People Weekly Magazine (June 16, 1975, pp 28-30)

The teenaged guru fights his brother for control of the wealthy divine light mission

This photograph of Guru Maharaj Ji,
released by his brother, spurred a fight
between them that ended up in court.

People Photograph

Devotees prostrate themselves before Bal Bhagwan Ji, who seeks to replace his brother as leader of the Mission.

Photographs by Baldev

The teenaged guru fights
his brother for control of the
wealthy divine light mission.

Gurus have feelings too. So it was embarrassing for the pudgy, 17-year-old Guru Maharaj Ji, better known as the Lord of the Universe to followers of the Divine Light Mission, when he appeared on the recent cover of an Indian magazine, passionately embracing an unidentified woman.

As it happened, the picture had been planted by the guru's older brother and rival, Bal Bhagwanji, in their latest skirmish for control of the Divine Light Mission. The guru, who said the woman was his wife, retaliated with a photograph of his brother and an attractive girl cuddling up at a table that appears to be a fake. Tempers boiled, the brothers brought legal charges against each other and wound up in a New Delhi court. That settled nothing. Scolded by the judge who refused to hear the case, the brothers were warned to settle their family differences before "the whole of Mother India is injured and maligned abroad."

The fiasco of the photos was an outgrowth of a feud between the guru and his "revered mother," or Mataji. Upon the death of her husband, the mission's founder, in 1966, she endorsed her youngest son, then 8, as "Perfect Master." The fledgling divine journeyed abroad, expanding the mission throughout the world, especially in the U.S. Divine Light has 150 branches and a reported 50,000 disciples in this country, not to mention an estimated $3-million annual budget.

In 1973, with the help of American advisors, Maharaj Ji took over control of the U.S. empire, straining family ties. His mother was further offended last year when he married his American secretary, Marolyn Johnson, eight years his senior, and outraged when portraits of the newlyweds began replacing her own picture in U.S. ashrams, or retreat houses.

In April his mother announced that Maharaj Ji had bean corrupted by Western ways. He had strayed from the holy Hindu path, she lamented, eating meat, drinking liquor and frittering away his time in nightclubs. She declared that she was turning over the spiritual leadership of the Mission to her older son, Bal Bhagwanji. He says he consulted astrologers to discover what the future held for his younger brother. Not much, it turned out. All his life's work would be accomplished by the time he was 16, the astrologers said-that is, a year ago -and the boy would probably get married three times. Maharaj Ji indignantly replied that gurus are born and not made: "I cannot be thrown away for any reason whatsoever." Accompanied by his wife and several Mission officials, he left his plush $80,000 home in Denver, now headquarters of the movement in this country, to travel to India. He anticipated no real difficulty in recapturing his position- and some five million Indian followers -but his efforts were frustrated.

In some cities Indian officials denied him permission to hold public rallies. Then the legal problems developed. Finally the unhappy guru returned to the U.S., but not before he and 40 disciples stormed the New Delhi premises of the Divine Light Mission in protest and occupied it for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, the Revered Mother was ill in Dehra Dun, north of New Delhi, with a diabetic condition worsened by the struggle between her sons. American followers of the Guru Maharaj Ji appear unshaken in their faith. "We are confident he has everything under control," says Joe Anctil, the guru's press secretary in Denver. According to Anctil, the publicity resulting from the family feud has had its advantages. Non-devotees in America have displayed renewed fascination with the guru's teachings, the P.R. man says, and are turning out in record numbers to hear and praise the "discourses" of The Perfect Master.

Prem Rawat (Maharaji) Perfect Master

Until challenged by his brother,
the Maharaj Ji guided the spiritual life
of some eight million followers as "Perfect Master"
of the Divine Light Mission.

Guru Maharaj Ji with his wife, Marolyn

In Miami recently, Guru Maharaj Ji posed serenely
with his wife, Marolyn, and their 3-month-old daughter, Premlata.


Mataji, at the Indian headquarters of the Mission at Hardwar,
has been ill with diabetes since the feud worsened.