INDIAN prime minister Narendra Modi led tributes to His Holiness Param Pujya Pramukh Swami Maharaj, who passed away last Saturday (13), saying he had lost a “fatherly figure”.
HH Pramukh Swami, the fifth spiritual head of the influential Bochasanwasi Shri Akshar Purrushottam Sanstha (BAPS) Swaminarayan Sanstha, died in Sarangpur, in Gujarat’s Botad district. He was 95.
He commanded the respect of not only his followers, but also world leaders and royalty. Prince Charles, the Dalai Lama, former US president Bill Clinton and the Ismaili leader the Aga Khan were just a few of the famous personalities who met HH Pramukh Swami and sought his blessings.
Under his leadership, the BAPS Sanstha was transformed from a local organistion into a worldwide religious group with temples and service to the community at the heart of its philosophy.
More than 1,100 mandirs (temples) and cultural centres were built during HH Pramukh Swami’s time, including the Swaminarayan temple in Neasden, north London, to uphold the values and beliefs of Hinduism.
HH Pramukh Swami initiated more than 930 young people into a life of renunciation, spir- ituality and the service of others. He is also credited with the establishment of the Swaminarayan Akshardham in New Delhi and Gandhinagar, Gujarat.
In his time too, grand temples came up in Houston, Chicago, Toronto, Atlanta, Los Angeles and Robbinsville, across north America and Canada.
In an emotional tribute, Modi, who arrived at Sarangpur soon after delivering the Independence Day address in New Delhi earlier in the day, said: “Many of you might have lost a guru, but I have lost a father.”
Modi recalled his long association with HH Pramukh Swami, praising his “grandeur and divinity.” “He (Pramukh Swami) may not be with us to- day, but his presence will be felt by us all. We will continue to uphold the tradition set by him,” the prime minister said.
Modi, the former chief minister of Gujarat, who served three consecutive terms before becoming prime minister in 2014, said HH Pramukh Swami asked him for videos of his speeches, only to ring him later to tell him: “You should not have used these words.”
“Pramukh Swami taught me things that even my political guru did not teach me,” he said.
Another time, HH Pramukh Swami asked Modi to address a gathering of Swaminarayan saints at a temple in Ahmedabad.
A surprised Modi said he asked Swamiji what they (saints) could possibly gain from him. “Pramukh Swami told me that saints should know the social reality as they have to work to take the society in the right direction,” Modi added.
When HH Pramukh Swami was ailing, Modi said he persuaded the saint to eat something. “He accepted my request and started eating some food. Such was the bond that we shared,” the prime minister said.
One of the most famous landmarks in Delhi is the BAPS Akshardham temple, which is on the itinerary of visiting leaders and members of royalty too. Modi revealed that it was the efforts of HH Pramukh Swami which ensured that the tem- ple was built.
“We have known Pramukh Swami as a guru. But looking at him, one also understands how a disciple should be,” Modi said, adding that the saint had fulfilled the desire of his own guru by constructing the temple on the bank of the Yamuna river in Delhi.
“He always demanded grandeur and did not compromise on it,” Modi said. HH Pramukh Swami will be succeeded by His Holiness Mahant Swami Sadhu Keshavjivandas as the sixth spiritual guru of the BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha .
Leading politicians from India and abroad also paid rich tributes to HH Pramukh Swami. Britain’s prime minister Theresa May said: “HH Pramukh Swami Maharaj inspired millions with his powerful motto: ‘In the good of others lies our own’. This legacy of selfless service will continue to benefit humanity for a long time to come.
“HH Pramukh Swami Maharaj exemplified the values of British Hindus whose contribution helps make the United Kingdom one of the world’s most successful multicultural, multi-faith democracies.”
Britain’s international development secretary Priti Patel MP said: “His Holiness Pramukh Swami Maharaj was recognised and respected as one Hinduism’s great spiritual teachers.
“He dedicated his life for the well-being of others, fostering love, peace, harmony, righteousness, faith in God, and community service.
“His compassion for humanity, and conscious efforts to alleviate problems have inspired millions around the world.
“His humility, wisdom and spirituality have touched many world religious and national leaders, and inspired millions to lead a life guided by Hindu principles. He embodied compassion and we will always remember him for his wisdom & vision for humanity,” Patel added.
India’s president Pranab Mukherjee said last Sunday (14) that HH Pramukh Swami was a “crusader for spiritual values”.
He described the spiritual leader as a pious soul who was concerned about the welfare of humanity. “Swamiji was a pious soul… his teachings of service to mankind have great relevance in the present world,” Mukherjee said.
“Swamiji’s words and wisdom will remain a source of inspiration to all his followers and people at large, guiding them on the path of love and compassion.”
Senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader LK Advani said HH Pramukh Swami will be remembered for his wisdom and vision for humanity.
Advani added: “Swamiji was a teacher, a scholar, a sage, a companion of the needy. He was a pleasant, soft-spoken individual and had a magnanimous personality.”
Since the news broke last weekend, politicians and prominent leaders made their way to pay their respects to HH Pramukh Swami, whose fu- neral was scheduled for Wednesday (18). Tens of thousands of devotees from all over the world travelled to Sarangpur to pay their last respects to the saint.
In London, the Indian High Commission stayed open last Sunday to deal with the large number of emergency visa applications by supporters to travel to the country.
HH Pramukh Swamiji’s cremation will be webcast live on http://www.baps.org as well as Aastha channel on TV.