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Millennium '73

Millennium '73

Millennium '73 was a free three-day festival held at the Houston, Texas, Astrodome in November 1973 by the Divine Light Mission (DLM), prominently featuring Prem Rawat, at the time better known as Guru Maharaj Ji. The event was variously billed as "the most significant event in human history, the dawn of a New Age, and a "World Assemblage to Save Humanity." It received wide publicity. Rennie Davis, a prominent anti-war activist and member of the Chicago Seven, helped draw attention to the event as the spokesman for the DLM. A variety of notable journalists attended, some of them acquaintances of Davis from the New Left.

The highlight of each day was an evening address by Guru Maharaj Ji, the 15-year-old guru who was the leader of one of the fastest growing religious movements in the West. The rest of the festival program comprised religious songs, big-band music, rock bands, choral works, a dance performance, and speeches by other DLM leaders.

Millennium '73 was called the "youth culture event of the year", and was listed among the notable events of the 1970s. One writer called the festival the zenith of Maharaj Ji's popularity, and another said it was the most important development in the American movement's history. Others describe 1973 as the peak year of the movement. Attendances fell far short of the projected 100,000, being variously estimated at 10,000 to 35,000. (The capacity of the Astrodome for festivals was 66,000.)

Media reports generally depicted the event as a disappointment. The DLM had promoted it as the dawning of a great age but it failed to meet those expectations. The resulting debt hampered the organization's future. The festival's failure, along with other factors, led to changes in the DLM's structure, management, and message. A month after the festival Maharaj Ji came of age and took administrative control of the U.S. DLM.

Before the event

Background

Hans Ji Maharaj founded the Divine Light Mission in India in 1960. He died six years later and his youngest son, then just eight years old, succeeded him as spiritual leader and "Perfect Master". The DLM claimed over 5 million members (known as "premies") in India by the time the 13-year old Guru Maharaj Ji made his first tours of the UK and US in 1971. Within two years, the DLM had as many as 50,000 members in the US, thousands more in the UK and other countries, and as many as six million in India. Scholars have described his following's growth in the West as wild and spectacular. The DLM taught secret meditation techniques that they called "Knowledge".

Hans Jayanti, a festival to commemorate the November 9 birthday of Hans Ji, was the largest of three annual (and numerous ad hoc) festivals that the DLM celebrated. At the Hans Jayanti of 1970, held in Haridwar, India, Guru Maharaj Ji delivered his "Peace Bomb" address to a gathering of 1 million people, at which he said, "I declare that I will establish peace in this world. The 1972 Hans Jayanti was attended by over 500,000 followers, including thousands from the US and UK who were flown in on six to eleven chartered 747s.

Hans Ji's widow, Mata Ji, and her 22-year-old eldest son, Bal Bhagwan Ji (also known as Satpal Rawat), handled most organizational aspects of the DLM at the time. They made the decision to hold the 1973 Hans Jayanti in the United States. Organizers planned it as a media event, and invited hundreds of reporters from all over the country in the hope that the news media would learn to see Maharaj Ji in a positive light.

Organizers first called the event "Soul Rush", but it later went by the name of "Millennium '73". Press releases announced that the event would mark the beginning of a thousand years of peace for people who want peace. The idea was that peace could come to the world as individuals experiencing inner peace. In a meeting with members, DLM President Bob Mishler denied that the event would start the millennium and said it was called "Millennium '73" because the word "millennium" evoked the "vision of one peaceful world based on spiritual values". The movement invested all of its resources in the event. US$953,177 was budgeted, including $75,000 to rent the Astrodome and $100,000 for the publicity. The DLM subsidized airplane fares for foreign followers. Followers were under pressure to contribute money to support the event.

Reports of the event appeared in the US press as early as March 1973. According to the media, the choice of the Astrodome for the event may have been inspired by a dream of Guru Maharaj Ji in which all of his followers were in a dome while the outside world was destroyed. It may also have been because the Astrodome did not have a union contract, allowing DLM members to work as volunteers. Evangelist Billy Graham had set an attendance record of 66,000 a year earlier with his "Jesus Exposition", and DLM organizers hoped to gain similar media attention.

Promotion

Prominent anti-war activist and Chicago Seven defendant Rennie Davis, who first met of Guru Maharaj Ji in February 1973, quickly became the Mission's most visible member. He was appointed vice president of the organization a short time later and served as general coordinator for the Millennium festival. His switch from "chants to mantras" was the topic of numerous newspaper articles and it "shook the new left from coast to coast". An energetic promoter of his new guru and of Millennium '73, he traveled across the United States on a 21-city tour, speaking to "about a million people a day" through radio and television interviews, telling people that the "way out of 'the collision course civilization is on'" was Guru Maharaj Ji. He made a variety of predictions about his guru and the event, declaring that "the lord is on the planet, with a concrete program to end racism, poverty and war. He was not always well received, particularly by his former comrades in the peace movement (one Berkeley newspaper had the headline "Rennie Unites Left – Against Him"), and he was the target of heckling, tomatoes, and rotten eggs. The Chicago Seven retrial was underway in the fall of 1973 and the judge gave Davis a dispensation to attend the festival. Several associates of Davis from the left also attended, some as journalists.

A two-week, 500-person tour promoted the event. The tour, called "Soul Rush", started in Boston, then went on to Plymouth Rock in Massachusetts, to Washington D.C. (where they had a permit to gather in front of the White House and invited President Richard Nixon to attend the festival and receive Knowledge), to Independence Hall in Philadelphia, to Columbus, Ohio, and to other cities before arriving in Houston. Prior to each of the events, as many as two hundred local volunteers plastered flyers announcing the tour. One reporter who traveled in the tour wrote that they had little press coverage and poor attendance but showed obvious energy, and that the tour itself went remarkably smoothly with expressions of love among the members. At each city, the touring group and local premies (DLM members) paraded in the morning, and a dramatic troupe performed in the afternoon. One spectator, impressed by the good spirits of the marchers, donated money and said, "If this is what I see on these kids' faces, I want it.

The main event was the free evening performance by "Blue Aquarius", a 50- to 60-piece band led by Bhole Ji, Maharaj Ji's 20-year old brother who was called the "Lord of Music" by Davis and others. The band was composed of professional and amateur musicians donating their efforts. The leading member was drummer Geoff Bridgeford, formerly of the BeeGees. The Blue Aquarius went on to anchor the festival with numerous performances there.

Posters announcing Millennium '73 said, "A Thousand Years Of Peace For People Who Want Peace". A flyer said, "Now the turning point in human civilization is here. At the colossal Houston Astrodome on Nov. 8-10, Guru Maharaj Ji will bring in the age of peace. This gathering in Houston is more than just a large festival. It is a world assemblage to save humanity. The Dawn of the New Age." The "Call to Millennium" said,

Peace is needed. And peace shall be obtained. This November 8, 9, and 10, Guru Maharaj Ji will attend the Millennium '73 festival in the Houston Astrodome and present to the world a plan for putting peace into effect. He will announce the founding of an international agency to feed and shelter the world's hungry. He will initiate the building of a Divine City that shall demonstrate to the world a way for people of all sorts to live together in harmony. And he will start a campaign to spread the Knowledge of soul to all mankind.

Houston radio talk shows were "deluged" by followers calling in to tell how "blissed out" they were.

Expectations

Sociologist James Downton described the development of millenarian beliefs within the DLM in 1971, saying that in the years prior to the festival such beliefs "were developed in part by the carryover of millennial thinking from the counterculture; by the psychological trappings of surrender and idealization; by the guru's mother, whose satsang was full of references to his divine nature; and partly by the guru, himself, for letting others cast him in the role of the Lord". Downton wrote that followers adopted a "fairly rigid set of ideas about the coming of a new age" even though Maharaj emphasized "giving up beliefs and concepts". According to sociologist Thomas Pilarzyk, some premies made "many rather bizarre, 'cultic' predictions" which reflected their excitement about the event as well as authenticated its significance.

In a letter to premies inviting them to the festival that referred to the annual celebration of Hans Janyanti, Guru Maharaj Ji said, "This year the most Holy and significant event in human history will take place in America". He said that "This is a festival not for you or me. It is for the whole world and maybe the whole universe". He urged them to support the festival, saying, "Isn't it about time you all get together and help me bring peace to this Earth? Rennie Davis promised that a "practical plan for world peace" would be revealed.

A frequently repeated prediction, attributed to Maharaj Ji, was that the Astrodome would levitate. A reporter was told that Maharaj Ji had "indicated that the angels will drop flowers on the roof of the Astrodome during the event" although he was assured that it was probably another example of lila, the Guru's divine game-playing. Maharaj Ji's brother, Bal Bhagwan Ji (also known as the Divine Freak), was said to have predicted that earthquakes in New York and Denver along with a dive in the stock markets would precede the festival. Davis told his Chicago Seven co-defendants that a UFO had landed on a church in Bogota, Colombia, and that the extraterrestrial beings told the nuns that "Guru Maharaj Ji is the Lord. Davis predicted that extraterrestrials would attend the festival.

Then-member Sophia Collier later wrote that a minority of members became "Victims of Millennium Fever" and that Bal Bhagwan Ji was the fever's carrier. The majority of the premies repeated his ideas out of astonishment, but some actually believed him. Wild rumors spread in half-jest that "extra terrestrials" might turn up. Some expected the dawn of a new age of peace, of the Age of Aquarius, or even the second coming. Rumors spread that earth-shattering events would happen. One rumor said that a newborn baby in Houston had cried out "Guru Maharaj Ji" or "The Lord has come" and then died. Followers perceived the predicted appearance of Comet Kohoutek as another omen. Some members believed that the comet was a spaceship on its way to Houston, while others saw it as the return of the Star of Bethlehem. Members said its name meant "KO Houston Texas", as in "knock out". An astrologer pointed to a special alignment of the planets during the festival. One member used a Ouija board to contact Venusians who planned to attend purportedly "because they're from the planet of love and Guru Maharaj Ji is the source of love in the universe." Another member remarked that even normally realistic followers were swayed by the collective fantasies. When a reporter asked Bal Bhagwan Ji about the predicted aliens he replied, "If you see any, just give them some of our literature."

Downton said that some followers had "runaway expectations" about attendance. Public predictions of attendance grew larger: from 100,000 to 144,000 (the number foretold in Revelations for the Second Coming), to 200,000 and even 400,000. (The capacity of the Astrodome was 66,000.) During his promotional tour, Davis told an audience, "Everything's gonna come together at last. Millions will attend. Organizers announced that 35,000 hotel rooms had been reserved for out-of-town attendees, but Collier wrote that Davis only reserved 22,000 based on his experience with large events.

Bob Mishler later said he had tried to "put the brakes on" growing expectations. Mishler said he toured the country explaining to members that the festival would be significant because of what happened there, not because of the number of attendees. He said he only expected 20,000-25,000, but that "it was like calming a team of wild horses to stop the predictions of hundreds of thousands and the Astrodome taking off into outer space."

Event

Rainbow Brigade

During the summer prior to the festival, 380 followers worked full-time in Houston preparing for the event. The work force was called the "Rainbow Brigade" and its motto was "Work Is Worship". The total staff for the festival numbered 4,000 people. The DLM used its leased IBM System/3 computer to assign jobs to volunteers. Fifteen hundred festival volunteers stayed at a former Coca Cola plant, renamed the "Peace Plant" for the occasion, that was used as a dormitory and kitchen. Some slept on folded blankets over the concrete floor. Another thousand stayed at the Rainbow Inn. One hundred and twenty followers made 20,000 sandwiches each day. A barber stayed busy trimming long-haired male volunteers. The Shri Hans Humanitarian Services treated minor injuries. Reporters wrote that the amateur volunteers maintained a "tight and professional" operation, worked "smoothly, efficiently, happily...without a word of complaint or a note of friction", and showed the egalitarian obedience of the Israeli Army or "a wall-less, coeducational monastery". One noted that the workers were "supportive of each other, much given to massaging one another's backs-cheerful, kind, loving; they seem in fact model human beings, perhaps even on their way to becoming the 'new evolutionary species' that they claim will establish heaven on earth".

And It Is Divine special issue

The DLM's glossy magazine, And It Is Divine, published a special edition for the event. The 78-page magazine, of which Maharaj Ji was the Editor-in-Chief, included an invitation to the event, the festival program, and a history of the festival. One article profiled the Holy Family (Guru Maharaj Ji, his mother, and three older brothers), illustrated with individual portraits and a group photograph. The festival invitation said that, "Three years ago, at the 1970 Hans Jayanti, the present Guru Maharaj Ji proclaimed he would establish world peace. This year at Millennium '73 he will set in motion his plan to bring peace on earth ... for a thousand years."

An unsigned article, titled "Prophets of the Millennium", referred to prophecies from the Book of Isaiah, Hindu scripture, American Indians, Edgar Cayce, Jeanne Dixon, and others. The article noted that "prophecies have a way of coming true", that "predictions the Lord will return as a child appear in almost every part of the World", and that "many prophecies say the Savior will come from the East." It asked, "Is Guru Maharaj Ji the great Savior that all people of the world are expecting?" and answered by saying that "everyone must decide for himself."

Hobby Airport arrival

The first big event of the festival was the arrival of Guru Maharaj Ji and the Holy Family on Wednesday, November 7, 1973. Maharaj Ji had flown into Houston Intercontinental Airport but officials there would not allow the followers onto the runway so the three thousand followers along with the press waited for him at Houston's Hobby Airport.The crowd, uniformly young. bright-eyed and clean-cut, didn't seem to mind the two hour delay and a follower described the change in plan as an example of lila, or divine play.They passed the time decorating the hood of the Guru's Rolls Royce, listening to the Blue Aquarius, scanning the skies for signs of his plane, and "blissing out". Upon his arrival he spoke for a few minutes saying, ""It's really fantastic and really beautiful to see you here, the Millennium program will start tomorrow and it'll really be fantastic, it'll be incredible ... and soon people will get together and finally understand God. ... There's so much trouble in the world, Watergate is not only in America, it exists everywhere." He also said, \"And I think it's about time people found out who God is by now at least.

The Holy Family stayed in the Astrodome's six-bedroom \"Celestial Suite\", normally $2,500 a night but obtained at a discount. Rennie Davis commented on the cosmic appropriateness of the names of the suite and of the \"master\" bedroom, and of the faucets shaped like swans (the guru's symbol). He said that the Astrodome was built for the festival, a sentiment that an Astrodome manager said was shared by every religious group that held an event there.

Stage, signs, and effects

Red carpeting covered the dome's famed Astroturf. At one end of the field sat the multilevel stage, whose height was commonly estimated to be , though some estimates go as high as or even . (The interior peak of the dome is above the playing field and the highest seating is above the field.) Designed by award-winning architect and follower Larry Bernstein, it was described as striking in appearance. Bernstein said he had designed it, not for the audience in the Astrodome, but for the TV cameras. At the highest level was the guru's throne, backed by flame-shaped blue Plexiglas that observers said resembled either a natural gas company logo or a surfboard. Below that were four smaller orange thrones for the Holy Family, and further down was seating for the Mahatmas (sometimes described as the "priests" or "apostles" of the DLM). The lowest stage was for the Blue Aquarius band led by Bhole Ji Rawat, who wore a silver-sequined suit while conducting. In front were pond-like areas of aluminum foil covered in cellulose acetate sheeting. Translucent white plexiglas panels, lighted from within, formed the walls of the stage. The set, while objectively large, was reportedly dwarfed by the vast size of the Astrodome.

Projected on huge white screens above the set were rainbows and images of the turmoil of the 1960s. The Astrolite, Astrodome's huge electronic signboard, flashed animated fireworks (the same that were shown during ballgames), representations of Maharaj Ji, and a variety of slogans, religious quotations, and announcements:

  • Truth is the target/The mind is the bullet/Ready Aim Fire
  • Sugar is Sweet/So are You/Guru Maharaj Ji
  • The Holy Breath will fill this place/And you will be baptized in Holy Breath
  • All premies interested in doing/Propagation in Morocco please contact/Millennium Information at the Royal Coach Inn
  • Happiness is not in the material world. It is the property of God
  • Attention, Attention/Please do not run and dance/Thank you, Guru Maharaj Ji
  • Realize heaven on earth
  • You will sit in your assigned places, please
  • For lovers of music Blue Aquarius record album by Stax Recording Company on sale here for $5.00

Program

The three themes of the festival were reported to be, "Who is Guru Maharaj Ji", "Guru Maharaj Ji is Here", and "The Messiah Has Come". Each day's program opened and closed with the singing of Arti, a traditional Hindu song with lyrics adapted for Guru Maharaj Ji. The main events were the nightly talks by Maharaj Ji, which were his only appearances before the assemblage. He was reported to have watched the proceedings on closed-circuit television in his suite, and to have sent his bodyguard down with a can of pink foam confetti to spray the crowd on his behalf, reported as an example of lila. In addition to the main program, mahatmas were conducting initiations into Knowledge at local ashrams, and the guru and his family were offering darshan, or holy presence, to initiates.

Day 1: "What is a Perfect Master?"

The first day of the festival was Thursday, November 8, 1973. The program lists the topic of the day as "What is a Perfect Master?" The program started at noon with an oratorio composed for the occasion by Erika Anderson. The masters of ceremony were Joan Apter, an early U.S. convert and one of Maharaj Ji's secretaries, and Charles Cameron, one of the guru's earliest converts in the UK and editor of Who Is Guru Maharaj Ji? Cameron told stories of previous Perfect Masters. After that was a pageant reenacting scenes from the life of Jesus Christ. In the afternoon, Bal Bhagwan Ji delivered a spiritual discourse, or satsang.

Rhythm and Blues musician Eric Mercury performed during the dinner interval. Stax Records had negotiated an agreement with the DLM to make a recording of the event in exchange for showcasing Mercury, one of their new acts. They had already released an album titled \"Blue Aquarius\" in 1973 that was on sale at the event. Mercury, a Canadian of African ancestry and the only non-member who performed, ended up playing to an audience of 5,000 or less. The session was recorded and Mercury told a press conference that he was giving 50 percent of his royalties to the DLM. He privately told a reporter that while he was interested in the message initially he was put off by the pressure to join for what he perceived as an effort to gain ethnic diversity.

Following Mercury was a speech by Bob Mishler, the founding president of the DLM in the United States, and then an hour-long set by the Blue Aquarius orchestra. The highlight of the evening was a satsang by Maharaj Ji:

You want to be the richest man in the world? I can make you rich. I have the only currency that doesn't go down ... People think I'm a smuggler. You betcha I am. I smuggle peace from one country to another. This currency is really rich. But if you think I'm a smuggler then Jesus Christ was a smuggler and so was Lord Krishna and Mohammed.

Maharaj Ji said to the crowd, \"Try it, you'll like it.\" (This was the catchphrase from a popular 1971 ad campaign for Alka Seltzer.)

Day 2: \"The Perfect Master is Here\"

The second day of the festival, Friday, November 9, 1973, had the theme of \"The Perfect Master is Here\". It featured speeches by mahatmas and by Maharaj Ji's mother, Mata Ji. The \"Divine Light Dance Ensemble\" performed a dance piece, Krishna Lila, that one reporter called \"beautifully choreographed and executed\". Music included another choral composition by Erika Anderson, another long set by Blue Aquarius, and a performance by the Apostles, a devotional rock band. Maharaj Ji wore a red Krishna robe and later put on a jeweled crown of Krishna, the \"Crown of Crowns for the King of Kings\". His satsang that night included this story, reported by several journalists:
Imagine if you wanted a Superman comic real bad. And you go all over asking people if they've got one. You go to all the bookstores and to all the kids in the colleges, and all the people on the streets and no one has one anywhere. And you're real depressed and you're sitting there in the park and this little kid comes up and says \"Hey man, how'd you like a Superman comic.\" And you say, \"G'wan. You don't have one.\" And this kid pulls it from out of his shirt and it is a genuine; a gen-u-ine Superman comic: and you look at it and say, \"Hey man; this must be very expensive,\" and he says, \"No, take it, it's yours. It's free.\" And you don't believe him but then you take it. He just gives it to you. Well if you can imagine that, you can imagine what Knowledge would mean to you.

Day 3: \"World Assemblage to Save Humanity\"

The third day and last day of the festival, Saturday, November 10, 1973, was called a \"World Assemblage to Save Humanity\". A talk by another brother, Raja Ji, and more performances by Blue Aquarius and the Apostles filled the schedule. Plans for the Divine United Organization and the Divine City were announced. Rennie Davis gave a speech that one reporter called the oratorical high point of the festival. He said to the gathering, \"All I can say is, honestly, very soon now, every single human being will know the one who was waited for by every religion of all times has actually come\" and \"I tell you now that it is springtime on this earth!\" Jerry Rubin, a co-defendant in the Chicago Seven trial, said he had never heard Davis sound more dangerous.

The climax of the event was the final satsang by Maharaj Ji, in which he laid out his plan for peace. According to one reporter his basic message was, \\"You want peace? Give me a try. Let me have a try. I'll establish peace. It's a simple deal.\\" One analogy by Maharaj Ji that several reporters noted compared the techniques of Knowledge to a fuel filter:

The thing is that this life is a big car, and inside the car there is a big engine. And in the engine there is a carburetor, which is hooked up to a fuel line. In some cars, before the fuel line hits the carburetor, there is a thing called a filter that makes sure the fuel going into the carburetor is pure. So in this life, the filter for our minds is the Knowledge, and if we are not being filtered properly, many dirty particles enter our minds and eventually the whole engine is destroyed.

Following his talk he was presented with a \\"golden sculpture of the swan of truth upholding the earth\\" (swans were the family mascot) and a marble plaque depicting a lion and a lamb laying down together. The event concluded after a short performance by the Blue Aquarius orchestra.

After the end of the program volunteers hurried to clear the field of the stage and carpeting. The following afternoon the Astrodome hosted a football game between the Cleveland Browns and the Houston Oilers that attracted 37,230 fans.

Attendance

Reports of total attendance vary from 10,000 to 35,000, with 20,000 a frequent estimate. Two reports say that only 7,000 people attended the first day,, while a third says that there were 10,000 the first night and 15,000 the second. Some sources report that 33 chartered planes brought followers from 31 or 36 countries, though two other sources say that were only seven or fewer international flights. 10,000 followers from India were expected, but only 100 were reported to have attended. Seating sections were designated for attendees from France, Sweden, India, Spain, and even, as a joke, Mars. Bal Bhagwan Ji reportedly told a follower who asked about the low attendance that there were actually 150,000 beings there. Seats were set aside for ETs within the stadium along with a corner of the parking lot for their ship.

The premies were reported to be "cheerful, friendly and unruffled, and seemed nourished by their faith". Unlike most youth gatherings of the era, there was no scent of marijuana or tobacco, only incense. Though the movement's membership included former "political radicals, communards, street people, rock musicians, acid-head 'freaks,' cultural radicals, [and] drop-outs", they now appeared clean-cut and neatly dressed. The men wore suits and ties, and the women wore long dresses. Notable members who attended Millennium '73 include Sophia Collier, Rennie Davis, and Timothy Gallwey.

When Maharaj Ji was present, his followers raised their arms towards him and chanted "Bolie Shri Satgurudev Maharaj ki jai!", translated as "Sing the praises of the Lord True-Revealer of Light, inexpressibly all-powerful majesty", "All Praise and Honor to the Perfect Master", "All praise to the Perfect Master, giver of life", or, roughly, "Let's hear it for the Perfect Master!" One reporter called them "cheerleaders". Marjoe Gortner, a former child preacher, wrote that the spectacle of thousands of young people chanting with arms raised reminded him of Sieg Heil, while four journalists compared it to scenes at the Nuremberg stadium,

Four hundred parents of DLM members sat in a special section high above the floor of the dome. To many parents, Maharaj Ji was \"a rehabilitator of prodigal sons and daughters\". One follower said some of the parents looked a little embarrassed.

Singer-songwriter Loudon Wainwright III visited the festival and later remarked that while the premies inside were looking happy, the ones outside were arguing with Jesus Freaks and Hare Krishnas. Wainwright has said that Maharaj Ji partly inspired the song \"I am the Way\".

World Peace Corps

The World Peace Corps (WPC) was the DLM's security force at the event. Bob Mishler, then DLM President, later said that Maharaj Ji got the idea to start a bodyguard unit after watching The Godfather. Raja Ji, Maharaj Ji's 19 year-old youngest brother, was head of the WPC. He said its job was \"to make sure that whatever is happening, happens correctly.\" The WPC members at the festival were reported to be mostly English followers. One of the WPC's main jobs was keeping followers away from their guru. Said one WPC member at the festival, \"This is nothing, should have seen us in India, mate. We had to carry batons there. Loving words won't always stop people from comin' onstage y'know. Sometimes you got to bonk 'em. A WPC member, asked about the Detroit reporter who had thrown a shaving cream pie at Maharaj Ji a few months earlier, replied that he would have killed the man \"on the spot\" if he had been there. They were seen by one reporter as \"threatening, cajoling and generally pushing everyone around\", while a member called them a \"corps of sweet-looking ushers and more brawny strongarms. Described by journalists as \"dour\" and \"brutal\", they were seen as exemplifying the violence latent in the movement. Writers commented on the irony of the name, called it doublespeak, and compared it to the Big Lie.

Opposition groups

The event attracted opposition. Local Baptist churches took out a full-page newspaper advertisement warning of false prophets. Hare Krishna, Jesus Freaks, Children of God and the Jews for Jesus protested loudly and sought converts. Members of the Christian Information Committee drove from Berkeley, California. One Christian anti-cult group, Spiritual Counterfeits Project, had its origin at the event.

The picketing groups fought with each other, harassed attendees, and reportedly vandalized cars owned by DLM members. Organizers called the police to clear Hare Krishna protesters who were blocking the arena entrances and as many as 31 were arrested for disorderly conduct. The Hare Krishnas protested that Maharaj Ji was being called an incarnation of Krishna, while the Jesus Freaks protested that Maharaj Ji was a false messiah and the antichrist. In response, Maharaj Ji said at one of his satsangs, \\"They must be drunk. When the real antichrist comes they won't even recognize him. He'll be too professional.\\"

Media coverage

Between fifty and three hundred reporters covered the event. It received extensive coverage from the print media though not from the national television news coverage that organizers expected (there had been predictions that Walter Cronkite would cover the event live). The New York Times and Rolling Stone both sent sent two reporters, and it was also covered by the Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, the Los Angeles Free Press, the Detroit Free Press, the Village Voice, the Rag of Houston, and the Houston Chronicle. Magazines covering the festival included Time, Newsweek, the New York Review of Books, Ramparts Magazine, Creem, Texas Monthly, The Realist, Crawdaddy, Playboy, Penthouse, and Oui. Notable journalists and observers in attendance included: James Downton, David Felton, Kerry Fitzgerald, Marjoe Gortner, Wavy Gravy, Robert Greenfield, Paul Krassner, Bob Larson, Annie Leibowitz, Jeff Nightbyrd, Lowell Ponte, Jerry Rubin, Robert Scheer, Michael Shamberg, John Sinclair, Loudon Wainwright III, and Marilyn Webb. Four journalists, Webb, Scheer, Greenfield, and Ken Kelley, had been following or even living with the DLM for weeks or months prior to the festival.

A local progressive radio station and Pacifica network member, KPFT-FM, aired "bliss-to-bliss" coverage. Paul Krassner, John Sinclair, Jeff Nightbyrd, and Jerry Rubin were co-anchors. Wavy Gravy and Loudon Wainwright III made guest appearances. The anchors reportedly mocked the festival and its attendees. Not realizing this, the festival organizers piped the signal throughout the Astrodome until the nature of the coverage became apparent.

Top Value Television (TVTV) chose the Millennium '73 festival as a topic for a documentary, titled "Lord of the Universe". TVTV was a documentary production company that had just received acclaim for its groundbreaking piece on the 1972 Republican National Convention. They used Portapak cameras and newly developed recording technology that allowed them to shoot handheld video of broadcast quality. Two teams followed a member and the Soul Rush tour prior to the event. Led by producer Michael Shamberg, five camera teams recorded 80 hours of video at the festival itself. Chicago Seven codefendant Abbie Hoffman, who did not attend, provided commentary. The documentary was broadcast on PBS television stations across the U.S. in the spring of 1974 and again in the summer. It went on to win a DuPont-Columbia Award for excellence in broadcast journalism. Jacques Sandoz, a Swiss filmmaker and follower, also filmed the event with five Panavision cameras for a DLM-sponsored project.

Relations between journalists and the DLM were strained. Reporters wrote of being kept waiting for hours on the airport tarmac in the heat and humidity in order to cover an appearance that lasted only a few minutes. Rules and passes for media access were changed daily with no apparent logic. A female reporter wrote of being shoved repeatedly by WPC members. Another reporter says he was assigned a "premie guide" to accompany him at all times to answer questions. Robert Scheer later wrote of being told by a press agent to go to a corner of the parking lot to cover the imminent landing of the Venusians. A Rolling Stone reporter was promised an interview following the event if he could fly to Los Angeles the next day, but when he arrived he was kept waiting and never got the interview. Scholars say that the press were angered and alienated.

According to Sophia Collier, journalists found a "confused jumble of inarticulately expressed ideas. One reporter complained of the lack of content, saying, "They didn't have much to say, and they said it over and over again." A problem, acknowledged by both reporters and movement officials, was that Maharaj Ji said it was impossible to understand his message without Knowledge but that no one could receive Knowledge who had not professed belief in his words. Recognizing this, reporters requested a special initiation, and Davis asked them to receive Knowledge. Though they were repeatedly promised a session, and though they had gathered to receive it, the mahatma left without initiating them.

Maharaj Ji's followers were disappointed that no network TV anchors covered the event, and that the coverage they did get was negative. Collier complained about the coverage in general and especially about an article by the Village Voice's Marilyn Webb that featured her: "The article went on and on as if she were being paid by the word, no matter how trivial or inaccurate, obscuring and misrepresenting my actions and beliefs. I consider it libelous, and worse, it shows a lack of sense of humor. This was only one of many hundreds of such articles about the festival. Speaking of the TVTV video crew, she said, "It seemed that every time something weird would happen or some premie would make a dumb fanatical or ill-conceived remark – flash – on would go the TV lights and they would start filming.

The DLM's Divine Times newspaper printed an analysis of the press coverage the following June. It criticized the many articles written about the festival, saying they portrayed Maharaj Ji as "materialistic and his followers as misguided and misled". The only article it approved of was in a children's magazine. The review also admitted that the DLM had made a number of mistakes and called the press relations "improper and inept". Carole Greenberg, Head of DLM Information Services, said that, "We took something subtle and sacred and tried to market it to the public." She went on to say the press had done the movement a favor by holding up a mirror that showed "the garbage we gave them." The analysis said, "the greatest botch was Guru Maharaj Ji's press conference".

Maharaj Ji's press conference

Maharaj Ji's press conference, hastily arranged for the morning of Friday, November 9, was noted for leaving the reporters frustrated and hostile because of what were described as flippant, manipulative, and arrogant answers, and because of an effort to pack the room with supporters. Several dozen followers, mostly foreign, jostled reporters, asked long and complimentary questions, and shouted "Boli Shri" or "Jai Satschadan" following the answers. Direct questions from journalists were answered by Maharaj Ji with parables. A reporter from Newsweek complained that the evasive responses reminded him of a recent Watergate press conference with White House Press Secretary Ron Ziegler, "I expect you to announce three weeks from now that all these statements are 'inoperative'". A news analysis published in the Divine Times five months later said that some of the reporters acted like "district attorneys interrogating a hostile witness". Excerpts:Opening statement by Maharaj Ji: The aim of this mission is to establish peace on this earth. Here I am. I say I can establish peace in this world. It is quite possible. I would very much like all the press would cooperate with me in doing this. The thing is, if you write an article, maybe the credit goes to you or not; but if peace is established in the world, definitely there will be a credit for you. And this is the most important point that press reporters usually look for, 'Will we get credit out of this or not?'Reporter: Maharaj Ji, are you the Messiah foretold in the Bible?Maharaj Ji: Please do not presume me as that. Respect me as a humble servant of God trying to establish peace in this world.Reporter: Why is there such a great contradiction between what you say about yourself and what your followers say about you?Maharaj Ji: Well, why don't you do me a favor ... why don't you go to the devotees and ask their explanation about it?Reporter:There's a war in the Middle East; why aren't you there?Maharaj Ji: When a war begins, a general doesn't have to be on the spot.Reporter: It's hard for some people to understand how you personally can live so luxuriously in your several homes and your Rolls-Royces.Maharaj Ji: That life that you call luxurious ain't luxurious at all, because if any other person gets the same life I get, he's gonna blow apart in a million pieces in a split of a second. ... People have made Rolls-Royce a heck of a car, only it's a piece of tin with a V8 engine which probably a Chevelle Concourse has.Reporter: Why don't you sell it and give food to people?Maharaj Ji: What good would it do. All that's gonna happen is they will need more and I don't have other Rolls-Royces. I will sell everything and I'll walk and still they will be hungry.Reporter: Guru, what happened to the reporter in Detroit who was badly beaten by your followers? [Following the question DLM members tried to change the subject, but reporters called for an answer.]Maharaj Ji: I think you ought to find out what happened to everything.

The conference, which lasted nearly an hour, ended in shambles shortly after reporters pressed for information about the beating of a reporter who had thrown a pie at Maharaj Ji a few months prior. As of 1976, he had not held any more press conferences.

Krassner-Davis debate

Paul Krassner challenged Rennie Davis to a debate and Davis agreed. It was held on the third day, Saturday, November 10, and attended by 30 reporters. It took place in the adjoining Astrohall convention center. The question was, "Resolved: That Davis has copped out to turn kids away from social responsibility to personal escape". Ken Kelley was the moderator and KPFT-FM broadcast it live. Krassner alleged that there was collusion between the movement and the U.S. government to channel critics into devotional activities. Repeating an accusation he had been making through the summer, he said the movement was part of a CIA-directed conspiracy. Krassner was quoted as saying "Guru Maharaj Ji is the spiritual equivalent of Mark Spitz" Krassner asked, "Did the Maharaj Ji give Richard Nixon a secret contribution?", to which Davis replied, "Yes—he gave Richard Nixon his life."

According to a witness, "Davis smiled blissfully through Krassner's attack, closing his eyes every so often and appearing to meditate". He added that "Davis claimed all of the objections Krassner raised missed the main point, which is that 'the Lord is on the planet and he has the secret of life'". According to Davis, "far from being a form of escapism, Maharaj Ji will lead 'the most serious revolution ever to take place in the history of the world'". He said the main battleground now is "the struggle between the mind and the soul" in each person. He said he believed that "Guru Maharaj Ji could do something tonight to show the world that he is the Lord. Reporters said that Davis stayed poised while Krassner heckled.

Afterwards

Debt

Admission to Millennium '73 was free, unlike other DLM festivals that charged sizable admission fees. The DLM leadership had expected that a huge attendance would be followed by generous donations, if not a complete change in the world.

Despite fundraising beforehand, the festival left the DLM in serious debt caused by much lower than expected attendance and partially by the Holy Family's mismanagement, according to sociologist Thomas Pilarzyk. Estimates of the debt range from US$600,000 to $682,000, to over $1 million. Individual members also carried debts incurred for travelling expenses. The festival had been financed with short-term credit that began coming due right after the event. Creditors, including the Astrodome management, pursued the DLM seeking payment. Equipment and property belonging to the mission were repossessed. By mid-1974, NBC reported that about $150,000 was still owed and that 25 vendors had received no payments at all. Members of the DLM took on extra work in order to raise money, at Maharaj Ji's suggestion. The debt forced the sale of the DLM's printing business, the temporary shutdown of their newspaper and magazine, the closure of other businesses, the cancellation of all but one WATS line, the disbanding of Blue Aquarius, and the shelving of new initiatives. The lease on the IBM computer was not renewed. In 1976, the DLM spokesman said that the debt had been reduced to $80,000 and that the mission was on a sound financial footing.

Impact

The festival had a major impact on the movement. Expectations had been raised so high that they could not be fulfilled. In addition to the disappointing attendance, bad press coverage, and high debt, the event failed to achieve its other goals such as achieving world peace or world transformation.

Maharaj Ji appeared to be nonplussed by the turnout according to one reporter, though others saw no public indication that he was disappointed. He remarked privately on how perfect it was and called the event "fantastic". Three months after the event Davis said, "I don't feel as I suppose people think I should, which is, 'Oh boy, did I blow it!' ... Generally I said the event was significant not because of numbers but because we saw it as the changing of an age. Twelve people came to the Last Supper. How many came to the Sermon on the Mount? In an interview the following June, Mishler said that, "The positive vibration of love that engrossed all those people in the Astrodome marks the beginning of the human race. [...] People who came with expectations went away disappointed, but those who perceived ahead of time what would happen dealt with the situation that remained. Those who expected nothing in particular just went on with life and were happy to have attended."

Members reported feelings of disappointment. According to sociologists Foss and Larkin, some members saw the failure to meet expectations as another example of lila. Sociologist James V. Downton, who attended the festival, said the followers tried to find nice things to say about the event but that it appeared to him they were trying to hide "ruined dreams". One member said that followers could not believe they "would have to go on living in the same old world ... The excitement was over. Another member, from an Orthodox Jewish background, was disenchanted and began to doubt that Maharaj Ji "held all the answers". Janet McDonald, an African American woman attending Vassar College, said that her "faith was brutally dashed to bits" at the festival due to its failure to meet her expectations of miracles, and by her embarrassment at lining up for hours to kiss the white-socked foot of Mata Ji. She left the movement soon after. Sophia Collier said that the event was a "bomb" and that she woke up on the bottling plant floor the next morning wondering "What the hell am I doing here?", though she stayed to "salvage what was left of DLM's public image.

Journalists and scholars called the festival a dismal failure, a fiasco, a major setback, a disastrous rally, a great disappointment, and a "depressing show unnoticed by most". According to one scholar, James T. Richardson, the event left the movement "in dire financial straits and bereft of credibility". A Sikh scholar, Kirpal Singh Khalsa, said that:

Most of the devotees with whom we spoke reported a significant drop in the number of people receiving knowledge starting from late 1973. This created a condition of financial strain which became critical when Millennium '73, an all-out extravaganza held in the Houston Astrodome where Guru Maharaj Ji was crowned "Lord of the Universe," proved to be an economic flop. ... DLM underwent significant organizational and ideological transformations. It no longer projected itself as a movement that would include all of humanity in its membership.
Religious scholar Robert S. Ellwood wrote that Maharaj Ji's "meteoric career collapsed into scandal and debt after the failure of a much-publicized convention in the Houston Astrodome in 1973. The movement had "lost its millennial dream of world peace," according to Downton.

The financial crisis required retrenchment and reorganization of the movement. Meanwhile Maharaj Ji was coming of age and taking greater responsibility within the movement. A month after the festival he turned 16 and took administrative control of the DLM's U.S. branch. He received court permission to marry the following May, making him an emancipated minor. His move to take control of the U.S. DLM and his marriage to a Westerner caused a rift within the family that resulted in the movement being split between a Western branch, led by Maharaj Ji, and an Indian branch, run by his mother and Bal Bhagwan Ji. By the end of the decade, the U.S. branch had lost an estimated 80% of its membership. Some observers say the failure of Millennium '73 led the Western branch to shift away from Indian influences. Beginning in 1982, Guru Maharaj Ji changed the DLM into the more loosely organized Elan Vital. He became known as Maharaji or Prem Rawat and was presented as an inspirational speaker. Bal Bhagwan Ji became known as Satpal Rawat, and his branch is now known as Manav Utthan Seva Samiti. Both the Western and Indian branches of the movement have celebrated Hans Jayanti again since 1973.

Notes

References

  • And It Is Divine. Special Millennium Issue, November 1973
  • Also in
  • Messer, Jeanne. (1976) "Guru Maharaj Ji and the Divine Light Mission", in

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