Many years ago, Mrs. Ulagu Kumarappan attended the Palaniswami temple Gurudeva had established in San Francisco in 1960. Then she attended the Siva Murugan temple in Concord, also established by Gurudeva, in 1986. And a few days ago, she and four members of her family visited our Kadavul temple, here on Kauai.
About 20 years ago, she and a friend, on the occasion of Thai Pusam, undertook a walking pilgrimage from Fremont, where they lived, to the temple in Concord, a distance of about 40 miles.
As the years went by, they repeated the feat and gradually more and more people joined in. This year, about 500 pilgrims left from Fremont, others joined along the way, and by the time they arrived, they were about 1000-strong.
All along the way, well-wishers have established stations where they offer the pilgrims rest, refreshment and encouragement.
On the second day of the Mandir Mahotsav in Robbinsville, New Jersey, the BAPS devotees were stunned and delighted with a second public darshan of their guru, Pramukh Swami Maharaj. Though 93 and frail, the guru had been brought on a chartered aircraft from India so he could be here for this amazing event. That he was here was amazing, that he was able to be with them for extended periods was regarded as historic. When devotees around the world heard he was here, they dropped everything, grabbed the next flight and joined in the grand opening of America's largest Hindu religious center.
The second darshan took place on Saturday. Near noon word went out that Swamishri would be coming again to the outdoor stage, something that happens without planning due to his health, and suddenly everyone was running to be present.
It took place in front of their completed buildings on the banks of the small lake in the first photo. Twenty thousand or more were gathered from around the nation and the world. Just before he arrived, the senior swamis spoke eloquently of this historic event, of the great efforts taken by thousands of volunteers and shilpis, of how this was the fulfillment of Pramukh Swami's long-held vision.
We had brought some gifts for the guru from Kauai: a rudraksha mala, a copy of The Guru Chronicles and a mango bowl turned by the monks and filled with 108 special rudraksha beads. Sadasivanathaswami was brought to the stage to present the gifts to Mahant Swami, who would then in turn hand them over to Swamishri, as only a few are permitted to approach him in respect for his health.
Paramacharya presented the gifts on stage and returned to the sadhu area below. Almost immediately Swamishri was brought on stage and the air was filled with joyous voices greeting him. Despite the mid-day heat (several suffered from heat stroke and the rest of us were overheated), men danced and called out his name. It was quite an explosion of guru bhakti.
Swamishri waved to them all, clearly rejoicing at their joint achievements, clearly moved by the ocean of love he was being bathed in. Then the swamis brought the gifts to him and placed them in his hands, wheeling him near Paramacharya and Senthilnathaswami who were asked to stand so Swamishri could see them in the crowd. Hinduism Today was honored by the spokesman who explained the gifts to the crowd in Gujarati and again the crowd cheered, clearly please that their guru was so deeply respected beyond their borders.
The darshan ended as quickly as it had begun, and all headed for shade and shelter, invigorated by a once-in-a-lifetime encounter with one of India's greatest spiritual lights.