Rebecca Jones Rocky Mountain News Staff Writer
30 January 1998
Rocky Mountain News
Copyright (c) 1998 Bell & Howell Information and Learning Company. All rights reserved.

Whatever happened to Guru Maharaj-Ji, the 12-year-old "perfect master" whose followers made Denver their headquarters? He once rented most of the Kittridge Building downtown, and one of his followers around Denver was Chicago 7 defendant Rennie Davis. They started the Rainbow Grocery on Colfax. He was supposedly descended from a long line of gurus in India. - Ely, Denver

Things haven't gone so well for the guru in the last 20 years, though success is relative. He didn't bring the world peace, as he promised, but at last report he was living in a Malibu mansion valued at $15 million, with other homes in England, New Delhi, Rome, Madrid and who knows where else; driving his choice of a Rolls-Royce, a Maserati, a Ferrari or a garageful of other expensive cars; jetting around the planet on a $25 million Lear jet; or sailing on his $3 million yacht.

The number of his followers has shrunk dramatically from the early '70s, when he established the national headquarters of his Divine Light Mission in Denver. Back then, he claimed to have 6 million devotees.

Things started to sour on the guru in 1974 when, at age 16, he married Marolyn Johnson, a flight attendant twice his age. His mother didn't like her, and she set about trying to get her oldest son, Bal Bhagwan Ji, named head of the DLM in India. A nasty battle ensued, and by the time things got all sorted out in the mid-'80s, not much was left of the organization. All the ashrams (communes for his followers) were closed, and the name of the organization was changed to Elan Vital in the United States and England.

Nowadays, former cult members estimate Maharaji (he's dropped the Guru from his name and simplified the spelling) has 100,000 to 200,000 followers, mostly in India and Nepal. He's said to encourage his followers to offer him donations - which they dutifully do - so he and his "nonprofit" Elan Vital avoid taxes.

The former guru is closing in on the big 4-0 this year but shows no signs of slowing down. Various reports have him attending upwards of a hundred lectures and conferences a year, mostly in India and Nepal. He and his wife have at least three kids, one of whom is an Elan Vital exec.

For an extensive backgrounder on the guru, his successes and his foibles, check out the Web site