Prem Rawat's 1990s Doldrums

Prem Rawat's 1990s were characterised by two paradoxical developments. On the one hand all attempts at attracting and converting new members were unsuccessful in the countries where he had gained his 1970's success. On the other hand these dedicated "People With Knowledge (PWiKs)" formerly 'premies' were able to provide Prem and his organisations with a surprisingly large amount of money. This cannot be accurately estimated but it was never enough to satisfy Prem's desires and there was always a relentless push for more funds.

International events were held at Amaroo for Maharaji's disciples, in 1994 and 1997, and also an 'Australasian' event in 1994. Attendance ranged from 1700 to 4600 though they settled at around 3,000 where they have remained. The atmosphere at these events reprised a little of the 1970s spirit, though many attendees commented that it was a lot more rehearsed and less spontaneously joyous. Whereas in the 1970s premies had sung en masse to their master, led by an exuberant live band on-stage, now the band lip-synched songs pre-recorded and selected by Maharaji, to which the audience listened respectfully. Maharaji rather incongruously wore a business suit in the southern Queensland wilderness. For all this, many devotees left these events experiencing the old 'bliss', and with a renewed sense of commitment.

After the abandonment of the Argentine land, Amaroo became the number one project for Maharaji's western devotees. Amaroo's construction and infrastructure projects were funded by $US10 million in unsecured loans raised from devotees. (Premie lenders were given a verbal promise that Rawat would personally repay them if the development was subsequently resold.)

The other major focus in the 1990s was the annual event celebrating Maharaji's birthday, held several years running in the Long Beach Auditorium in California. These events often drew seven or eight thousand premies from all over the world.

Rawat travelled the world throughout the 1990s in leased private jets of increasing sophistication. These and other big ticket items, such as his mansions, luxury cars and small plane, helicopter and glider, were often purchased with the support of a group of about 400 'major donors': wealthy premies who received preferential treatment at events, and greater access to Rawat, in return for substantial donations. These donations also contributed to the building of a new home on the site of his old one at Malibu, valued at US$ 20 million.

The "Big Push"

The dedicated pwKs who were still prepared to do "service" found themselves on a constant round of renting halls, callecting the videos, organising the publc showings of these videos of Rawat speaking and paying fo allof this through collection of donations. He had the mistaken belief that this was all it would take to attract thousands of new people who would dedicate themselves to him and his Knowledge. As the technology advanced video tapes were replaced by DVDs and then where possible Maharaji instructed that his speeches be channelled into premies' homes, and small halls around the world, via satellite. By the end of the decade, satellite broadcasts were beginning to take over from video as the preferred medium for Rawat's discourses. In the early 2000s my wife had a receiver installed in our home (Australia) and for a year or two a small group would gather on Sunday morning for the weekly hour long Elan Vital broadcast. I noticed that on this satellite, the Maharishi TM© had a 7 days a week 24 hours a day broadcast as did Supreme Master Ching Hai which showed Maharaji's funding and success was pretty poor in comparison.

The most significant 'institution' within Elan Vital toward the end of the 1990s was the week-long 'trainings'. These were teamwork education sessions conducted by Rawat himself, with the assistance of a handful of premie counsellours/trainers. Several people left Rawat as a result of the trainings, describing the experience as manipulative and emotionally abusive though you had to be there to understand how they could be any worse than his usual behaviour. There was no improvement in aspirant numbers in the years following. We have indepth views of 2 typical Elan Vital local communities during the period 1998-2005 during which Maharaji (or "the Speaker") pushed his pwKs through re-indoctrination, re-education, re-mobilisation, technology upgrades and re-inspiration for "the Big Push" into "the World." It was as successful as the Big Push of WWI though with fewer casualties.

Adherence numbers stabilised at the bottom end of the 1980s troughs. Attendance at international events gives some guide as to the decline that had occurred since the movement's heyday in the 1970s: That held at Amaroo, in 1997, drew just under 4600 people, whereas the events held at Kissimmee, Florida at the end of the 1970s had drawn 20,000. In Delhi, where Prem Rawat had once attracted a crowd of one million, he was drawing only about 70,000 people by the end of the 1990s but with significant technical and financial input was managing much larger crowds for special events after 2000 though only a quarter of what he had attracted 40 years before. The best estimate based on Elan Vital documents was that by 2004 there were 15,000 pwks left in the "West."

'Propagation' - the spreading of Rawat's message - continued but the exit of large numbers of premies, combined with the birth of the Internet, had brought about a vocal former follower movement. The first website critical of Prem Rawat - http://www.ex-premie.org/- appeared in 1997 and criticim of him has grown and become more sophisticated over the years.

Maharaji's cult compound in South East Queensland has provided regular stories for local newspapers over the years.