Africani Amar Anjali: BAPS Africa Day
9 Jan. 2023, Monday, Ahmedabad, India
Mahant Swami Maharaj and dignitaries from around the world pay tribute to Pramukh Swami Maharaj’s work of fostering Hindu spirituality and culture on the African Continent
On 9 January 2023, BAPS devotees from various countries in Africa presented a creative programme titled, ‘Africa’s Timeless Tribute: BAPS Africa Day’ to tens of thousands assembled at Pramukh Swami Maharaj Nagar. Following the special programme, His Holiness Mahant Swami Maharaj and dignitaries from around the world paid tribute to Pramukh Swami Maharaj and his ability to inspire spirituality, temples, and humanitarian service in Africa and around the world.
The thought-provoking programme commenced with devotees from Africa singing dhun and prarthana. Following this, various dramas, videos, dances, and speeches depicted Pramukh Swami Maharaj’s tireless efforts in traveling, constructing mandirs, and serving and transforming the lives of thousands of devotees and volunteers around Africa.
Sadguru Viveksagardas Swami narrated the history of the BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha in the African continent. Recounting BAPS’s deep roots in Africa, he noted how almost a century ago, Shastriji Maharaj encouraged devotees living in East Africa to gather and worship regularly. Yogiji Maharaj travelled to Africa in 1955 and later in 1960, consecrating temples in Mombasa, Kampala, Jinja, and Tororo. In 1960, 9 youths were given monastic initiation, one of whom was from Africa – Mahendrabhai Patel. He was the first Swaminarayan swami from outside of India, and we know him today as Sadguru Tyagvallabhdas Swami. The roots of BAPS UK lie in Africa, as much of the early devotees there were migrants from Africa. It was Yogiji Maharaj’s wish that a grand stone mandir be built in Africa. Pramukh fulfilled this wish by building a traditional stone mandir in Nairobi in 1999, which, together with BAPS’s 25 other mandirs in Africa, represent and foster Hindu faith and traditions across Africa.
Amrutswarupdas Swami and Paramkirtidas Swami narrated various incidents of African devotees who were inspired by Pramukh Swami Maharaj to renounce addictions and violence, forgive those who had harmed them, adopt a simple lifestyle, remain firm in their devotional observances and serve society.
Priyavratdas Swami offered a prayer to Mahant Swami Maharaj, “To celebrate BAPS Africa’s centenary five years hence, we pray that we may further cultivate the virtues of humility, tolerance, and Pramukh Swami Maharaj’s motto – In the joy of others. May all the devotees and all of Africa become prosperous, may everyone become ideal devotees, and may BAPS Africa’s centenary be celebrated on a grand scale.”
A special issue on the Pramukh Swami Maharaj Centennial Celebrations in the Journal of Contemporary Research Studies in Tanzania was inaugurated by Mahant Swami Maharaj. BAPS youth wrote several research articles for this academic journal, which was produced by the BAPS Swaminarayan Research Institute, Tanzania and St. Augustine University.
Mahant Swami Maharaj inaugurated a new English publication, “My Personal Mala: My Daily Companion” written by Amrutvijaydas Swami which shows Pramukh Swami Maharaj’s love for worship, even during intense travels and service.
Mahant Swami Maharaj inaugurated another new English publication, “In the joy of others” that provides a historical account of Pramukh Swami Maharaj’s efforts for the success of the Narmada Dam Project.
Mahant Swami Maharaj then said, “The many satsang centers around Africa have come together and presented a beautiful programme on the occasion of BAPS Africa Day. Shastriji Maharaj laid the foundations of Satsang in Africa. Nirgundas Swami strengthened this foundation through his letters to African devotees. Upon this foundation, Yogiji Maharaj and Pramukh Swami Maharaj built a great edifice of Satsang centres and mandirs. I travelled to Africa twice with Yogiji Maharaj and three times with Pramukh Swami Maharaj, and those memories are still fresh for me. I have seen how Yogiji Maharaj and Pramukh Swami Maharaj have endured immense hardships to please the devotees of Africa. Only such souls who have tremendous mental stability can endure such hardships.
“We have also seen the devotees of Africa remain staunch in their faith and niyams to please Pramukh Swami Maharaj. Young and old, male and female, this continues today, allowing Satsang to continue growing. Without staunch observance of niyams, this could not happen. Everyone strives to serve through body, mind, and wealth, and they are fully devoted. I pray that everyone’s devotion may be further strengthened, that their social and financial circumstances improve and that everyone attains happiness in this world and in God’s abode.”
Several esteemed dignitaries were also present to pay tribute to Pramukh Swami Maharaj’s life of selfless service.
Honourable G. Kishan Reddy, Minister of Tourism, Culture and Development of the North Eastern Region of India- Government of India said, “Pramukh Swami Maharaj combined spirituality, modernity, and values. His life was full of culture, spiritual endeavour, empathy, sacrifice and service. He thought of the happiness of others and felt his own happiness lay in it. His global personality can be seen from the celebrations in his honour at the United Nations in New York. Like Vivekananda Swami who believed that service of humans is the service of God, I see this value in the BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha. Great universities will have to study this festival, which will be an inspiration for them.
“Pramukh Swami Maharaj worked for the development of individuals, families, communities, nations and the world. BAPS is one of the greatest social organizations in the world. In India and abroad they engage in service activities during times of crisis, whether it was the earthquake in Kutch, the floods in Assam, the cyclone in West Bengal, the war in Ukraine, the COVID pandemic, or the tragedy in Morbi. Wherever they are in the world, one sees the volunteers of BAPS offering service to the world. The grand mandirs of BAPS attract hundreds of thousands of people to India fostering both our spiritual heritage and our economy. Here one can see the spirit of service, values, cleanliness, service, and sacrifice.”
Honourable Justice Sharad Arvind Bobde, Former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of India, said, “I have tremendous respect for the BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha. I have read about Pramukh Swami Maharaj in President Abdul Kalam’s book, Transcendence: My Experiences with Pramukh Swamiji. It is not my place to praise his spiritual qualities but having presided over many courts and dealt with many calamities, it is indeed very heartening to note that Pramukh Swami Maharaj inspired service for some of our country’s greatest social causes. The members of BAPS are seen to help wherever there is a calamity.
“BAPS has become a world-renowned institution. It is founded on the teachings of the Vedas and has done incredible work in the preservation of Sanatan Dharma in all its aspects. When you see the activities of BAPS, one feels a great sense of belonging to the great traditions of Sanatan Dharma. The first sentiment of world unity was the Vedic statement ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbhakam’. This is also the motto of the Indian Parliament. As Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of India, the Supreme Court and the Parliament all work under the motto, ‘Where there is Dharma there is victory.’
“Sanatan Dharma is timeless and pure. There is nothing in it against any kind of people. Indeed, it originated when there was no other religious thought in this world. It stands on the great pillars of the concepts of the atman, the different celestial realms and the ultimate authority of Paramatma. The three great ancient civilizations of Greece, Rome and Egypt no longer survive, but Varanasi survives and is thriving. This is a sign of the greatness of our culture and our civilization.
“Kashi is one of the world’s oldest cities, and Ayodhya is even older. India was a great culture even then. Nalanda and Takashila were great universities. We made advances in science, mathematics and so many branches of science. And I do not wish to undermine the importance of the social impact of our cultural values. In fact, most of these great values can be found in the Shikshapatri written by Parabrahman Purushottam Bhagwan Swaminarayan.
“I would like to conclude with a statement of Sardar Patel who said, ‘If every Indian followed Bhagwan Swaminarayan’s Shikshapatri, there would be no need for police or courts.’ I don’t think that anything greater can be said about the value of the teachings of the BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha.”
Honourable Tejendra Khanna, Former Lieutenant Governor of Delhi said, “Saints and great holy men have explained our relationship with God. We relate to society and family members, but we all have an individual relationship with God. We can either relate to or break that bond with God. A person’s devotion determines one’s connection with God. When I was the Lieutenant Governor in Delhi, I met Pramukh Swami Maharaj three times. He met with me lovingly and blessed me that I should serve people. He said that if I do this, I will find success and the love of people. Having a seat of authority means to serve.
“Today, learning about the efforts of BAPS to serve around the world has been inspiring. There are no words to describe BAPS’s service and love for people. Please continue to give your love and blessings to me, Mahant Swami Maharaj. Where there is love, there is no Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, or Christian. God is present in everyone. Where there is love, vices are destroyed.”
Honourable Justice Alfonse Chigamoy Owiny-Dollo, Chief Justice of Uganda said, “Today, I have seen with my own eyes what faith, love, devotion, commitment and utmost dedication can do. I have seen fulfilment in the faces of everyone I have met during these two days. It is amazing. This is the work of God. Nothing can move the world more than faith. This is what I have seen here. I have seen the inexplicable, the indescribable assemblage of infrastructure and people who are gathered here from the morning into the night. This is so inspiring.
“During my visit to one of the exhibitions here there is a caption, ‘One earth, one family, one future.’ I think this sums up all that has been said about the purpose and meaning of life given by Pramukh Swami Maharaj. His good works and contributions to the world are a constant source of reflection and a clarion call to all of us to love, love and love. The world is a much better place when we understand the meaning of love.
“Pramukh Swami Maharaj was meticulous, thorough, and devoted to his chosen mission to change the world. His teachings and his attention to small details in every task remains a special attribute for all to emulate. Being a part of these celebrations is one of the greatest opportunities in my life and I will always remember this. My personal encounter with Mahant Swami Maharaj and receiving his blessings has had a profound effect on me. The consequences were immediate.”
Pujya Bodhinatha Veylanswami, Guru Mahasannidhanam of Kauai Aadheenam (Hawaii, USA) said, “In today’s troubled world, many thoughtful individuals are concerned with bringing greater peace into the world. A temple such as the Swaminarayan mandir helps individuals find more peace within themselves, which in turn brings greater harmony into their homes, which in turn brings greater tolerance and unity within the community. Certainly, the many mandirs established through the inspiration of Pramukh Swami Maharaj including those in the African countries of Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and South Africa will continue generation after generation, helping Hindu values, traditions and customs flourish as well as contributing in an unseen way to making the world a more peaceful place.
“A second important aspect of the Swaminarayan mandirs is how they will influence the current and future generations of children. With most schools focusing solely on secular studies, there is a need for children to learn traditional values in a religious setting such as this. In other words, it is not enough to simply learn to read and write, children also need to learn what to read and write. The concept of what it means to be a successful adult needs to include not only wealth and family, but also the principles of a pious life, virtuous conduct, fulfilment of duty to the family, community and country, and regular worship of God and guru in the mandir and in the home shrine.
“In our 2004 visit to the opening of the Houston mandir one father proudly told us about how his two sons devoted their entire summer working all day in the construction of the Houston mandir. We were quite impressed at the extent of their dedication. Through the inspiration of Pramukh Swami Maharaj, BAPS is an excellent model for other Hindu organizations to follow in successfully involving youth in the construction and subsequent activities of mandirs worldwide.”
His Holiness Sri Swami Yogaswarupanandaji Maharaj, President of the Divine Life Society said, “I am thankful to be present at the celebration of HH Pramukh Swami Maharaj’s birth centenary. I had the privilege of meeting Yogiji Maharaj in 1964 in Gondal and was thankful for knowing them.”
Pujya Madhu Pandit Dasa Ji, President of ISKCON Bengaluru said, “That so many volunteers have been able to organize this celebration for an entire month is an expression of their love and faith. Pramukh Swami Maharaj was an embodiment of purity, love and compassion, so this is a fitting celebration of those values.
“Pramukh Swami Maharaj had so much faith in chanting God’s name. That was his strength and surely is the strength of all his devotees. Through the construction of architecturally iconic temples all over the world, Pramukh Swami Maharaj contributed in an unimaginable way to the spread of Hinduism and the propagation of Bhagwan Swaminarayan’s message worldwide. His contributions to serving humanity are known to all.
“In my first meeting with Pramukh Swami Maharaj, I was struck by his deep, penetrating gaze. The way he would look into your eyes was beyond the body, beyond any designation—it was a look directly into the soul. His glance was a glance of divine grace that could raise the divinity in everyone’s hearts. His work for 45 years as guru showed he was a very pure instrument in the hands of Bhagwan Swaminarayan, whose teachings are bringing and will bring peace, harmony, happiness, and spirituality to the masses of the modern world.”
Dr. Bhupinder (Sonu) Sharma, Author, Educator, Business Counsellor and Entrepreneur said, “To be in the presence of Mahant Swami Maharaj is one of the greatest moments of my life.”