November 27, 1972.
He is called Balyogeshwar Param Hans Satgurudev Shri Sant Ji Maharaj - hardly a name likely to become a household word. A little over a year ago only a handful of people outside India knew who he was. But last fortnight, when Guru Maharaj Ji (as he is short-titled) flew from the U.S. to New Delhi to celebrate a three-day festival in honor of his late guru father, he was accompanied by seven jumbo jets filled with new followers from the West. They were only a fraction of the number he had left behind.
No venerable ascetic in flowing white beard and robes, the latest star from the East to hit the guru circuit is a plump, cherubic 14-year-old, lightly mustachioed with peach fuzz, his neatly trimmed black hair slicked back. He dines on vegetables-liberally supplemented by mounds of Baskin-Robbins ice cream. He does not practice yoga or formal meditation (having surpassed, he says, the need for it), but he has a passion for squirt guns and triple Creature Features horror movies.
The Maharaj Ji's mother and three older brothers literally worship him, kissing his "lotus feet" whenever they are in his presence. To them as to his other followers, he is the "Perfect Master" and "Lord of the Universe." By their testimony, the Maharaj Ji began, while still a toddler, to deliver inspired satsangs (sermons)-and to amaze the devotees of his father (then the Perfect Master) by awakening them in the morning with the exhortation, "Get up, get up. Do meditation! If you don't, I will beat you with a stick!"
Silver Steed. When his father died, the Maharaj Ji was eight. "I didn't want to be the guru," he says. "I would have been satisfied to be a mischievous little boy. But a voice came to me saying, "You are he; you are to continue." At the funeral, therefore, he confronted his father's mourning flock: "Why are you weeping? The Perfect Master never dies. Maharaj Ji is here, amongst you."
Four years later, in 1970, Guru Maharaj Ji inaugurated his international mission with a triumphal ride through Delhi in a golden chariot, trailed by miles of elephants, camels and devotees. In 1971 the master's American premies (loved ones) heralded his advent in the U.S. with a press release stating: "He is coming in the clouds with great power and glory, and his silver steed will drift down at 4 p.m. at Los Angeles international airport, TWA Flight 761." That was enough to attract a coterie of guru buffs and various other seekers. In little over a year their number has swelled to some 30,000 youthful followers who man "Divine Light" centers in 45 states.
The teen-age master suggests a stringent life-style for his devotees, devoid of drugs, sex, tobacco and alcohol. In exchange he offers the gift of knowledge designed to open the initiate's "third eye" of inner awareness and thus bring him perpetual peace. Knowledge sessions sometimes last twelve hours or more and are conducted by 2,000 delegated mahatmas throughout the world. "If you can become perfect," the Maharaj Ji told his disciples in Delhi's Ram Lila Grounds last week, "you can see God. That's the way I did it."
A Great Kid. The premies adore their chubby guru, despite his frustrating habit of showing up hours late for rallies or sometimes not at all. "People who stick to their schedules become like a rock," he explains. As a mark of their devotion, his premies wear their hair short and shave their beards. Makeshift barber chairs were set up in Air India's lounge at Kennedy Airport in New York to shear some lingering longhairs before the Divine Light pilgrims took off for the Delhi festival. The grateful faithful have also laden their lord with gifts, including a Rolls-Royce, a Mercedes and two private planes.
When he and his devotees landed in New Delhi, customs officials thought they had caught the Perfect Master with an embarrassment of riches-a suitcase containing diamonds and other jewels plus $65,000 worth of undeclared foreign currency. The guru's retainers claimed that the money amounted to only $12,000 and represented excess funds from their Divine Bank for travel expenses. The jewels, they said, were the "gifts of devotees from many nations" to the Lord of the Universe. Indian officials were unconvinced, and launched an investigation.
The amiable young master remained unperturbed at the airport as he smilingly greeted his followers from a marigold-decorated throne set up on the back of a Jeep. "The amazing thing about him," said his private secretary, Gary Girard of Los Angeles, "is that he can meditate 24 hours a day no matter what is happening."