An eastern guru arriving at a U.S. airport years ago would turn a few heads because of his turban, beard, robes and mystical manner.
But the guru looks rather ordinary today compared with the euphoric flower children who greet him.
The unusual sight at Los Angeles International Airport Thursday was not Shri Sant Ji Maharaj, who arrived on another leg of his world tour dressed in white boots, white pants and white Nehru jacket.
Most eyes were on the long-haired, often barefoot devotees (about 100) who sang hymns or chanted greetings to "The Lord of the Universe," scattered rose petals, carried posters and oversized balloons, then kneeled or prostrated themselves on the cold airport terminal hallway as the guru walked through.
"Pretty good," reacted the Maharaj when asked by reporters what he thought of his reception.
The master, also known as Guru Maharaj J, is only 14 years old and claims to have a worldwide following of millions. (When he was in Los Angeles last July on a less trumpeted visit he claimed to have 3 million followers; he claimed Thursday to have 5 million.)
But his devotees, who are said to have jumped from 5 last summer to 500 now in Los Angeles, make a fuss over him because he is said to impart "the knowledge of God" to believers, thus making him the "savior of mankind."
The youngest of four sons, he is said to have received "the divine light" when he was 8 years old at the death of his teacher-father, Shri Hans Ji Maharaj. He is a student at St. Joseph School in Debra Dun, India.
Gary Girard, 21, one of the original five Los Angeles devotees of the "teen guru," said the Maharaj has attracted so many followers because "he began revealing peace within every human being."
Now a full-time worker for the guru's worldwide Divine Light Missions, Girard said, "I was born in the Jewish faith, and I'm still Jewish, but at the same time I'm a devotee."
Rich Profumo, 25, another early disciple in Los Angeles, said he went from a conventional Christian background to different spiritual gurus before becoming a devotee of one 11 years his junior.
"Maharaj Ji was the only one who could give the experience that. the other gurus are talkingg about," Profumo said.