Daily Mail, Thursday, July 12, 1973 - Page 21
The 'boy god' with a taste for ice cream … and the good things of life
Balyogeshwar Param Hans Satgurudey Shri Sant Ji Maharaj - the 15-year-old so-called boy god arrived in Britain yesterday to a welcome from 800 devotees who thronged London Airport.
Ten thousand more - from Britain, Europe and the U.S. - are expected to gather tomorrow in a 'Divine City' under canvas at Alexandra Palace, North London, for a three-day rally at which they will hope for a chance to prostrate themselves before their 'perfect master.'
For his part, the luxury-loving holy boy, Guru Maharaj Ji, for short, hopes to double his British following of 6,000 - doubtless boosting the amount they pay for the privilege of seeing the Divine Light.
His Divine Light Mission, which claims a world-wide following of six million and the fastest growth of any religion today, already has a capital of £100,000 in Britain, including a luxurious £40,000 London HQ and a fleet of 36 vehicles, one of them a £9,800 Rolls used only by the boy god.
Critics ask how he can require his worshippers to exist on basic essentials while he lives in high style on his jet trips round the world.
There is a bland stock reply: 'I do not ask them for a penny. They give because they love.' The mission is currently planning to buy a £65,000 meeting hall in East Dulwich and a country mansion with 40 acres of grounds fit for a god to live in.
What the generous worshippers may not know is that the Indian Government is still determinedly investigating the mission's finances and allegations of smuggling £10,000 worth of jewels, currency and travellers' cheques from the U.S. last year.
Maharaj Ji, 5ft. tall and a waddling 13st., grows fat on his good life. He eats elegantly prepared vegetarian food, followed by liberal portions of ice cream. Exercise is rare, and his chauffeur-driven limousines turn out for even the shortest journeys.
His only boyish traits seem to be passions for water pistols, horror movies - and those fattening mounds of ice cream.
The guru's glossy publicity brochure refers to Him and His Holy Family, always with a capital initial. Followers call his possessions 'divine' - he lives in divine residences, has his food cooked in the divine kitchens and rides in a divine Rolls-Royce.
Maharaj Ji has already dodged a grilling by India's revenue investigators on three occasions. But when he returns to Delhi this month he must face close questioning - or forfeit a £5,000 bond, the 'smuggled' goods and his passport.
The top level investigation, in which Premier Mrs Indira Gandhi, as head of India's intelligence services, is taking a personal interest, began last November when Customs men at Delhi Airport had a tip from America that one of the divine bags was stuffed with jewels for the guru's mother plus sterling, dollars and travellers' cheques.
The boy said they were nothing to do with him. Top executives in his mission team claimed that the money was to feed and house 350 American converts-in-the-making, who had flown in with him in the chartered jumbo jet he called his silver steed and were going on a three-week course at the imposing training academy on the banks of the Ganges.
Special investigators from the revenue department have been trying to find out just how much he is worth and how much wealth the mission has accumulated in other countries.
It is an offence in Indian law to have a bank account abroad without permission from the Treasury, but the guru set up in Britain as a charitable trust which banks all the income.
Now the Indian Government will decide whether or not a charity abroad benefiting Indian nationals is contravening the law.
The Indian Special Branch has its own interest in the guru. It fears that with or without the knowledge of the mission's hierarchy, spies or CIA agents might use the security of the mission as a cover.
The Indian Home Office is also watching the boy. A spokesman said: 'We find it hard to believe that he's only 15. We think he's nearer 18 or 19.
'If he is older than 15, we will want to know why he's living a lie and what difference a delayed coming of age might mean to the finances of the mission.'
The boy is just one of thousands of gurus in India - some genuine, some quacks, all out to make a living from the millions who believe in them.
The difference between this boy and most others is that two years ago he realised the big money wasn't to be made in India but in the West.
The boy's method involves a three-week course during which devotees-to-be are allowed to work in the mission in the daytime and attend satsangs - spiritual meetings - in the evenings.
Then one of the mahatmas - holy men - gives a private lecture at the end of which the worshippers, full of peace, can say they have 'taken knowledge.'
There are about 2,000 mahatmas on the mission's books, three or four of them at present in Britain.
The headquarters is a walled fortress in Delhi. There, as in all his missions, the guru has his own private padlocked suite.
A 21-year-old American at the HQ, Gary Cashin, explained that the guru was 'completely unattached' to his Rolls and Mercedes. 'He really is. He wouldn't mind at all if he had nothing.'
Fellow American Frank Donado, 20, who is collaborating with Gary to produce a book on the boy god, added:
'One day a devotee's Volkswagen ran backwards and crashed in Maharaj Ji's Mercedes. It was terribly damaged. The devotee was prostrate with anguish at having damaged the car. But the guru smiled. "Please do not worry about it. I don't mind in the least being without it," he said.'
Of course there was another Mercedes on order next day.
Just above their sparse, Spartan room, completely devoid of any simple comfort, where they sleep on blankets on the stone floor, is the guru's luxurious suite.
They're not in the least envious. They believe that the guru himself would live in their room if it were ever necessary.
But of course it never has been, nor is it likely to be.
They talk of bliss … and ban sex
THE boy god's father was a much-loved guru who for years had taught the Divine Light 'knowledge' to millions of people in India.
He died seven years ago and the boy took over, claiming: My father's soul has passed into my body.' If the guru is 15 now, he would have been only eight then. Indian Government officials believe he is nearer 19.
What is the Divine Light? It seems that only the premies - those who have 'taken the knowledge' - know. They describe the process as the mind slipping into another level of consciousness, producing a sensation of light.
One of them said: 'When I saw knowledge I saw pure white light. It started off like spirals which exploded into light in my third eye you know, the psychic eye in the middle of your forehead.'
The guru first brought the Divine Light Mission to Britain, where it is registered as a charity, in June 1971.
The mission's solicitor, Mr Clive Sell, says: 'I was suspicious at first, but I am convinced now that the movement does a great deal of good. The guru has taken a lot of young people off drugs. I would estimate the movement in this country is now worth about £100,000 - there is an awful lot of money coming in.'
There are 29 ashrams - communes - in Britain, covering the whole of the country. Daily Mail reporters visited a random cross section and found an atmosphere of peace in all of them.
Bliss is a word they often use. They seem happy to have detached themselves from material things.
There was a high percentage of young people who had kicked the drug habit. There is no sex, no smoking, no drinking, no meat. Husbands and wives have to live in separate ashrams.
Devotee who live outside are allowed normal lives but are expected to make contributions and recruit followers.
The mission's headquarters at Woodside Avenue, Highgate, London, N, has two chefs ready 24 hours a day to cook for the guru and his family.
ANGUISH OF A FATHER WHO LOST THREE SONS
By Peter Cliff
IT took just nine months for the Kemp family to split up under the influence of the boy guru.
Groundsman Mr Raymond Kemp, of Bank Lane, Roehampton, Surrey, said : 'One minute we seemed to have a reasonably happy family with four loving sons. Now three of them have been taken away from us - they just laugh in our faces.'
First Chris, 22, came in contact with the mission. Within weeks he introduced his brothers, 18-year-old Peter and Bernard, 17. (The fourth brother, Anthony, 20, is a mentally handicapped epileptic.)
'Suddenly they were no longer part of our family,' says Mrs Mary Kemp. 'They could only talk to us about the Divine Light Mission.'
'They became very withdrawn, like zombies. All their Interests went by the board.'
Mr and Mrs Kemp's concern has not shaken their sons' beliefs.
Bernard said: 'I am truly very sorry about the way my parents feel. I only hope they can eventually take knowledge themselves and see what I see.'
Peter, a trainee operating theatre technician, explained: 'I was looking for an explanation to life. Then Chris introduced me to the teachings of the Guru Maharaj. Now all that is important is spreading his word to others.'
Chris, who is living at an ashram in Oxford, said: 'This is the first time I've heard of any family upheaval. I still love and respect my parents.'