Prem Rawat is a child of post Imperial rule India, he was born in 1957, just ten years after Independence from Britain. His schooling was in the English style and while his father pursued the very Indian career of 'religious teacher' the aspirations of the Rawat family seem to have been strongly informed by middle class Anglo/Indian attitudes. Prem was not only his father's favourite son, he was also a favourite of his father's followers and crucially of certain senior Mahatmas. The conferring of his father's 'guru' mantle onto the eight year old Prem in 1966 was as much a political decision within the Divine Light Mission as it was a religious consequence.
Prem Rawat's work and mission were inherited in 1966 from his father, Shri Hans Ji Maharaj.
Hans Rawat began his career as a guru in the 1920s, in what is now Pakistan and began preaching in Delhi in 1930. Hans Rawat rejected India's caste system, and India's Brahmins (the priestly caste) tended to ignore him, as did Western-educated Indians. Hans Rawat placed great emphasis on the experience of the 'Knowledge' meditation techniques, and little on rituals or learning. His devotees were chiefly from the urban middle classes.
Like his son after him, Hans Rawat laid down the three daily aspects of a devotee's life: service (selfless voluntary work for the master), satsang (sessions where premies gathered to talk of their experiences of 'Knowledge' and their devotion to their master) and meditation (upon the four techniques of 'Knowledge'). A fourth aspect - darshan, or seeing the master - was an occasional 'extra', and highly prized.
Hans Rawat established his promotional organisation, Divine Light Mission, in India in 1960. After a career lasting more than three decades, Hans Ji died in 1966.
According to former US Divine Light Mission President, Bob Mishler, Hans Rawat's widow had wanted her eldest son, (now known as Satpal Maharaj), to inherit her husband's mantle. However, Mishler says, a group of Mahatmas (senior devotees) loyal to Prem, her youngest son, crowned and enthroned him in the midst of discussions - thus pre-empting any decision by the family.
Prem Rawat claims to have been nominated by his father as his successor, by means of a letter written shortly before Hans Rawat's death, although this document has never been produced.
Claims that Hans Rawat bequeathed six million devotees to Prem have never bee verified and in any event the Indian adherents of both Hans and Prem Rawat should not be seen as an homogenous group, nor even as followers of a single teaching. Hans Rawat may have been the favourite Guru of many Indian citizens but other traditions and practices, both local and regional in character, are likely to have informed their spiritual and philosophical outlook. In contrast the western Mission of Prem Rawat was defined by its character of exclusive attachment to its master.
Prem Rawat inherited the role of 'Perfect Master' at the age of eight. It was very much a part-time role for five years or so, whilst he pursued his schooling, at the Catholic St Joseph's Academy in Dehra Dun, now the capital of Uttarakhand state.
By 1969, several Westerners had visited Prem Rawat at the Prem Nagar ashram in Haridwar, and had been taught the 'Knowledge' meditation techniques. In October of that year a senior disciple, Mahatma Gurucharnanand, was sent to London to proselytise amongst the Indian expatriate community.
In 1970, Rawat, at the age of 13, held a massive public event he called the 'Peace Bomb' at India Gate, Delhi. A million people attended. This program marked the peak of his popularity.