Sept. 20, 1997 Brisbane Courier-Mail Newspaper By Rory Callinan Cult Leader Jets In to Recruit New Believers
Millionaire cult leader Maharaj Ji is holding a secret session west of Brisbane this weekend.
Rory Callinan reports.
MILLIONAIRE cult leader Maharaj Ji, (known to his followers as the "Exploding Peace Bomb" and the "Lord of the Universe"), has returned to Australia to recruit new followers. The guru is holding a secret brainstorming session on a former cattle property in remote bushland 60 km west of Brisbane all weekend.
Thousands of followers have set up a tent city on the property at the base of Ivory Rock, (a monolithic egg-shaped mountain), for the four-day session, which ends on Sunday. Maharaj Ji, (or Maharaji, as he is now known), is due to appear at a 4000 seat open-air auditorium at the meeting to enlighten devotees in the "getting of Knowledge".
In the early 1970's the guru became an international household name as the teen leader of the Divine Light Mission cult. When the cult was at its height, many of the followers or "premies" lived in DLM houses or Ashrams and paid their entire salaries to the cult.
One former DLM member, Stephen Faulds, this week told the Courier-Mail that cult members would take out home loans and then all the occupants would pay off the mortgage. Former DLM president Robert Mishler, who has since left the cult, said that in the early 1970's DLM took more than $5 million from missions around the world.
The guru's latest gathering appears to be another money-spinner but under a different guise. Organizers expect up to 4000 "students" to attend the "Elan Vital 1997 Conference" and a spokeswoman for Elan Vital claimed the guru was no longer associated with DLM. "That is all in the past now," said Ros Sutton, who claimed to have found "Knowledge" with the guru 25 years ago.
Ms. Sutton said Maharaji had "completely disassociated himself" from DLM. "He (Maharaji) was very young at that time. It was when he was 13. He was promoted as being involved with the organization (DLM)," she said. "But since then, because of the strong Indian connotations, he has completely disassociated himself from that organization. What he teaches is not religion."
Australian Securities Commission records show the registered company Divine Light Mission Inc. changed its name to Elan Vital in the late 1980's. In 1992, Elan Vital registered the name Ivory Rock Convention Centre, where the meeting is being held, and is currently marketing it as a conference venue. Security officers at the front gate this week were stopping cars, and followers manned checkpoints on roads inside the property.
Ms. Sutton declined to say the source of Maharaji's income. "That is private," she said, as was Maharaji's location and time of arrival, according to Ms. Sutton. But according to Hawker Pacific's Brisbane office, which services corporate jets, the guru jetted into Australia on the weekend in his Gulf Stream jet, valued at between $20 to $30 million. A Hawker Pacific employee said Maharaji arrived under the name of Captain Rowatt and his family flew in on a commercial flight.
The luxury twin-engine jet is just part of the incredible life of luxury of the cult leader. Locals living around the conference centre were baffled at the activity. Vegetable farmer Lucien Stelet said: "They don't do any harm but there's been a few rumors about what they're doing. One theory was that they were digging tunnels."
In 1974 the 16 year old Maharaji caused a split in the cult when he married a 24 year old air hostess. The marriage sparked a massive internecine feud, with Maharaji's mother trying to sack him as leader. But his worldwide status enabled him to remain a dominant force. During his reign, he was hailed by his followers as a living god and acquired the title of the "Exploding Peace Bomb".
In one bizarre festival, he sprayed swooning devotees with pink colored water from a giant water pistol. It is believed he now lives in a Malibu mansion with his wife and children. The cult boasts a website titled "Premie" and lists a series of worldwide events where devotees can catch up with Maharaji as well as messages of love from followers to their revered guru. But on an "ex-premie" web page, The Courier-Mail found numerous allegations that the cult had shattered people's lives.