Hinduism Today Offers Gifts to BAPS Guru

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.

Swaminarayan Prana Pratishtha in Robbinsville

On Saturday, August 9, the two swamis from Hawaii joined in the investiture of prana, life, into the murtis of the new BAPS Swaminarayan Temple in Robbinsville, New Jersey. It was the main event we were called to be part of, the central purpose of our travels.

The night before, the marble murtis were installed in their golden shrines, ready to be brought to life. At 9:00am the sadhus and devotees gathered in the temple, with some 20,000 outside watching on giant screens.

Elaborate puja with traditional Vedic mantras filled the equally elaborate chamber. Senior sadhus gathered just before the main sanctum, inviting our Hawaiian swamis to sit among them, offering rice and mantras together.

After about an hour of rites, led with such precision and perfect presence by Mahant Swami, Tyagvallabh Swami and Ishwarcharan Swami, the crowd suddenly stirred. It was announced that Swamishri would now do the all-important abhishekam for the new deities in three shrines.

Prahmukh Swami Maharaj arrived, a clear joy on his face as this was the culmination of seven years of effort by his devotees. He entered the inner sanctum, personally performed abhishekam to a tiny Neelkanth Varni murti on a tray, and then was handed a remote control. Pushing the button, he started the water flowing upon the heads of the deities, one and then another and another.

Afterwards, the senior and then junior sadhus were allowed into the sanctum to pour water onto the deities' feet. Our two swamis from Kauai were lovingly guided into the innermost chamber to do likewise, a rare blessing at this most holy event. Of all the Swaminarayan temple openings to which they have been invited and attended, this is the first at which they had been given this particular, central privilege.

All exited through a special chamber, to emerge at the back of the temple, prostrating there. When we stood and turned to the back of the temple chamber, there, amazingly, was a marble bas-relief showing the very thing we had seen just three minutes earlier--a carving in white marble, inset into the wall, of Prahmukh Swami Maharaj holding a kalash and pouring water on the feet of the murtis.

A remarkable thing it is to be at an event and see what just happened carved in stone moments later!

Swamis in New Jersey

The two days that Paramacharya Sadasivanathaswami and Sannyasin Senthilnathaswami spent at the BAPS Swaminarayan Mandir in Robbinsville, New Jersey, seemed more like four or five. During this time, the organization's swamis kept our swamis very close, taking us right in to their private swamis-only ashram areas to be among the dozens of them who were here from around the world for the event, introducing us to their senior Sadguru Swamis and taking every opportunity to sit privately with us for planned and impromptu discussions on a wide variety of topics. We spent time with Pujya Sadguru Mahant Swami, the seniormost Sadguru Swami who has for the last year been the administrator and spiritual guide of the global congregation since Param Pujya Pramukh Swami Maharaj has reached an age and state of health that brought him to the decision to delegate even those duties. We met long-time friend Pujya Brahmavihari Swami, who was our Gurudeva's host at Pramukh Swami Maharaj's 75th jayanti celebrations in Mumbai and subsequently at their sadhu training center in Sarangpur, Gujarat, in 1995. He is by Pramukh Swami Maharaj's side almost constantly these days. We spoke with Pujya Aksharvatsal Swami, editor-in-chief of the organization's Gujarati and Hindi publications out of the world headquarters in Ahmedabad. We had long discussions with Pujya Paramtattva Swami, born in the UK and currently serving out of the London center conducting important and extensive research work in connection with Oxford, and Pujya Mangalnidhi Swami, born in the US and currently serving in the area of English-language publications out of the North America headquarters here in New Jersey. We had extensive dialogues with Pujya Bhadresh Swami, the order's senior Sanskrit scholar, who serves at the Sarangpur training center and central monastery where Pramukh Swami Maharaj now lives full time, setting up future projects that we will collaborate on. At the end of our visits, one swami turned to us and said, "Despite the fact that we come from a traditional Vaishnava sampradaya, and a unique, highly specialized one at that, and you come from an orthodox Saiva sampradaya, we really feel close to you, as if you are all part of our own order." Indeed, it is easy to set aside the five percent that is different and focus on the ninety-five percent that we hold in common, particularly when it comes to our shared foci of personal religious practice, spiritual progress, virtuous living, proper religious education, and, most of all, the central importance of the guru to show us the way in all of these most important pursuits of human life.

Deity Parade at BAPS Temple in New Jersey

On Friday evening, our two swamis were given seats of honor along with the three of the organization's five Sadguru Swamis who were present at this grand temple inauguration. The Sadguru Swamis of the BAPS monastic order are the equivalent of our Paramacharyas, their most senior monks who have received guru diksha. Our younger swami in attendance was particularly humbled (read embarrassed) to be on the dais with them all.

The traditional parade of the murtis through the streets of the town prior to their installation in the new temple took place entirely on the 167-acre campus in Robbinsville Township, a chiefly rural, farming town just outside Princeton. The participants in the parade were in top form, and everyone enjoyed the entertainment and darshan.

Friday’s BAPS event in New Jersey

The BAPS Swaminarayan Mandir Mahotsav began in earnest today in Robbinsville, New Jersey. Paramacharya Sadasivanathaswami and Sannyasin Senthilnathaswami were honored to be sitting on the stage with the organization's senior sadhus who performed the preparatory pujas to Varuna, Sri Harikrishna Maharaj and Bhagwan Swaminarayan. Following this, 6,000 grihasthins performed the yagna.

The yagna blessed the many marble and panchaloha murtis which will be installed tomorrow in the mandir. Giant screens and sound system allowed the delightfully pure chanting and each gesture of the puja to be seen up close by all present in the gigantic tent.

Later we were taken on a tour of the new temple, which is not finished, so at the request of the swami who designed it, we can show only a few close-up glimpses of some of the finished carving at this time. But it is spectacular. The entire mandir is housed inside a huge building, allowing even the exterior to be crafted of the same Italian while marble used in the interior. It's quite a sight to walk into a somewhat nondescript modern building (all the ornamentation is not yet finished) and discover a full-scale, nearly finished, finely crafted all-stone shikharbaddh mandir. This scenario will allow the mandir to survive hundreds of winters, if not 1,000, in the northeastern location.

We also met with several senior swamis privately for 45 minutes and then enjoyed an amazing and spontaneous darshan outside. Pramukh Swami Maharaj came on stage to bless some 10-15,000 devotees, who were overwhelmed with the rare appearance of their 93-year-old satguru. They sang and chanted and danced in joy, a sea of people, and he clearly was equally joyous to be among so many of them. It was, as the announcer noted, the meeting of the ocean which receives and the river which gives. It was a spiritual sangam, and we felt blessed to be in such an ocean of love for the guru, a rare and precious sight. By the end of the day, an estimated 20,000 had come, the volunteer staff stretching to organize and park 6,000 cars, dozens of shuttle vans and dozens upon dozens of chartered buses that had come in from all across North America. All drawn by the rare presence of one of the greatest living gurus of our time.

We interviewed Chaitanyamurti Swami, Mangalnidhi Swami, Paramtattva Swami and Bhadreshdas Swami on the idea of trends in Hinduism, for they have a vast international experience. We also conscripted a professor of journalism at Columbia University onto our team.

Stay tuned for more.

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