One Lord Too Many
Monday, Apr. 28, 1975
He may look like just another plump, pubescent lad, but the 17-year-old Guru Maharaj Ji is worshipped as the "Lord of the Universe" by devotees* of the Divine Light Mission in many countries round the world. Nowhere is the boy guru's universe better furnished than in the U.S., to which he brought his movement in 1971: a string of 45 ashrams (retreat houses) and information centers in 110 cities across the country tend to the spiritual needs of the Divine Light flock, whose tax-exempt offerings have furnished the teen-age Lord with, among other things, an $80,000 pad in Denver, a $400,000 estate in Malibu and an armada of limousines and racing cars.
Yet all is not well in the Maharaj Ji's paradise. Taxmen have been picking over the Divine Light Mission's finances. Even as contributions have been rising, the guru's bookkeepers have been busy juggling some $206,000 in debts; only recently they paid off the Houston Astrodome for a 1973 rally proclaimed "the most significant event in the history of humanity." Now, worst of all, the boy's sanctity - perhaps even his solvency - are being threatened by a family squabble: in India, the high-living guru's mother Mataji, who claims to be the ultimate authority in the Divine Light movement, has summarily ousted him for "falling from the path."
Mataji (the name means Revered Mother) announced that the young guru had been replaced by his eldest brother Sat Pal, who would henceforth be spiritual leader of the movement started in 1930 by their father, the late Shri Hansji Maharaj. As Mataji now tells it, the eldest brother had originally been designated as the Bal Bhagwanji (God Incarnate) by his father even before the Maharaj Ji was born. But when the father died in 1966 and Mission control passed to Mataji, she named her eight-year-old son as the only "Perfect Master" or unique incarnation of God for this age. Possibly because he recognized that the cherubic little guru would be superior at attracting followers, Brother God Incarnate quietly agreed.
What made the Revered Mother turn against the young guru? The strains within the holy family began building when Maharaj Ji, aided by some newfound American managers, took personal control of the wealthy U.S. empire when he turned 16 in 1973. Then last year the guru wed his secretary, Marolyn Johnson, a non-Hindu former airline stewardess, and declared her to be the incarnation of the ten-armed, tiger-riding goddess Durga. Traditionally, a Hindu mother-in-law expects obeisance from her son's wife; instead, photos of the newlyweds began replacing those of Mataji in U.S. ashrams. When the Revered Mother invited herself to the U.S. for a visit recently, the guru and Marolyn would not even allow her to stay at the Malibu mansion. On top of that, an outraged Divine Light spokesman in India charges the young guru with, among other things, "haunting nightclubs, drinking, dancing." He is also said to have begun eating meat, which is offensive to vegetarian Hindus.
Forced Retreat. Not one to accept desanctification without a struggle, the prodigal son decided to return to India for the first time in two years for a showdown with his mother and brother. He scheduled a mass rally last week in the city of Lucknow, a Divine Light stronghold in northern India, but was forced to retreat when local officials refused permission for the meeting. So the guru called a press conference and announced that he would deal with his mother and his brother through a lawsuit. After all, he reasoned, nobody can oust the Lord.
* Claimed to number 50,000 in the U.S., though one former headquarters staffer puts the figure at 17,000. In India, the movement has several million followers.