The story of the 15-year-old guru who came to the Astrodome to save the world
Blissing out at the Eighth Wonder of the World in 1973
By Craig Hlavaty Updated 6:32 am CDT, Thursday, October 25, 2018
Of all the stories of sports glory, musical experiences and rodeo heroics that litter the Astrodome timeline, one event has been all but forgotten by everyone but the people who even now only vaguely remember it.
Over three days in November 1973 the Astrodome was rented as the site of Millennium ’73, billed on the outset as "the most significant event in the history of humanity" by its organizers. It was to usher in 1,000 years of peace, although that is still debatable.
Profiled by Texas Monthly, the New York Times, Washington Post and many others, the admission-free event hosted by the Divine Light Mission centered on portly 15-year-old guru Maharaj Ji (birth name Prem Rawat) and his immediate family.
Preceding the event was an eight-city “Soul Rush” tour around the country with the idea that followers would caravan together along the way for a big, blissful denouement on the Dome floor.
“Houston Or Bust In God We Trust” read a bumper sticker for Millennium ’73.
A 50-piece band called Blue Aquarius played a sort of brassy, hippie praise and worship soundtrack for the crowd, led by the guru’s older brother, Bhole Ji.
In the piece that ran the following January in Texas Monthly titled “God Goes to the Astrodome,” writer Thorne Dryer was less than complimentary right off the bat.
“Well the fat kid came and went. The 15-year-old, ulcer-ridden pretender to the throne of the AI-mighty — a paunchy pre-adolescent mystical magnate believed by millions of devoted followers to be, well … God — chose Judge Roy Hofheinz’ domed stadium to usher in 1000 years of peace for mankind,” Dryer wrote.
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Texas Monthly had a glossary of terms related to the event in its coverage.
Devotees were called “premies” and as they walked into the Dome they sang together in the concourse of a “universe of love” that the Lord of the Universe was to deliver to those who were willing to let it in.
The Dome, contrary to prediction, didn’t actually levitate from all the love being ladled around. At a rental cost of $80,000 for three days, that probably wasn’t in the contract.
Premies sprawled out on the floor of the Dome on a large red carpet. Some sat in the bleachers in a scattered fashion. For Houston hippies and seekers it was the place to be, some out of boredom and some searching for inner peace. Inside they were treated to stage plays and assorted speakers. Not unlike a rock show there were shirts, books, posters, buttons and tote bags for sale.
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Each night the guru gave an address to the throngs before him in a high-pitched teenage voice. These were called a satsang, or “truth-givings,” and sometimes lasted three hours as he sat comfortable in a chair shaped like a blue flame. His teachings were simplistic, filled with hokum, like a 15-year-old's diary entry.
The Dome’s iconic exploding scoreboard was utilized for messages of hope and praise, with life affirmations replacing home run celebrations.
While it was projected to attract 100,000 people, attendance was only estimated at “maybe” 20,000 by Texas Monthly. It probably could have been held at a smaller venue but the prospect of packing the Dome was likely too much for the DLM to pass up.
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Dryer’s coverage of Millennium ’73 in the Texas magazine also makes mention of the Christian groups camped out to protest the guru and the event. The guru was even called the Antichrist. Mainstream churches ran ads railing against the coming invasion of the Dome.
A 14-minute video shot by the Associated Press from the event shows angry Bible-thumpers outside the Astrodomain gates yelling at cars and passing out tracts.
Pierced and shaved Hare Krishnas from Houston sat outside calling Maharaj Ji a fraud and a product of so-called “guru factories” in India that were churning out mystics to separate westerners from their money with hippie-dippy messages of divinity in a world torn about by war and social strife.
At this year's “Domecoming” celebration earlier this month at the soon-to-be-renovated Texas landmark, one woman recalled her experience at Millennium ’73. At least to her it wasn’t as hectic as reported.
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Jo Anne Hanzelka, now 77, said that she and some friends went the first night out of boredom and completely forgot they had dinner plans.
“We didn’t have any plans so we wanted to do something different,” she says. “We ended up being so fascinated by the whole thing that we stayed, hungry.”
The concession stands were open but no beer was served. People who came in curious ended up staying and zoning out for hours.
“It was so unique and we talked about it for days,” she said. “To me it beats most everything else that happened here in terms of strangeness. There are lots of things about this stadium, besides the sports stuff, that gets lost.”
She actually liked the music by Blue Aquarius. Every now and then the record can be found on eBay but you can hear it here.
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The group had a song called “Rock Me Maharaji” that praised the guru for making nighttime turn to day. Borrowing heavily from secular bands like Chicago and Blood, Sweat and Tears the act even released a heavily panned album on Stax Records' Gospel Truth label. Leadoff track “God is Love” sounds like warmed-over leftovers from George Harrison’s “All Things Must Pass” triple album in places.
Hanzelka, talking while sitting next to her walker on the floor of the Dome, says that the moment of collective consciousness in Houston was all too fleeting.
After the event, the DLM splintered due to family disputes and, of course, money. These days Prem Rawat is 60 years old and still travels the world but he preaches peace through meditation instead of religion.
“I wish something like that would come back again because the millennials would love it,” Hanzelka said.
Guru Maharaj Ji, leader of the Divine Light Mission, delivers the first of three nightly messages on world peace at the opening of Millennium '73. Followers came from across the nation and throughout the world to attend the three-day festival in the guru's honor at the Astrodome.
>>>>See more photos from the event at the Astrodome 45 years ago …
Craig Hlavaty covers Houston history and pop-culture. Read him on our breaking news site, Chron.com, and on our subscriber site, HoustonChronicle.com. | email@example.com | Text CHRON to 77453 to receive breaking news alerts by text message