Wednesday, April 21, 2004 The Courier-Mail

Maharaji's inner peace in a tent doesn't come cheap

Hedley Thomas Prize Winning Journalist

inner peace doesn't come cheap After arriving in Brisbane by private jet to join devotees camping out in tents, globe-trotting guru Maharaji delivered a message of peace yesterday against a backdrop of controversy and rancour.

In a high-technology amphitheatre on the grounds of an 800ha property at Peak Crossing, near Ipswich, his message in English was simultaneously translated into 10 languages for the more than 3,000 followers who had gathered.

Devotees Victor Marsh, of Ocean Shores near Byron Bay, and Carol Robinson, who travelled from the United Kingdom, said they discovered inner peace by appreciating Maharaji's message and techniques. But detractors of Maharaji, including Australian journalist and former longtime devotee, John Macgregor, accuse him of being a wealthy cult-leading fraud who bilks the gullible. Critics have steadily stepped up an Internet campaign to expose the group. Some devotees with VIP status in Elan Vital, the group founded in the 1970s as Divine Light Mission by Maharaji (also known as Prem Rawat), yesterday flew from Europe and the US, forking out thousands of dollars to stay in an "executive" tent to hear him talk.

The next rung down, the "deluxe" tent package, with two people sharing a double bed with electric blanket, towels, bed side lamp and table, carpet, shelves and two chairs, costs $3990 for the five days.

Elan Vital staffers who organised the conference, mindful that many of Maharaji's followers were not affluent, also offered a "pioneer" tent option at $1440 each (single bed, pillows and sleeping bag inclusive).

And for those with camping know-how, the "swagman" option allows devotees to set up two-person tents on the property for $545 each.

Preparing for the Maharaji's visit has been a boon for dozens of contractors as organisers Cath Carroll and Stuart Hogarth have left nothing to chance.

Up to 60 chefs and caterers are staying on-site to prepare food around the clock while a team of 44 cleaners will work two shifts.

Security has been tight to deter anyone considering gate-crashing the Ivory Rock Conference Centre, which is controlled by Elan Vital International to market and promote events and raise funds.

Shares in Myrine Investments Ltd, a private company incorporated in the Channel Islands which owns the land, are held on behalf of the Prem Rawat Foundation.

However, Elan Vital officials say Maharaji "receives no financial benefit".