Guru Ji Superstar

Guru Ji Superstar THE STREETS of Delhi have seen some strange religious processions lately. Some 3,000 Europeans and Americans have been testifying to their faith in God on earth. He is a fourteen-year-old Indian boy, known to his followers as Guru Maharaj Ji, head of the Divine Light Mission, which has had a startling success in only six years. It now has follower, in America, Australia, Britain France, Japan and five other European countries.

Unfortunately the Indian festival this month got off to an embarrassing start. When the jet containing the adolescent living God and 350 disciples touched down in India, the Customs discovered a suitcase containing about £27,000 in watches, jewellery and cash. Unimpressed by the disciples' explanations, the Indian Government has ordered a financial investigation into the Mission's affairs.

The suitcase with the cash and jewels, according to the Guru's disciples, was merely a Divine bank, a pool of petty cash put together by the followers for safekeeping. This kind of Divine institution is a commonplace of the Mission's way of life. The Indian festival's encampment included a Divine cooking area, a Divine currency exchange bank, and a Divine shop selling such useful items as toothpaste, food and pictures of the "Holy Family."

Divine Light has boomed since Maharaj Ji took over aged eight. Already it has more than 6,000 British disciples with about 40 "ashrams," spiritual communities. In the US there are now 30,000 Divine Light followers. and the Mission says that next year they will start collecting followers from the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China.

To help spread the Word, the Mission has a very professionally written newspaper, a public meeting every night in London, and a record album made by "the Anand Band of London." The claims made on behalf of the Guru are not modest. A monthly glossy magazine, printed in Denver, Colorado, has a cover picture of the Guru suffused with the light of a rising Sun. Its title is "And It Is Divine," and it kicks off with a familiar quotation from Isaiah's Messianic prophecies.

The Guru promises nothing less than a "Peace Bomb" - peace in our time within one generation. And unlike other religious leaders, his peace promise is peace on earth, not simply peace within. Much of his reported speech has a familiar ring. He is quoted as saying: "Come to me. I will relieve you of your suffering. I am the source of peace in this world." To the Guru's followers this kind of echo is perfectly acceptable; for they believe that their fourteen-year-old master is God in man, just as Jesus Christ was nearly 2,000 years ago.

But the methods of worship are different. In Delhi the festival lasted three days, after which the Western disciples took off for a provincial ashram. The climax of the three days came on the last evening, when the young Guru led a service from a three-tiered stage decorated with silver tinsel and pink paper lotus flowers. Sparklers were lit up, and the disciples burst into worship. The Divine Times: described the scene: "This very holy expression of devotion went on under a dust-filled sky with Guru Maharaj Ji there, serene and ever-blissful, above everyone, crowning the whole scene. Everything was divine." Apart from the Customs.