Early Success in the West
When he arrived for the first time in London on June 17, 1971, Prem Rawat (Maharaji) then calling himself Guru Maharaj Ji had a handful of Western devotees. He gave his first public address in the West at the Conway Hall in London on the 19th June, 1971 and spoke at a large rock festival at Glastonbury where he received a decidely mixed reception. He arrived in Los Angeles on July 17, 1971 and returned to India in time for the "International Congress on Spiritual Peace", Ram Lila Grounds, New Delhi. 500,000 gathered to hear his speeches and celebrate the annual Hans Jayanti Festival. One 747 jet was chartered to carry Westerners to attend the program, about 300 people.
Within 18 months it was claimed there were as many as 50,000 US and 20,000 English "premies" and though these numbers were exaggerated, over 2,500 Westerners flew to India for the Hans Jayanti festival in 1972. 15 members flew from Bennington, Vermont alone. In November 1973, the Divine Light Mission held the Millenium '73 festival in Houston Texas. Estimates of the number of devotees varies but a figure of 15,000 premies seems probable and while you would expect all the devotees to attend what the young Guru Maharaj Ji billed as "the most holy and significant event in human history" there were undoubtedly many who could not afford to fly to the US. I had just started attending satsang in Sydney, Australia and assumed that the many references to the Millenium I heard were talking about a future millenial event until the night when there were only 5 or 6 premies left in Sydney.
This rapid expansion soon ground to a halt and when Rawat's mother disowned, disinherited and deposed him there was a significant disaffection and defection. This occurred again when the Divine Light Mission administrators (who had grown disillusioned with the Knowledge) began a series of conferences in which premies were encouraged to re-examine their beliefs and leave the the ashrams. Of course there was the normal disillusion that occurs in cults whose recruitment promises of perfect bliss and liberation and enlightenment cannot be attained in real lives. It appears that the number of Western premies peaked under 20,000 by 1980 and has never returned to that number after the final closing of the ashrams in the early 1980's and the ending of nightly satsang meetings in which ordinary premies "gave satsang" extemperaneously. The enthusiasm of the youthful followers waned away and the credibility the obese, luxury loving fatboy guru gained from his exotic renunciate Indian "mahatmas" disappeared when they virtually all returned to India and worked for Rawat's eldest brother who was now declared to be the real Satguru.
In the early 1970's there was a large group of disaffected "hippies" who were losing faith in the small but significant 60's political and social counter-culture and were looking for spiritual paths to follow. DLM proclaimed they had a Divine Incarnation of God who was at least able to generate publicity due to his age, appearance and non-spiritual proclivities. It had a millenial message and claimed to have the power to initiate interested people in meditation techniques that would reveal God through Divine Light, Music, the Holy Name or primordial vibration of the universe and Nectar of the Gods. It also had a relatively large and organised body of Indian members. The excitement and faith of the early believers, their dedication and certainty provided the inspiration that attracted others and their youth and lack of family ties allowed them to move into communal housing (ashrams) and dedicate all their time, talents, skills, inheritance or income to the organisation and the "practice of Knowledge".
One of the most important factors was that DLM had a large number of Indian 'mahatmas', supposedly celibate men and women who lived in ashrams and dedicated their lives to practice and proselytisation of the "Knowledge".
The idealistic and ignorant young Westerners believed these people to be "liberated", "realised souls", "yogis", "swamis", above normal consciousness and existing on a higher plane. And certainly the few mahatmas that came to Austalia put on a pretty convincing show in this regard. Prem Rawat preached that only mahatmas were able to "reveal Knowledge" ie Guru Maharaj Ji gave them the connection to Him that allowed the grace to initiate people. On a more mundane level, it was a reasonably time-consuming process and many mahatmas were required to indoctrinate and initiate so many people.
Despite all attempts to convince people of Rawat's importance before initiation and during the "Knowledge Session", there was always a large early drop-out of people once they had been taught the Rawatism system of meditation. Many of them were disillusioned by being taught to squeeze their eyes, stick their thumbs in their ears, concentrate on their breath while repeating "soham" and curling their tongue backwards. Others might try the techniques but saw no reason to worship the young Rawat because of that.
There is, at least, no doubt this is how Mahatma Padarthanand was perceived in Australia and without him living there for 3 years there would have been little or no success for DLM here.
The highlight of this early success, at least picturesquely, was probably the Guru Puja festival held in London in July 1973 with thousands of young hippiely dressed Westerners parading with banners through the pavements of London and meeting in the Alexandra Palace. 15,000 people attended the Festival of Love though there was sometime little action.
Of course most people thought a 13 or 14 year old fat, squeaky voiced guru was ridiculous and some showed they thought he was a ripoff by ripping off his face from the posters.
Prem Rawat's speech at Guru Puja, Alexandra Palace London, July 13 1973
- The Young Guru Maharaj Ji goes West Prem Rawat aka Maharaji
- Ex-premie Org
- Who Is Guru Maharaj Ji? edited by Charles Cameron
- Soul Rush by Sophia Collier
- Soul Journey by James V. Downton
The Keys: Golden Age
- Golden Age Number 32 July 1976
- Golden Age Number 32 August 1976
- Golden Age Number 33 October 1976
- Golden Age Number 34November 1976
- Golden Age Number 35 January 1977
- Hallelujah! The mini Guru, aged 13, cometh Evening Standard, June 17, 1971
- Worshippers greet the boy guru 'straight from Heaven' Daily Mail, June 18, 1971
- Divine light in Golders Green Express & News, July 9, 1971
- Guru From India, 13, to Be Heard Sunday Los Angeles Times, Jul 17, 1971
- Teen-Age Guru … Maharaj Looks for Followers on World Tour Friday, September 3, 1971 - News Journal, Mansfield
- 'Pretty Far-Out Little Dude' The Washington Post - Tuesday, September 14, 1971
- I Was A Teenage Guru… Story Of Maharaji Of India Sunday, September 19, 1971 - SUNDAY GLEANER MAGAZINE
- Faithful flock to see boy Guru County Times and Gazette - Friday, October 22, 1971
- GURU MAHARAJ JI: The Perfect Lord of Love THE TIMES Wednesday May 31 1972
- MASTER AT 14 Chanting Throng Steals the Show as Guru Arrives Los Angeles Times, Jun 23, 1972
- Followers Want Airplane for Indian Guru Sat, Aug. 19, 1972 GREELEY (Colo.) TRIBUNE
- Devotees Plan Indian Journey SYRACUSE HERALD JOURNAL, Oct. 21, 1972
- 15 Benningtonians to fly to religious rites in India Bennington Banner, Monday, October 23, 1972
- Pilgrims jet to see Divine Light THE TIMES Monday October 23 1972
- 15-Year-Old Hottest Star of Guru Circuit Los Angeles Times, Dec 10, 1972
- Gurus Flower Power 1972
- 'Nothing tatty' for boy Guru 1972
- A little earthy problem for the Divine Guru 1972
- Teenage Guru 1972