Prem Rawat was born on December 10, 1957, in the town of Kankhal in the Northern Indian province of Uttar Pradesh. He was the youngest of 4 sons of Hans Ram Singh Rawat dubbed His Royal Highness Yogiraj Param Hans Satgurudev Shri Hans Ji Maharaj (1900 - July 16, 1966) who was a successful guru in northern India within the Sant Mat tradition. Hans claimed to have received the Knowledge from his guru, Shri Swarupanand and that they were part of a parampara (lineage) that stretched back to time immemorial and included such revered figures as Jesus, Krishna, Ram and Buddha who all taught the same Knowledge. Hans was revered as a divine being by his followers and married twice, the second time to the much younger Jagat Janani Mata Shri Rajeshwari Devi, also known as "Mata Ji." They had four sons Bal Bhagwan Ji, Bhole Ji, and Raja Ji and Prem then commonly known as Sant Ji and he had a daughter with his first wife. Prem's early life is shrouded in hagiography:
At his birth the sky lit up in brilliant colors and a sweet music could be heard all around. It is said that when Sant Ji Maharaj, now known as Guru Maharaj Ji, was an infant, Mata Ji used to walk along the River Ganges, holding the baby in her arms. But she would not go there too often, for on those occasions the waters of that holy river would rise up and envelop her, almost drowning her. The Ganges would rise just until it touched the feet of Sant Ji and then recede back into its channel.
From a young age Prem's family was feted and worshipped by his father's devoted premies and servants and lived in relative wealth provided by them. Hans was a shrewd man who understood the value of promotion and display. Young Prem enjoyed this milieu and was used to attract crowds for his father in a way similar to child evangelists in the USA. A few available movie scenes shows the young orator obviously enjoying his role:
many times there was nobody there so I'd go out there and I'd start speaking and when I would start speaking they'd see this little bitty thing there speaking and they'd all start coming and when the hall was full my father would come and he would talk
I was given Knowledge and didn't realize it straight away. I knew it was my duty and in about a month, I realized it.
Exactly what "realized it" means is uncertain. Prem was educated at the St Joseph's Academy, a Catholic school in Dehra Dun. Proficiency in English was the focal point of his education but his English remained poor and idiosyncratic for decades. On July 19, 1966, Hans Rawat died in Delhi. How the young Prem was chosen as the successor is disputed but for the next 10 years at least Prem's accession was explained by his family as being Hans' choice and his followers' acclamation. Mahatmas Gurucharanand and Sampuranand appear to have been the éminences grises. Prem told in a public satsang that his father had resurrected and appeared to him in his mother's bedroom and talked to him about certain matters and that his father's disembodied voice came to him three times, the last time during the funeral, saying:
"This is the last time I will tell you. You are He. You must take this Knowledge to the world".
From the mid 1970's the Indian Divine Light Mission have claimed that the eldest son was the chosen successor and since the mid 1980's Prem Rawat's followers have removed the supernatural elements from the story. His mother, Mata Ji, became the controlling figure in his life and in Divya Sandesh Parishad (Divine Light Mission). A few Westerners in search of enlightenment had been arriving at Divine Light Mission's ashram in Prem Nagar on the banks of the Ganges throughout the late '60s. The first known and important Western devotee was Brian Kitt, formerly a flamboyant figure in the London psychedelic scene. He went to India in 1968 and became the only non-Indian mahatma "Mahatma Saphlanand." He brought nearly all the early British devotees to Guru Maharaj Ji and in October 1969, he and Mahatma Gurucharanand opened the first western ashram in London and began preaching and proselytising.
Despite having realised Knowledge at 6 years old and being incarnated as Satguru at 8 years old the young Prem was a worried, tense little boy whose weekends were haunted by the homework he still hadn't done. Twenty years later those grim days would often return to his thoughts and he'd vent his pain and anguish to his devotees in stream of consciousness rants. On November 8 , at the 1970 Hans Jayanti festival (celebrating his father's birthday) in Delhi, India, the 12 year old Rawat gave a speech before 1 million people including a few Western premies, his 'Peace Bomb' speech. Among other things, he said:
The great leaders think that I have come to rule and yes, they are right! I will rule the World … There were lesser powers in Ram, there were lesser powers in Krishna, but I have come to the world with full powers. Accept my words, accept me. … if you mistake a single word of what I am saying, I will not forgive you. … To every single child, I will reveal this Name. … I declare I will establish peace in this world.
When soon afterwards he was asked whether everyone in this world would be saved in the next 20 years or in millenia, he answered:
No, no, no, no, no, very soon, very soon.
In 1971, at the age of 13, he began traveling internationally, speaking to diverse audiences about the Divine Light, Inner Harmonies, Holy Name or Word and Nectar. At the core of his message are the meditation techniques that allow a person to see, touch and feel God directly within inside themselves.