The Millenium '73 Festival - A Prem Rawat Fiasco

Prem Rawat's Millenium '73 Debacle Houston Astrodome The Millenium '73 festival was billed by Prem Rawat (Guru Maharaj Ji) as "the most holy and significant event in human history" and it's preceding publicity campaign was called 'Soul Rush'. He predicted it was going to be a big shot of TLC (tender loving care) but the festival showed that the young Rawat and his inner circle of administrators and family members had a completely unrealistic picture of their powers, the number of their followers and the public response to Rawat's proclamations that he could bring World Peace. It provided Divine Light Mission with a reality check and an exceedingly large debt. It's only to be expected that any person who claims to be an incarnation of God and actively promotes himself as about to bring in 1,000 years of peace on earth, hires the largest hall on the planet, even releases an astrological press release and invites tens of thousands of followers and some alien space travellers to join him in unveiling the details there will be a certain degree of media attention. This attention turned out to be critical, very critical and dismissive and Prem Rawat, himself, the Guru Maharaji Ji received the worst of it.

James V. Downton in his book Sacred Journeys discusses the millenial if not downright mad ideas that premies were sharing about the festival. All their expectations came to nothing and Downton felt that although "premies tried hard to find good things to say about the festival, it seemed to me that ruined dreams were hidden under their exuberance." Thomas Pilarzyk in his paper, "The Origin, Development, and Decline of a Youth Culture Religion," wrote: "The Millennium festival in the Houston Astrodome in November, 1973, marked the single most important development in the short history of the American movement. It was billed by the international DLM as the most significant event in history, which would establish a thousand years of peace on earth. As noted, full-scale propagation activities at the local and national levels preceded the event. Many rather bizarre, "cultic" predictions were made by some premies which reflected the excitement in anticipation of the event as well as authenticated its significance."

Prem Rawat's Millenium '73 Debacle

A full reproduction of the And It Is Divine Millenium Edition magazine is available on-line as is a reproduction of the Divine Times Millenium edition and the Divine Times pre-Millenium edition on this site. A video documentary The Lord of the Universe is still available at Amazon and available for free viewing or download at the Mediaburn archive and is a must for anyone with an interest in 1970's New Religious Movements. There is a transcript of the video here and a scene descriptor here. Some music from Millenium including the darshan line is available here.

Rawat sat atop a tall throne, crowned by an immense golden "crown of Krishna," as the Astrodome scoreboard flashed the word "G-O-D." Young American "premies" wept for joy, others danced on the stage, the band played "The Lord of the Universe". In the universally bad press that Prem Rawat and his "Knowledge" got during and after Millenium 73 there was one person who got some good press, the only Western mahatma, Mahatma Saphlanand.

Prem Rawat's Millenium '73 Debacle

James V. Downton in his book, Sacred Journeys has an accurate section on Millenium '73:

By 1973, the Mission had been pretty well decimated by the press, as one scandal after another reached public attention. First, there was the claim by the Indian government that Guru Maharaj Ji and his family had smuggled jewels and large sums of money into the country, a charge which was eventually dropped with apologies from the government. Later, a member of the press who had thrown a pie into Guru Maharaj Ji's face as a prank was beaten into unconsciousness by one of the movement's most noted Mahatmas and at least two other premies. Then, of course, there were numerous newspaper accounts of the guru's life-style, which pictured him as more interested in accumulating wealth and power than in changing the world.

Prem Rawat's Millenium '73 Debacle That premies had lost their capacity for criticism was fairly clear to me, for not once in, all my many references to these scandals or charges did they criticize Guru Maharaj Ji. Many rationalized the scandals and his life-style as a part of 'his plan'. Others argued that even bad publicity about the Mission was good, because it at least made people aware of the guru and the movement. Some blamed those around the guru. At that time, premies were thinking that Guru Maharaj Ji was so spiritually perfect and powerful he could do no wrong and that no obstacle was big enough to stop him from reaching his goal of ushering in the new age of peace.

These beliefs spawned serious hopes that during the Millennium festival in 1973 a new age would dawn in Houston. Manifestations of this hope were to be found in the many speculations and prophesies about what would happen under the Astrodome. Premies expected thousands to descend on the festival itself, and many millions watching the proceedings on television to see for the first time how spiritually pure their guru was and how compelling his message.

Fed by rumors before the festival that something earth-shattering might happen there, premies lost no time imagining that the teenage guru was going to let out all the stops and turn the earth on its axis. Then there were the sometimes frivolous but often serious predictions that beings from outer space would descend on the Astrodome. As one premie close to the Denver organization told me later, even premies who were normally quite realistic in their views were taken in by these collective fantasies.

As the festival approached, all attention within the premie community turned toward Houston. Expectations were running high that something very cosmic was about to happen there. Curious to experience it firsthand, I flew to Houston and made my way to the festival. Fighting through pickets from the local fundamentalist Christian community who were freely expressing their hatred toward the "false Messiah,"

I made my way into the Astrodome. Contrary to the predictions I had heard, it was nowhere near filled to capacity. As I discovered later, the turnout had been very disappointing to many premies. Also disappointing to many was the response of the press corps, which had been amassed there as part of the Mission's effort to publicize the movement. They had hoped the festival would trigger a change in the attitudes of newspaper and television newsmen and newswomen, but just the opposite occurred. Representatives from the media became quite hostile toward the guru in his first press conference, charging that his answers to their questions were flippant and arrogant.

With the crowd smaller than expected and an alienated press corps, premies waited for something miraculous to happen. Yet, by the end of the festival, even that expectation was unfulfilled. No beings from outer space had come and no dramatic display of cosmic energy had lit up the Astrodome. Although premies tried hard to find good things to say about the festival, it seemed to me that ruined dreams were hidden under their exuberance.

Prem Rawat's Millenium '73 Debacle Before the festival, the Mission's goals and activities had been quite extravagant, reflecting the community's confidence that the movement would succeed. Afterwards, the organization was left with a $600,000 debt, and worse, the loss of its millennial dream of world peace. Immediately, the production and distribution of its publications were curtailed to meet financial obligations. Programs were cut back as the premie community began to realize that the mass of humanity was not going to flock to Guru Maharaj Ji to receive the Knowledge, as they had so fervently believed. Their enthusiasm for propagating the Knowledge collapsed under the weight of reality. "When I received the Knowledge in 1971, the general feeling was that soon the whole world would have peace, so to hold onto anything, like money, job, education, or family, was a sign of a weak level of devotion. After Millennium, there was a lot of disappointment and change. People couldn't believe that we would have to go on living in the same old world. I had to really examine what I wanted to do, since the excitement was over. As I didn't have an official position within the organization at that point, I decided I would just get a job and lead a calm life. I just couldn't get into leafleting or the usual Mission trips."

Prem Rawat's Millenium '73 Debacle

Rennie Davis gave an introductory public speech at the event.

"It is not possible to understand the Middle East, or Watergate, or UFOs, or the super comet in the sky unless you understand the central event on this planet around which all other events now spin. Guru Maharaj Ji says: 'Life is like a chess game and very soon now the whole world will be checkmated' and if America wants to know what is happening it must first understand the main thing that is happening, the Lord is on the planet, he's in a human body and he's about to usher in the greatest change in the history of human civilisation."

Prem Rawat's Millenium '73 Debacle

To drum up public interest in Millenium a convoy of buses filled with premies toured US cities in a publicity campaign called "Soul Rush". At the time this lady premie's age would have made her very unusual, now nearly all the premies are this age but nowhere near as enthusiastic.

Older Lady Premie: "Because He gives that true experience of God, He gives a true experience of God, you see Light, you'll hear Music, you'll taste Nectar, and you'll feel the Word. He uplifts us, He is baptizing us in the Holy Spirit, this is the day that we've been waiting for, the day we've been waiting for. He's come, He's here."

Onlooker: "We had a man up in New York, Father Divine too. It didn't last long."

Prem Rawat's Millenium '73 Debacle "Oh yes, five of our friends from the Country Club have received Knowledge."
Prem Rawat's Millenium '73 Debacle

One of the Rawatism religion concepts that has remained unchanged is the belief that premies have an "experience" on which they base their worship and adoration of Prem Rawat. They do not base their life on ideas, concepts or philosophy but on an "experience of life" only available to those who practise Maharaji's Gift of Knowledge." These premies certainly cast doubt on that dogma.

"I'd crawl across three continents on my hands and knees to eat the dust off Guru Maharaj Ji's feet if necessary."

"I don't do anything. You know, I as a human being don't do anything, you know Guru Maharaj Ji does everything. I don't do anything, what do I do? You know. Guru Maharaj Ji, really from my own experience, this is not a philosophy, from my own experience, Guru Maharaj Ji is doing everything. He is the Doer of everything in this world."

Prem Rawat's Millenium '73 Debacle

Fed by rumors before the festival that something earth-shattering might happen there, premies lost no time imagining that the teenage guru was going to let out all the stops and turn the earth on its axis. Then there were the sometimes frivolous but often serious predictions that beings from outer space would descend on the Astrodome. As one premie close to the Denver organization told me later, even premies who were normally quite realistic in their views were taken in by. these collective fantasies.

"I would like to bet anyone who wishes to try and make some green energy that by November 15th, the Houston Astrodome will physically separate itself from the planet which we call Earth and will fly."

Prem Rawat's Millenium '73 Debacle

These beliefs spawned serious hopes that during the Millennium festival in 1973 a new age would dawn in Houston. Manifestations of this hope were to be found in the many speculations and prophesies about what would happen under the Astrodome. Premies expected thousands to descend on the festival itself, and many millions watching the proceedings on television to see for the first time how spiritually pure their guru was and how compelling his message.

"People are going to come here with incredible negative pre-determined notions and they're going to go away spaced out and blissed out and really turned on. Anybody who's exposed to this vibration cannot fight it because it's stronger than anything, you know, the vibration of Guru Maharaj Ji is stronger than anything that has ever, that has ever been known. There's a rumour going around that NASA is tracing and following him around the country because his energy level is stronger than anything they've ever seen before."

Prem Rawat's Millenium '73 Debacle

Premies who have come to Houston airport to greet Maharaji clamber for bits of the garlands he briefly wore after he leaves and they bliss-out with their 'prasad' that he has touched.

"You know who touched this flower, the Lord of the Universe.
Touch it. A flower."

Prem Rawat's Millenium '73 Debacle

Maharaji gave this satsang on his arrival at the Houston airport. When he left, the garlands that had been laid around his neck were ripped apart and distributed to the adoring premies as prasad.

"This is just about the time that everybody comes together and understands who is God because I guess there have been too many of these phony things going around these world. Ah, messes like Watergate and things like that but it's just not America, it's right around the world, you can't just blame just one country for it. And I guess this is just about time that everybody gets together and understands who is God because it's important that people know God by now, at least." (knowing laughter in crowd)

Prem Rawat's Millenium '73 Debacle

At this time the young Prem Rawat and his close followers hadn't yet completely realised that their ideas and enthusiasm were not about to sweep everybody off their feet and at Millenium they held the last open and free press conference Maharaji has ever held. However, they angered the real reporters by packing the press conference with phony reporters asking questions that only people who were premies would ask and closing the conference when they began to ask difficult questions.

"The purpose of this mission, the aim of this mission is to establish peace in this earth and we want that we should be helped by all brothers and sisters because if we are humans, if we are real humans, we would very much like that peace should be on this earth. And thus we would like to help somebody who can establish peace. Well, here I am and I can I say I can establish peace in this world."

Prem Rawat's Millenium '73 Debacle

Q: "It's hard for some people to understand how you personally can live so luxuriously in your several homes and your Rolls Royce and stuff and why don't you spend that money on feeding people?"

A: "And that's a really good question. Let me tell you this that life you call luxurious ain't luxurious at all because any other person gets the same life I get, he is going to blow apart in a million pieces in a split of a second."

Prem Rawat's Millenium '73 Debacle

Q: "Guru, are you the Perfect Body?"

A: "Oh no." (Sustained laughter)

Prem Rawat's Millenium '73 Debacle

"I'm trying to accomplish peace in this world. That's what I'm trying to do."

 Prem Rawat's Millenium '73 Debacle

A constant part of Rawat's teachings has been 'Vitalism', the belief that life requires a vital principle distinct from medically recognised biochemical reactions.

"Because whatever Jesus taught to his disciples has not disappeared, it's still there. Because that time if those people staying alive is because of the same Knowledge and if this time people are going to stay alive it's because of the same Knowledge. You're alive because of that same Knowledge."

Prem Rawat's Millenium '73 Debacle

"There is this man who comes into Houston and he is looking for a Superman comic. And he goes searching right around Houston and he searches all Astrodome and he searches all stationery book and every just bookstores and every place. He can't get a Superman comic. And then he's sitting with his eyes closed and suddenly a little guy, 4 years old, 5 years old comes up to him with something under his shirt and he shakes him up and says "Excuse me" and you go like that "What's up? What do you want?" "Oh. I'm sorry but I thought you wanted a Superman comic, I can give it to you." It's just like he's really cool boy, he's just smiling, he's cool and you're all screwed up and just ready to burst open. You just don't like guys fooling around you, you want them hot so they can really boost up that thing inside you. And then he opens the first button of his shirt and you look "Hey man I don't believe it. What's going on?" And then he takes out this superman comic up and he gives it to you and your mouth is open and then just like that."

Prem Rawat's Millenium '73 Debacle "Rock Me Maharaji" plays during the darshan line.

Everything was dark at first
Things had gone from bad to worse
The Lord of all the universe
Came down to show the way

Chorus:
So rock me Maharaji and roll me tonight
Rock me Maharaji and say it's all right
It's all right

God Himself shall be with them and be their God

Guru Maharaj Ji, or Prem Rawat as he now calls himself, looks over His shoulder at one of the giant Astrodome images declaring Himself to be the Incarnation of God, here and now. As Rennie Davis, his most high profile devotee, kept repeating:

" … the Lord is on the planet, he's in a human body and he's about to usher in the greatest change in the history of human civilisation"
and "I would cross the planet on my hands and knees to touch his toe."
and "The thing we've got here is not only a movement that is incredibly efficient and incredibly together and built really on an incredible self-understanding but you see it's led by the Lord, heh heh heh."

His first real media bath, a press conference at the Astroworld Hotel, was not a success. Here are some excerpts as reported in the New York Times:

Q. There's a war in the Middle East; why aren't you there?
A. When a war begins, a general doesn't have to be on the spot.

Q. Why don't you sell your Rolls-Royce and buy food for the people?
A. What good would it do? I could sell it and people would still be hungry. I only have one Rolls-Royce.

Q. Are you the son of God?
A. Everybody's the son of God. You ain't the uncle or aunt of God, are you?

Q. Why do you think you can succeed when other perfect masters failed?
A. Listen, man, I'm not saying they have failed; I just say I can bring peace to this world. I'm not asking who passed and who failed.

A fuller report of the Press interview with the young Guru Maharaj Ji, now calling himself Prem Rawat, was published in Rolling Stone magazine of March 14, 1974:

Maharaj Ji, who is clearly accustomed to more respectful attention than he has been getting from the press, appears tense and hostile throughout the questioning (one is not surprised to learn from his personal physician that he still takes Tums to soothe his stomach). He comes out dressed in yoga whites and sits on an armchair in the front of the room, his expression deadly serious and his arms folded in a manner that makes him resemble the crown prince of some puppet Himalayan kingdom. His eyes dart about the room like a squirrel in traffic as the photographers, who have not been allowed this close to him before, click away furiously. Only when they are through does he allow himself to smile, forcing them to begin shooting again. It seems a deliberately taunting gesture, as do his opening remarks: "The thing is, if you write an article, maybe the credit goes to you or not; but if peace is established in the world, definitely there will be a credit for you. And this is the most important point that press reporters usually look for, 'Will we get credit out of this or not?'" Then the Guru calls for questions:

Reporter: Maharaj Ji, are you the Messiah foretold in the Bible?

Maharaj Ji: Please do not presume me as that. Respect me as a humble servant of God trying to establish peace in this world.

Reporter: Why is there such a great contradiction between what you say about yourself and what your followers say about you?

Maharaj Ji: Well, why don't you do me a favor … why don't you go to the devotees and ask their explanation about it?

Reporter: Guru, is it possible to have two Perfect Masters living on the earth at the same time?

Maharaj Ji: Well, I think the best thing for us to do right now is to find out one Perfect Master and be satisfied with that.

Reporter: Do you think that the comet that is coming has any relationship to the Millennium?

Maharaj Ji: Oh, I guess you just better wait and watch.

Reporter: It's hard for some people to understand how you personally can live so luxuriously in your several homes and your Rolls Royces.

Maharaj Ji: That life that you call luxurious ain't luxurious at all, because if any other person gets the same life I get, he's gonna blow apart in a million pieces in a split of a second. … People have made Rolls Royce a heck of a car, only it's a piece of tin with a V-8 engine which probably a Chevelle Concourse has.

Reporter: Why don't you sell it and give food to people?

Maharaj Ji: What good would it do. All that's gonna happen is they will need more and I don't have other Rolls Royces. I will sell everything and I'll walk and still they will be hungry.

Reporter: Would you respond to those who say you cannot be a Perfect Master if you have an ulcer?

Maharaj Ji: If an ulcer is the only imperfectness, then people who don't have ulcers are perfect. … Perfectness has got nothing to do with an ulcer and a broken leg and things like that. Perfectness is perfectness. When Jesus Christ was nailed to the cross, He bleeded. People could have said, He's not a Perfect Master.

Reporter: Guru, what happened to the reporter in Detroit who was badly beaten by your followers?

Maharaj Ji (after a brief hassle in which Richard Profumo, doing an imitation of Ron Ziegler, accuses the questioner of hogging the floor): I think you ought to find out what happened to everything.

As abruptly as he entered, the Guru suddenly gets up from his chair and heads for the door along a path cleared by a few WPC guards moving before him like a snowplow.

Press Reports of Millenium '73:

"the most holy and significant event in human history:"

  • 'Special Millenium '73 Edition' of the Divine Times, page 2, under the heading 'A Festival for the Whole World'
  • It was quoted in the Golden Age magazine Number 4, Thursday, April 25, 1974: Guru Maharaj Ji declared that Millennium was "the most holy and significant event in human history".
  • It was quoted in the Canadian Divine Times magazine October 15, 1974 Volume 3, Issue 4 in an article titled "Hans Jayanti In Canada": Maharaj Ji said that Millennium '73 was "the most holy and significant event in human history."
  • It was quoted in the Newsweek magazine of November 17, 1973

Click here to see a selection of newspaper reports of Millenium '73