prasad (religious sweets) and flowers out of thin air. His father demanded to know his true identity. The boy, born Sathyanarayana Raju, then calmly said he was Sai Baba — the reincarnation of the famous saint from Shirdi — who had died eight years before his birth. From that moment on, the teenager went by the name Sathya Sai Baba.

Across the world, about 100 million people believe that God walks among us — or at least did, until his death in 2011. To many, Sathya Sai Baba could perform miracles, curing everything from cancer to infertility. Yet, beneath his godlike exterior, Sathya Sai Baba was far more insidious: for years, he allegedly abused boys. Over a decade after his death, however, the guru’s legacy and his $9 billion estate remain untainted.

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