Hans Ram Singh Rawat, known as Shri Hans Ji Maharaj (November 8 1900 - July 19 1966) was born in Gadh-ki-Sedhia, north-east of Haridwar, Uttarakhand, India. His parents were Ranjit Singh Rawat and Kalindi Devi. He was considered a Satguru by his students who called him affectionally "Shri Maharaji" or just "Guru Maharaji.
He had a daughter from his first wife Sinduri Devi, and four sons from his second wife Rajeshwari Devi, later known among followers as "Mata Ji and "Shri Mataji".
At the age of eight, not long after starting at the village school, Hans Ji's mother died. From that time he was raised by his aunt. As a young adult he visited many holy men in the nearby mountains and pilgrimage towns in the area now the Pakistani provinces of Sind, Baluchistan and Punjab. He was reportedly disenchanted with these and turned to the Arya Samaj, a popular movement formed to remove caste prejudices and idolatry from Hinduism.
The search for work led Hans Ji to Lahore, the capital of the former Sikh kingdom. During this time he made his first contact with Sri Swarupanand Ji, a guru in the lineage of Advait Mat, from Guna. In 1923, Swarupanand taught Hans the techniques of Knowledge or kriyas, an experience of which Sri Hans later said: "I was given no mantra, but experienced Knowledge. I experienced the music and light of my heart. My mind was focused within". Three years later, in 1926, Swarupanand Ji asked him to start teaching others the techniques of Knowledge, and for the subsequent 10 years Sri Hans traveled through what is today Pakistan and northern India. A strong bond of teacher/disciple was formed between them which Swarupanand reportedly referred to as follows: "I am in Hans' heart and Hans is in my heart".
In 1936, Sri Swarupanand Ji died in Nangli Sahib, a village near the north town of Meerut. Reported indications from Swarupanand about Hans' succession were later contested by a group of mahatmas who noted that Hans Ji had married Sinduri Devi from a neighbouring village in the district of Garwal, making him a "householder", a status that in their view as renunciates was not acceptable. After the rift, Sri Hans was left with only a handful of people to help him continue his work. Sri Hans branched out on his own with the understanding that he had his teacher's blessings, and continued teaching throughout the Indian sub-continent.
That same year, he started presenting his message and teaching in the small town of Najibabad, near Haridwar. His talks at the time were strongly influenced by the egalitarian and reformist philosophy of the Arya Samaj, and he reportedly accepted anyone as his student, irrespective of caste, religion or status. This was an unusual stance for an Indian teacher, and it drew its share of criticism from traditional Hindus. During this year he published a book Hans Yog Prakash as a first step to broadening the dissemination of his message.
During the next years, Hans Ji traveled by foot and by train to towns and villages across north India, speaking at small, impromptu gatherings at train stations, or under a tree in the village grounds. By the late 1930s, Sri Hans Ji had begun visiting Delhi, teaching workers at the Delhi Cloth Mills. He travelled constantly between Haridwar and Delhi, often staying at followers' houses at Paharganj and Connaught Place, behind the new Delhi center.
In 1944, as the number of students grew, Sri Hans Ji purchased a small, two story house on the bank of the Ganges canal outside Haridwar, and named it "Prem Nagar" ("Town of Love"). The mahatmas who were helping him in a full-time capacity lived there with him in the tradition of the gurukul. Four years later, he reportedly purchased his first car, a green Austin Somerset, that assisted him in visiting nearby towns and villages in his effort to reach more people.
Sri Hans Ji had a daughter, Savithri, but his wife was unable to have more children. As a consequence of that, and based on an understanding that Swarupanand reportedly had told him that "one day he [Hans Ji] will have a son who would play an important role", he remarried in 1946 to Rajeshwari Devi, a young woman from Malegaon from the Garhwal district. In 1951, his first son was born (Satpal),followed by three more in 1953 (Bhole), 1955 (Raja), and 1957 (Prem Pal), named affectionately by Sri Hans "Sant Ji").
As Sri Hans Ji Maharaj's message was spreading throughout northern India, several initiatives were taken to facilitate his work, including the publishing of a monthly magazine named Hansadesh in 1951, and the formation of the Divine Light Mission (DLM). For nearly 30 years Sri Hans Ji Maharaj disseminated his message without any formal organization. After resisting suggestions for such an organization, he finally gave in to growing pressure, and the Divine Light Mission was registered in Patna in 1960, to develop and structure the growing activities across India.. The mission aims discussed are that "in principle all religions are one" and that the understanding that "peace is indivisible" and achievable by individuals and that "disgruntled individuals and dissatisfied nations can never promote lasting peace in the world." It also discusses some humanitarian initiatives.
By the early 1960s there were students in most large cities, towns and villages in the states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Haryana, Punjab, and Rajastan, as well as within the Indian communities in South Africa. Meetings were still small, and Sri Hans' close relationship with his students continued. In 1963, the first of many large public programs was held in the Ram Lila grounds in New Delhi, reportedly attended by 15,000. In 1964, an event took place on Gandhi Maidan in the heart of old Delhi that attracted even larger crowds. Several ashrams were opened during that time, including a small one in Rajastan and another larger one called Satlok ("Place of Truth") located between Delhi and Haridwar.
In 1965, Sri Hans attended a religious conference in New Delhi's Constitution Club that was chaired by the then Speaker of the India Parliament, Mr. Ayengar. That year Sri Hans flew for the first time when he visited his students in Jammu, Kashmir.
On July 18, 1966, while visiting a small ashram in Alwar, Sri Hans fell ill, and the same day returned to Delhi by car. It is reported that he died at 3 a.m. the following morning. Three days later, in a procession led by his family and many grieving mahatmas, his ashes were taken to his home in Haridwar.
During the customary 13 days of mourning following Shri Hans's death, the succession was discussed by DLM officials. Both Mata Ji and eldest son Satpal had been suggested,but before they could nominate Satpal as successor, Prem Rawat addressed the crowd and was accepted by them as their teacher and "Perfect Master".On July 31 after an improvised ceremony, Mata Ji and his elder brothers touched Rawat's feet as a sign of respect. Though officially the autocratic leader of the DLM, because of Rawat's age authority was shared by the whole family.
For the next eight years Rawat's family supported him as Shri Hans's successor but his decision to marry a Westerner in 1974 rather than the Indian woman his mother had planned on, precipitated a struggle for control of DLM. His mother returned to India and appointed Satpal as the new head of DLM India claiming that Prem Rawat had broken his spiritual discipline by marrying and becoming a "playboy". The Western premies remained loyal to Rawat but the marriage led to a permanent rift with his mother and it was also credited with causing a profound disruption in the movement.
Satpal also became an Indian politician and head of the organization, and is considered a satguru by his followers.