Upon first entering this complicated and daunting world, it is the warmth and love of a mother which puts us at ease. It is through the guidance and protection of our father that we dare to take our first steps and cement ourselves within the world. It is the support and companionship of our best friends in which we grow and develop into our own unique identities. It is through the wise instruction and blessings of our various teachers in life in which we are able to become knowledgeable and achieve a certain prowess and mastery. 

It is said that each of the roles mentioned, a mother, father, best friend, and teacher are some of the most vital relationships in one’s progress and are necessary to each and every life. Each role is complicated and unique; it takes a combined effort of many individuals to enrich our lives and guide us. 

However, with all the given complexities, there has been one individual who has seamlessly filled every role in my life – His Holiness Pramukh Swami Maharaj. For millions across the world,  including myself, he seamlessly became a loving mother, an ever-protecting father, best friend, spiritual guide, and teacher, uplifting all those he came in contact with. 

As we celebrate the centenary celebrations of Pramukh Swami Maharaj, we all ask the question: who is Pramukh Swami Maharaj?

Pramukh Swami Maharaj: A Life Sketch

Pramukh Swami Maharaj was the fifth spiritual successor in Parabrahman Bhagwan Swaminarayan’s succession of Aksharbrahman gurus and was the guru of the Bochasanwasi Shri Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha (commonly known as ‘BAPS’) from 1971-2016.

Pramukh Swami Maharaj was born in a farmer’s family on December 7, 1921 in the small village of Chansad, near the populous city of Vadodara, Gujarat. As a child, known as Shantilal Patel, he was attracted to performing devotion and serving others in the village. During his adolescent years, he was attracted to the pure life of his guru Brahmaswarup Shastriji Maharaj (Bhagwan Swaminarayan’s third spiritual successor). After completing his initial studies at the age of 18, he renounced the world and was initiated by Shastriji Maharaj in 1940, and renamed Narayanswarupdas Swami. In 1950, when he was only 28 years old, Shastriji Maharaj appointed him as the president of BAPS. From then on, he affectionately became known as ‘Pramukh Swami’.

Pramukh Swami Maharaj’s work covers all aspects of humanitarian progress – spirituality, environmental, health, humanitarian, education, personal development, family, religious and societal harmony.

Building over 110 mandirs and establishing 3,850 local centres worldwide, these houses of worship became central to communities, especially Hindu communities overseas. Pramukh Swami Maharaj promoted various activities and initiatives through these mandirs, including weekly spiritual assemblies, performing arts classes, language classes, community service, health initiatives and more. Remarkably, 34 of these mandirs are traditional-stone mandirs built according to the shilpa shastras (the scripture of art and architecture). One notable mandir is the world-renowned ‘Neasden Temple’, situated in London, UK, which recently celebrated its 25th opening-anniversary. These mandirs and cultural complexes have become hallmarks in preserving Sanatana Dharma, sanskruti (culture) and performing seva (social services).

Pramukh Swami Maharaj also inspired and initiated 1,000 educated youths to the sadhu-fold. Pramukh Swami Maharaj broke the barrier of caste, creed, age, education and language and initiated youths from all backgrounds who had a will to serve Bhagavan and society. In order for the youth to have knowledge of all skills, Pramukh Swami Maharaj set up a training centre for youth to be able to transition into monkhood by learning all skills: from learning scriptural knowledge, various languages and world religions to cooking, cleaning the mandir grounds and discoursing. 

He initiated numerous campaigns during local and national disasters such as droughts, earthquakes, hurricanes, floods and tsunamis. By the word of Pramukh Swami Maharaj, nearby volunteers would rush to the disaster site to aid in the clean up and rebuilding of those communities. He built over 100 hospitals, schools and hostels to develop local communities. In 2000, he inspired BAPS Charities (formerly known as BAPS Care) to expand social and humanitarian services even further to provide community activities, education, environmental awareness, health and wellness and humanitarian relief.

His selfless work has been applauded by revered spiritual luminaries, national leaders and other dignitaries.

Pramukh Swami Maharaj’s Teachings & Messages

 

yas tu sarvāṇi bhūtāny, ātmany evānupaśyati |
sarva-bhūteṣu cātmānaṁ, tato na vijugupsate ||

(Isha Upanishad 6)

“One who sees themself as the Self and the Self in everything, will never condemn or denigrate anything or any being.”

Pramukh Swami Maharaj taught through words but led by example. He had spent his entire life transforming the lives of millions, across various nations, instilling values and inspiration to one and all. Why? Because he saw Bhagavan in all beings. As such, one of Pramukh Swami Maharaj’s core teachings and principles was selflessness, humility, and service to others. Pramukh Swami Maharaj lived by his credo:

“In the joy of others, lies our own. In the progress of others, rests our own. In the good of others, abides our own. Know this to be the key to peace and happiness.”

Moreover, on a personal and relatable level, Pramukh Swami Maharaj emphasised a heightened focus on studies for youth, to strengthen our involvement and responsibility within our family, and to strive to be an ideal citizen of the world. He began the concept of ‘ghar sabha’ to allow families to spend quality time with one another. Families would gather on a regular basis to discuss spiritual topics, read from scriptures, play games and communicate their situations and problems they may be facing. This opens up the generation gap and allows both parents and children to connect. For students, a simple, yet profound equation has been said by him to motivate students.

“Purusharth ane shraddha etle safalta.”

“Hard Work + Prayers = Success”

Pramukh Swami Maharaj’s Personal Impact & Guidance

I have never experienced a physical or personal interaction with Pramukh Swami Maharaj, nor do I have any personal memories or guidance given from Pramukh Swami Maharaj. However, even with the lack of personal intimacy and vast differences, I was drawn towards Pramukh Swami Maharaj – for a multitude of reasons. This was the beauty of Pramukh Swami Maharaj’s personality. One did not need physical or intimate proximity to be pulled into his gravity. Much like most people, Pramukh Swami Maharaj and I do not share many similarities or things in common, if any at all. Yet, Pramukh Swami Maharaj seamlessly, and quite quickly, won over my heart. Pramukh Swami Maharaj’s humility and selflessness is what first drew me close to him. It was his child-like innocence, playfulness, the bliss that was ever-present on his face which kept me attracted. Years later, my respect, appreciation, and love towards him grows due to his unconditional love, ever-giving nature, and purity. 

Pramukh Swami Maharaj, through his life and teachings, stands as a role-model to look towards in day-to-day life and in times of uncertainty. Pramukh Swami Maharaj provides a beacon of morals and ethics to abide by. In leading a pure and selfless life, he has inspired me to undertake projects and responsibilities for my community and peers. Through his grace and inspiration, I was able to undertake volunteering roles within the BAPS organisation as a youth-coordinator and leader in many departments across both the United States and the United Kingdom, where I help teach and conduct weekly assemblies for youths, among other sevas. In addition, through his Kripa and continued inspiration, I am fortunate enough to stand as a Hindu-mentor for youths across age ranges. 

Pramukh Swami Maharaj has inspired me to strive leaps and bounds in becoming a better Hindu. Through his own example of keeping Bhagavan at the forefront in everything we do, I derive immense pride and joy in calling myself a Hindu. He has inspired me to continue our Hindu traditions, some of which include the ceremonies of daily puja, a prayer ritual performed every morning, participating in Aarti, the symbolic waving of a lighted wick front of the Murti of Bhagavan while singing a prayer, and thal, a form of devotion in which devotees offer pure vegetarian food to the Murti of Bhagavan. Pramukh Swami Maharaj has also inspired my love for music, leading me to develop a yearning to sing various Hindu and Swaminarayan bhajans, or poems, and play various instruments. Moreover, Pramukh Swami Maharaj has inspired me to embrace my identity as a Hindu by giving me the strength to apply a tilak-chandlo on my forehead daily. 

Although I have not met Pramukh Swami Maharaj physically, his work and his teachings have left an imprint on my heart forever. This is the power of the great gurus of Hindu Dharma – that their impact is left on the world for ages to come.

Celebrating the 100 Years of Pramukh Swami Maharaj’s Life

In celebrating Pramukh Swami Maharaj’s 100th birth anniversary this upcoming year, I implore Hindus and Hindu-students to live “in the joy of others.” Selflessly living is not an easy task, but small steps can help us achieve a more harmonious world. Live in the joy of our parents by serving them. Live in the joy of our community by performing seva (selfless service). Live in the joy of our university community by building unity with all students, regardless of background.

Live in the joy of our Hindu culture, by educating ourselves and others on Hindu values. Live in the joy of your Ishtadev, by performing daily devotion. 

I offer my utmost humble and heartfelt prayers for everyone across the globe. May we all have nothing but love and divine vision towards one another. May we treat each other with respect, kindness, and selflessness. May we be able to imbibe the teachings of Pramukh Swami Maharaj within our lives and become better as a united society. 

Thank you, Pramukh Swami Maharaj, for all you have done, and continue to do. Thank you, for accepting me as your own, and becoming my eternal companion. 

Viral Patel, Queen Mary University of London

NHSF (UK) continues to work with various Sampradaya and non-Sampradaya Hindu organisations, celebrating their contributions to the flourishing our Samaj in the UK, and their role in shaping our youth.