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The Inspirer and Present Guru of BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha

He has a heart wherein the whole world can live

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"Lying in bed last night a thought came to me. I think if we do this..." He then began to explain details of his plan. Tracing lines on the architect's drawings, he showed...
Atladra, 1965
The centenary celebrations of Shastriji Maharaj were being celebrated. The next day the festival was to begin. The huge pandal had been raised. Now only the walls behind the stage remained. Pramukh Swami had successfully guided the other departments to preparation. Kitchens, accommodations, water supply, security, the list of his involvement seemed endless. Wherever a problem arose the first thought that came to everybody was 'where is Pramukh Swami?'. He was able to find practical solutions and answers where none seemed to exist. Day or night, he was always available and never lost self control despite the most gigantic of botches by those under him.
"Swami, please go to sleep now. It's late. We're all going to stay up with these brick layers anyway," volunteers requested. The next day was the opening of the festival that Yogiji Maharaj had inspired.
Pramukh Swami quietly refused. He was tired, but he also had a responsibility to see the entire festival through. Besides, he might be needed for an emergency. He could also keep the volunteers company, for the night would be a long one.
Early in the morning the wall was complete. Pramukh Swami stood up. He bathed, finished his puja and returned to the festival site to oversee the inauguration by Yogiji Maharaj and Mota Swami.
Pramukh Swami's leadership qualities had touched the hearts of all the volunteers. They were ready to work as madmen would at a mere word from him. They knew that he would be with them, always supporting and guiding. He was only forty four. There were others older but even they had readily accepted him as leader.
These sadhus and devotees had seen him during the 1961 Suvarna Kalash Mahotsav in Gadhada. The scorching heat of the summer had been made worse by an unseasonal wind which was uprooting tents and ripping through pandal ceiling cloth. He had remained calm and confident. Redirecting construction work, assessing damage, making modifications.
Haka Bapu: Pramukh Swami's skinny frame could be seen flying with the speed of lightning from here to there, making sure that preparations were satisfactory. Whether the pandal was being put up or water lines being checked, Pramukh Swami was there, even in the kitchens, accommodations, or greeting guests. There was always a smile of pleasure on his face, no hint of tension or burden. After the devotees had lunched on the main day I saw him pulling a large cart and filling it with dirty leaf-plates.
It was no wonder that Yogiji Maharaj constantly remembered him and would sometimes refuse to eat without his presence. Yogiji Maharaj had total confidence in Swamishri's abilities and will to get the job in hand completed properly and on time.
Yogiji Maharaj had willed that a magnificent one spired temple be built in Bhadra over the birth place of Gunatitanand Swami. Bhadra, a remote village not far from the Jodia sea port, was in truth a collection of tiny ramshackle huts the people called houses. Water was a continuous problem. The river Und a kilometre away, though large, was seasonal. Water flowed for a few weeks in the monsoon and then dried up, seeping quickly into the ground through its gravel bed.
Under great difficulty Pramukh Swami had guided the buying of land around Gunatitanand Swami's house. The temple was built and the image installation date given by Yogiji Maharaj. Thousands of devotees had been invited. Facilities would of course be sparse, but adequate. The only major concern was water. The village wells were almost dry and could not even begin to meet the festival needs. Pramukh Swami decided to bring water from a well on the far bank of the river by pipeline. That 1962 summer was particularly hot. In the blazing heat Swamishri toiled away with some volunteers and labourers to fit a pipeline over 5,000 ft. long. He remained patient and smiling throughout. This same ability he demonstrated during Yogiji Maharaj's 1967 Amrut Mahotsav in Gondal.
Perhaps it was only Yogiji Maharaj who had not felt the slightest of doubts when Shastriji Maharaj had appointed Pramukh Swami President at the young age of 28. Shastriji Maharaj had said that he had never regretted any of his decisions and would not regret this one. By appointing Narayanswarup Swami as President he said he was ensuring the fluent growth and management of his Sanstha for the next fifty years. Those present at that simple ceremony had watched those words bear fruit over the decades.
Pramukh Swami had won their confidence and hearts. He was always the first to concede that Yogiji Maharaj's blessings had watched over his service and the sadhus and volunteers had given him their unalloyed co-operation. If something went wrong, he would shoulder the blame.
3 December, 1992
The day after the Yogiji Maharaj Centennial Celebrations had concluded, Swamishri arrived to an assembly arranged specially for the 11,000 volunteers who had given their all during the festival. This was the climax of the festival for them. Through these volunteers Swamishri had worked a miracle. The volunteers were eternally indebted to Swamishri for gracing them with such an opportunity to serve him. In a meagre and humble attempt to express their gratitude, a special collective ritual called pushpaanjali had been arranged. Each and every volunteer was given rose petals to hold. Totally focused on Swamishri, they rose to their feet. After auspicious Vedic verses, they ceremoniously threw the rose petals towards Swamishri. For a few seconds it rained roses as petals floated to the ground.
Swamishri began his blessings, " return for your service, I pay you my sincerest respects. Even a million dandvats are not enough... You all showered rose petals on me, but I would like to return the..." Swamishri's words broke off. His vioce choked and eyes filled with tears. He gathered a handful of roses and petals from a plate to his right and showered them upon the volunteers.
Silence reigned. Everybody was stunned by the unexpected. It were as if each petal had been perfumed with peace, and Swamishri was gifting that peace into the hearts of every volunteer and sadhu. All those months of spiritual sweat and toil had been paid back a million-fold.
* * *
The Aksharbrahman Gunatitanand Swami Bicentenary Celebration was the second mammoth public festival that Swamishri had inspired and organised. Two hundred acres of neglected land owned by Gujarat University had been transformed into a cultural wonderland. The gateway at the entrance area gently curved to a span of 110 ft. The centre pillars were reminiscent of the grand columns supporting the Roman coliseum.
Late one afternoon the left wing of the gateway caught fire. The wooden supports, plywood and burlap materials went up in smoke. Stringent fire precautions had been taken and so only the left wing was burnt down. Nobody was hurt.
The gateway now looked unbalanced and awkward without its limb, only a shadow of its former glory.
Swamishri visited the scene in the evening. He didn't stay very long for the damage was obvious. His presence comforted the volunteers who were cleaning the burnt remains away.
Seniors had already begun discussing the next line of action. The gateway in its present handicapped state would not do at all. The 67 day festival had still to run another month. It was best, they said, that the right wing be dismantled. This would leave the centre portion. It was better than nothing they reasoned. Reconstructing the destroyed wing was out of the question. The job would take over six weeks. Besides, who had the necessary skill to redo all the decoration which had taken the Bengali artisans several months. And they had gone back to Calcutta anyway.
The mood that night among the sadhus and devotees was melancholy. The festival had been a few years in the planning. Now this disaster. Everybody was surprised to see Swamishri in a light mood. He freed the choked atmosphere. They could see he had put the incident behind him, depending, as always, on Maharaj.
He discussed the alternatives with seniors and then told the sadhus to rebuild. They were new and inexperienced to this type of work. Could it be done? Yes, decided Swamishri. Not only could it be done but it would be done, and in record breaking time. There was no arguing against him. Drawings were made of the twin right wing and then inverted to make drawings of the left. Over one 150 sadhus put their will to the task. In seven days the gateway was rebuilt to its former magnificence.
The sadhus were overjoyed. Swamishri had tapped a strength and talent within them that they hadn't even dreamed of. He had shown tremendous confidence in them. They had replied handsomely.
The same was also the case with the American Satsang Mandal. In 1988 they had put forward a proposition that they wanted to put up a Cultural Festival of India, similar to the London affair but much bigger. It was only after Swamishri had said yes and they began to probe into the complexities of such a privately sponsored project that they discovered its leviathan dimensions. Swamishri gave encouragement and guidance. There was no backing out. It would be the perfect way to link American ingenuity with India's culture and spirituality. The two could be combined to mind blowing results. He wanted the project to become a part of the Brahmaswarup Yogiji Maharaj Centenary Celebrations coming up in 1992.
The one million visitors that flocked to the 40 acres site in Edison, New Jersey, bore witness to the phenomenal management skills the US satsangi volunteers had developed. They said it was Swamishri's vision and courage that had given them the audacity to mount such a festival. They often refer to the vast amounts of correspondence and scores of meetings and telephone calls through which Swamishri guided CFI from India, only arriving in the US two days before the inauguration.
On 11 August (the festival opened on 12 August) he made a tour of the site, his expert eye catching things the volunteers had missed. He was pointing out things that if corrected would add lustre to the entire festival. During the evening sabha arranged specially for the volunteers he called a sadhu who was sitting backstage and asked, "Shantipriya! Who is in charge of putting up the sign boards?"
The question met the sadhu off guard. As the question sunk in he realised that not a single board had been prepared. In the confusion of last minute finishing everybody had forgotten the obvious.
"Who is going to know who organised the festival?" Swamishri asked. "Say somebody wants to visit the exhibition, or have a snack, do want him to wander around the whole nagar? I want sign boards up everywhere!"
At the end of the sabha he again called Shantipriya Swami and said, "Make sure those boards are prepared and put up." The next morning he mentioned the boards after his puja and reminded the sadhu once again that evening. With so good a follow-up it was no wonder that within a couple of days scores of sign boards had been made and set up around the site.
Swamishri was in the middle of writing a letter to Atmaswarup Swami. By a happy coincidence, Atmaswarup Swami happened to phone Swamishri at that time. They discussed the matter over the phone. After ending their conversation, Swamishri continued to write the unfinished letter. Narayancharan Swami remarked, "You've already spoken to him... What's the point of writing now?"
Swamishri said, "The letter is almost complete anyway. Why not finish it off!" This light hearted reply probably hid Swamishri's experience that details by mouth are easily forgotten or overlooked compared to information written in black and white. He was making sure the message was understood.
Yogiji Maharaj's Centenary was an even more complex festival than the American CFI. Goliath in proportion and heaven like in beauty, the festival was attended by 60 lakhs people. One hundred eighty acres of barren land was transformed into a cultural oasis. There were 250,000 sq. ft of lawns and 110,000 flowers and bushes were planted. Fountains, ponds and rock gardens added beauty. Accommodations were provided for 360,000 people. For them were constructed 1,500 toilets, 590 lavatories, 1,365 bathrooms, 891 long wash basins, and to keep the entire festival smoothly functioning 122 kilometres of intercom wiring was laid. A full dish of prasad was served to 5,200,000 guests! It became a common joke among the 23,000 volunteers to point at the two concrete chimney stacks of Gujarat Electricity Board when people asked where all the food was cooked. One for daal and the other for boiled rice!
* * *
Some youths in New York once performed a concert of devotional songs and subsequently sent a recording to Swamishri along with photographs of the event. Swamishri's reply was the art of sincere appreciation at its best:
We've heard your cassette...seen the photos of the instrumentalists and singers. It was a pleasure... Heard your kirtan 'Bhav saagar naa neera...' ...also Mahesh's 'Guru malyaa guna waalaa...' The others were also sung nicely, I never knew that Neelkamal could play the violin...saw his photo... Damodar Parmar also sings well...
The youths were tremendously motivated and inspired to continue such concerts. They also began to teach the children and so a talented group of musicians and singers developed.
* * *
For the first several days of the monsoon in 1983, Swamishri was in Sarangpur. Everyday the sadhus and parshads would ask him some questions. They wanted to know how they could best develop their spiritual lives and become sadhus in the true sense of the word. They wanted to know how Swamishri had coped in his early days as a sadhu, his relationship with his guru, and anything else as their spiritual master, he might wish to tell them.
One sadhu asked, "Do you have any special wishes that you want to see fulfilled?"
He was referring to Yogiji Maharaj who would often talk of his spiritual desires for promoting the spread of Satsang. During his last illness in Bombay Hospital he had even dictated a list, "To make a gateway for the Akshar Mandir, build a college, make two gold sinhasans for the Lord in Gondal..."
"Yes," replied Pramukh Swami Maharaj, "Akshardham."
This hi-tech cultural monument to Lord Swaminarayan took thirteen years to construct in Gandhinagar, Gujarat. It was phased so that adequate time and space could be allocated to the exhibitions.
As Swamishri had revealed, it was his special project. His ideas, suggestions and push were a constant presence on the site. He selected Rajasthani pink stone as the primary building material and also suggested that the square shikhar be octagonal. He insisted that the monument face the north and then had the main steps shifted although their construction had already begun. The vast empty space in front of the monument was also his idea. It would enhance the beauty of the monument he had said. The exhibitions he directed should be the finest in India. They should be of a world class level. So he sent a team of six sadhus on a world tour survey of exhibitions and shows.
Use whatever technology you need he had instructed. Science should be used in the service of religion and culture. He saw the need for more land and the need for phasing. Swamishri would frequently meet with the designers, engineers, builders, artists and even the work crews. At other times he would write or speak on the phone.
The Akshardham monument was to be surrounded by a parikrama - a circumambulatory passage. Where the two ends of the parikrama met in front of the monument there were plans for a magnificent gateway. It would however obstruct the view of the monument from the garden and also took up a lot of space. For months the problem had been discussed and examined but no practical solution could be found.
One night when Swamishri next came to Gandhinagar the problem was put before him.
He listened to all the points and said, " When I come on site tomorrow we'll discuss the point." The next day he met with everyone where the proposed gateway was to stand. He said, "Lying in bed last night a thought came to me. I think if we do this..." He then began to explain details of his plan. Tracing lines on the architect's drawings, he showed, "At this point where you propose to join two ends of the parikrama - let us leave it open. Opposite the monument there is no need of a gateway. Instead keep the whole thing open. Where the parikrama ends raise a podium to a height that matches the height of the parikrama. There is no need of the podium being higher. Put the gateway facing 'J' Road. Build a hall, through which visitors pass on their way to this point. This is what I feel, but let us do whatever everybody thinks fit..."
The group was stunned. In just a few minutes Swamishri had not only solved the problem but had opened up new ideas and concepts. And with the opening only months away he was suggesting they make major design changes!
The Akshardham project was vast in scope, each department depended on another for it to be able to finish allocated stages on time. Sometimes skilled craftsmen were not available and so schedules had to be reshuffled, further delaying major dates.
During the final months work was conducted in three shifts. If even one person were to fall ill or flag, serious consequences were felt. Swamishri who had worked with craftsmen for many years completing the temples built by Shastriji Maharaj called a special sabha of the craftsmen and carpenters. He was happy with their work and efforts. He blessed and thanked them speaking in Hindi, "...All of you believe this work to be your own. The opening ceremony is fast approaching, lakhs of people will come to see your craftsmanship. If we do not finish on time all of us will have to look down...for the next two months please try and forget your children and families, time is precious, a day is a year, now there are only two months left. You are doing all this for God, He will look after your lands and families, He will bless you..."
Edison, New Jersey
20th August, 1991
Jim lived across the road from the Middlesex County College, where the Cultural Festival of India had been celebrated. Due to the thousands of visitors rushing in each day, many people had parked their cars in the neighbouring streets of the festival ground. Some locals had come together in opposition, and even printed their protest in a local newspaper. When Swamishri called him in, Jim began what he had come to say. "We owe you an apology. We did a lot against you all, but now we realise our mistake. I've come on behalf of our neighbourhood to congratulate you. Your festival was superb. We got a chance to see India's great culture, and we were thrilled. I used to come everyday, but today I've come especially to say sorry. We were wrong in causing such an uproar. We understood later. In hindsight, we even gave an official apology in the papers, but they didn't print it. We're really sorry. It's a real shame that you're going like this."
Swamishri listened calmly and replied, "It's not important whether the newspaper printed your apology or not. Your genuine feelings are enough for us. God will be pleased and you will find peace."
Jim added, "There is a French saying, 'When two people part, they leave a part of each other.' We will cherish the part you have given us in our hearts forever."
Swamishri endorsed, "This is what Indian culture is all about."
* * *
A particular problem was once to be decided upon by a court. Harishbhai Dave, General Secretary of the Sanstha, consulted a senior advocate and initiated the necessary paperwork. He informed Swamishri of the advocate's advice.
Swamishri listened and then asked a few questions. Finally he said, "Our presentation of the facts to the court show that we are correct, but even then the decision will not come in our favour. There is no chance at all. But if you present the facts in this way..." He explained in depth how to plead the case. And sure enough with the facts presented in a new light the court favoured the Sanstha.
The senior advocate and Harishbhai were astonished to see Swamishri's grasping and analytical power, in spite of the fact that he had received no professional training in matters of administration and law.
For a number of years a certain misunderstanding with another organisation had not been settled satisfactorily. The questions were administrative. Eventually the organisation proposed that a meeting be convened and the issues considered. Swamishri had suggested such a meeting before but the proposal had then come to nothing. Naturally, he readily agreed to the meeting.
At the appointed place the organisation had collected together its trustees, lawyers and responsible seniors. Swamishri was accompanied by two sadhus and three devotees. From the beginning the organisation representatives began opening files and referring points dating back some fifty years! They were very well prepared. When they had finished he began answering their questions and suppositions. He did not open any files or turn to the sadhus or devotees for prodding. His arguments were logical, supported by a detailed knowledge of the subject matter despite the years passed. At the end of the meeting a representative of the organisation could not help saying, "Until now we had heard a lot about Swamiji's spirituality. Today, we have come to realise that he is a very capable President as well. Today we have seen his fantastic decision making power and razor sharp intelligence."
Harishbhai: The meeting was very successful. It was all very cordial and friendly. Everybody was happy with the outcome. After the meeting some more decisions concerning our Sanstha had to be made. Swamishri asked me to remain while he finished his evening Yoga exercises. When he called me he was his normal relaxed self. The decisions that had to be taken were of great importance and would affect the future of the Sanstha. But within five minutes Swamishri had decided on all points and had me leaving! It was incredible. The decisions were all logical and later proved correct. I was reminded of another incident when in the space of an 80 minute meeting he gave decisions on 56 different matters!
The Satsang centre in London had purchased some quality land in Harrow for the purpose of building a traditional Indian temple. Despite many attempts by devotees, permission to build a temple on the site was eventually refused. Naturally all the devotees were disappointed, especially after so many years of wrangling with the local authorities. For many, this untimely set-back proved intolerable. With the decision against the Sanstha's favour, the individual who stood to lose the most from all this was Swamishri himself. When Swamishri received the news by phone in Atladra he remained calm and composed.
To ward off feelings of dejection among the devotees, Swamishri lost no time in writing to London. A nine page letter resulted. Swamishri's profound understanding becomes apparent as one reads the letter:
This has been the method from Maharaj's time... Whatever He may be doing, it is for the good... Such incidents are a test for test our faith, our understanding, our devotion and our spirit of service. Maharaj wants to make us spiritually strong... Whatever He does will turn out for the best... Therefore don't lose heart.
The Satsang centre quickly picked up momentum following this temporary set-back. What Swamishri had written at that time may have been difficult to digest, but the truth of his words rings in our ears when one examines the situation today - the opening of a beautiful spired temple, built in traditional Indian style in Neasden, London in August 1995.
His profound love for devotees and his managerial acumen are amply illustrated by the 14 page letter he wrote to Rajeshwar Swami in Atladra, regarding the cremation rites of Mr. C.M. Patel, Chairman of UK Satsang Mandal, who passed away in London in January 1994. Swamishri arranged for the body to be flown to Bombay and from there to Atladra.
...Devotees, relatives and the sons of C.M. Patel will be coming with his body. They will arrive at Vadodara airport at 7:30am. The body will be packed in a coffin. Please ensure that it leaves the airport at the earliest opportunity; to hasten this, meet the necessary officials beforehand to get permission.
...Send about five cars to the airport for the accompanying devotees... Keep a long vehicle such as a 'Matador' for the coffin itself.
...From the airport, send the cars to our youth hostel. The devotees may want to freshen up there...therefore have the bathrooms cleaned in good time.
...Ensure that the devotees' baggage is kept safely under lock and key in a room. Keep two reliable people to look after the luggage.
...The field, where the cremation is to be performed, should be totally cleared so that all can sit comfortably... Keep a few chairs on one side for the elderly devotees to use.
...Keep separate arrangements for the women devotees as well - so that they can also be present.
...Conduct the ceremony adjacent to the spot where the final rites of Mota Swami (a senior sadhu from the time of Shastriji Maharaj and Yogiji Maharaj) were performed... Have firewood placed there in advance...five to seven pieces of sandalwood... Also keep ghee and tal at hand.
...Prepare a special bier for the body to be placed in the traditional way. If necessary, employ a carpenter. When I come, show the bier to me case any changes need to be made.
...Arrange the body in a room adjacent to the main gateway of the temple. Build the marquee towards the school... Also make a stage with arrangements for microphones so that an assembly can be held.
...I have written whatever has come to mind...anything else that needs to be arranged besides this, please go ahead...

Gunatitanand Swami Bhagatji Maharaj Yogiji Maharaj Shastriji Maharaj Pramukh Swami Maharaj Bhagwan Swaminarayan Gunatitanand Swami Bhagatji Maharaj Yogiji Maharaj Shastriji Maharaj Pramukh Swami Maharaj Bhagwan Swaminarayan

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