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A Guiding Light Passes, and there is Sorrow, and Also No Sorrow

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By Jawahar Malhotra

STAFFORD: The news that the Pramukh Swami Maharaj, the spiritual leader of the Bochasanwasi Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha (BAPS) of Swaminarayan sect had passed away in Saurashtra in Gujarat’s Botad district on Saturday evening, August 13, at 6pm Indian time spread like wildfire among the congregation here which was just waking up. For the last two years, Pramukh Swami had become increasingly frail and seldom traveled from the BAPS mandir in Sarangpur.  The 95 year-old guru was a heart patient and was fighting a lung infection when he breathed his last.

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While the congregation was seated on the floor, a group of bhaktis sang bhajans onstage in front of monitors showing videos of Pramukh Swami.

The funeral for the beloved leader was set for Wednesday, August 17 at 3:00 pm Indian time at the BAPS Swaminarayan Mandir complex in Sarangpur.  Swamiji’s garlanded body was perched in a sitting position on an oversized gilded settee inside a glass enclosure as thousands thronged by to see him one last time. At the familiar local mandir in Stafford, darshan ceremonies were already being held on Saturday and Sunday afternoons as thousands of devotees arrived to express their sorrow, watch videos from India of the events unfold for those who came to pay their respects there.

Born Shantilal Patel on December 7, 1921, he was initiated as a swami in 1940 and took over as the fifth spiritual successor of Lord Swaminarayan of the BAPS followers in 1971. During his lifetime, he created and consecrated 1,100 temples and giant cultural complexes like Swaminarayan Akshardham in New Delhi and Gandhinagar. In his first overseas tour after becoming guru, he consecrated the first BAPS mandir in New York in 1974.

This past weekend, in the main prayer hall of the local mandir on Brand Lane which he envisioned in 1982, videos were shown of the funeral preparations on three screens from the BAPS television network and devotees listened as a choir of men played instruments and sang bhajans chanting “Swami Narayan” over and over again in lilting rhythm onstage below the monitors. Several prominent members of the congregation shared their feelings on Swamiji’s passing afterwards.

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At the BAPS Swaminarayan Temple in Stafford in front of a picture of the departed Pramukh Swami, from left: Vasudev Patel, Ashit Patel, Ketan Imandar, Jayanti Patel, Kalpesh Patel and Ramesh Dave.

Jayanti Patel, a Houstonian for 47 years who migrated from Uganda remembered when Swamiji came to Houston in 1977 and stayed in his house. “He started the sabha in January 1978 and then in 1982 announced making a mandir in Houston,” Patel recalled, saying everyone was flabbergasted as they didn’t think it would be possible. “But he was a true spiritual person connected to God as he could see the future.”

Kinnari ben Amin said Swamiji always gave guidance to the women to follow his agyana and pass it along to the kids. “Our kids are better than those in India and many have become Sants in the mandir in India.”Ramesh Dave, a Houstonian remembered when Swamiji, in 1965 in India, told him to teach kids English. “When we met again in 1980 in Houston, he remembered me and asked me to teach the kids here Gujarati because language, not only spirituality, is important.”

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After the darshan service on Sunday, August 14, Khayati ben Patel (left) and Kinnari ben Amin shared their feelings.

Vasu Patel, Jayanti’s younger brother, remembered how Swamiji helped him get over the shock of losing his father in 1976. “He gave me fatherly love as I stayed near him for 7 days, He always remembered me by name and both my sons are successful due to being brought up in the satsang.” Kalpesh Patel is one of those who was born in Houston and brought up in the satsang. “I felt everything joyous through him, he was there for every pivotal point in my life,” Ketan said, “he calmed me down and never left us unhappy.”

“He’s always been with me emotionally,” said Khayati ben Patel. “His teachings will always be with us and we have received a beautiful gift in the mandir from Swamiji.” Ketan Imandar recalled another aspect of Pramukh Swami.  “He was practical and faithful to where you are. Sewa (service) was a big aspect of his philosophy. Even though women never met with him, they still felt captivated by him.”

“His focus was on unity, delivered in a loving fashion,” summed up Jayanti Patel. “That’s the power of a guru. He never took credit and he was a hundred percent ego free. His heart is all over us and we will have him with us so we will not miss him. We have sorrow, but also no sorrow.”

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