Pramukh Swami Maharaj
Hindu guru
Pramukh Swami Maharaj
Pramukh Swami Maharaj is the current guru and fifth spiritual successor of Bhagwan Swaminarayan in the BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha, a Hindu organization. Under Pramukh Swami Maharaj’s guidance, BAPS has grown to become a global Hindu organization, with activities spanning religious, cultural, social, and humanitarian domains.
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  • 2016
    Age 94
    He had been suffering from a chest infection in his last days from which he was gradually recovering. However, due to his longstanding heart problems, he died on 13 August 2016, at 6 pm at the BAPS Swaminarayan Mandir, Salangpur, Botad district, Gujarat, India.
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  • 2012
    Age 90
    On 20 July 2012, Pramukh Swami had declared in the presence of senior Swamis that Mahant Swami Maharaj would succeed him as the sixth guru and spiritual head of BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha.
    More Details Hide Details Followers of BAPS believed him to be a manifestation of "Akshar", the form of the eternal abode of God. As Akshar he was also in constant communion with God. Accordingly, he was considered by devotees to be "the perfect servant of God, …totally filled with God and therefore worthy of reverence and worship". The living guru is considered by followers of BAPS to be the ideal sadhu, the perfect devotee, and the principal target for emulation by all spiritual aspirants. He was often described by followers as a personification of the sacred scriptures. He was viewed as "fully brahmanized", or having achieved the ultimate level of spiritual development. Devotees considered him to exemplify all the ideals of the religion; he was viewed as the first disciple, most faithful in his observance of the commandments, most active in propagation of the religion, the best interpreter of the meaning of the scriptures, and the most effective in eradicating the ignorance that separates man from God. His conduct was hence considered to be that of the "ideal saint" and "perfect bhakta (devotee)", providing a tangible and graspable example for the spiritual aspirant to follow. Devotees viewed his staunch respect for Shastriji Maharaj and Yogiji Maharaj as the model of devotion to one’s guru.
    On 14 March 2012, he initiated 68 youths into the monastic order during a ceremony in Salangpur, Gujarat.
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  • 2002
    Age 80
    His practice of carrying the murti of Swaminarayan before him and directing all garlands or offerings presented to him to the image was also seen as a paradigm of humility and selflessness. Similarly, devotees viewed his actions in September 2002, when he appealed for peace and forgiveness of Muslim militants who killed 32 people and injured dozens more in an attack on Akshardham Gandhinagar, to epitomize the Hindu tenet of ahimsa, or nonviolence.
    More Details Hide Details His personality and conduct thus served as exemplars for devotees striving to progress personally and spiritually. Followers believed that by associating with him, they might rid themselves of their vices, baser instincts, and worldly attachments. Earning the grace of the guru, devotees believed, would enable them to achieve liberation in which they would escape the cycle of births and deaths and attain "Akshardham" (God’s divine abode). For a devotee of BAPS, he was considered the essential spiritual link with God. According to the teachings of Swaminarayan, devotees consider God (Swaminarayan) to be manifest through Pramukh Swami Maharaj. Thus, his followers believed that by offering devotion to Pramukh Swami, they offer it to Swaminarayan himself. Pramukh Swami was approached by many followers for guidance in all aspects of life. Devotees frequently took to him matters of personal, family, and business affairs and seek his guidance. This type of communication was thought to be an important aspect of the guru-disciple relationship. Accordingly, Pramukh Swami spent much time counseling devotees in person or by letters or telephone. Women could not directly receive advice from Pramukh Swami due to his vows as a sadhu in the Swaminarayan tradition that prohibit him from interacting directly with females. Women had to ask male relatives to approach Pramukh Swami on their behalf, or had written messages sent to him to ask for guidance.
    This vision of harmony through dialogue characterized his message within BAPS and beyond. During the 2002 communal riots in Gujarat and the terror attack on the Akshardham complex in Gandhinagar, he urged the public to maintain peace and unity.
    More Details Hide Details His response and guidance during those times was commended by leaders and commentators, including the National Security commando in charge of the rescue mission during the Akshardham attack, who later asserted that "what pramukh did was unbelievable. He pieced society back together". He led BAPS’ efforts in conducting a number of large-scale cultural festivals, with the aim of fostering better understanding and appreciation of Hindu traditions and promoting moral and spiritual living. The month-long Cultural Festival of India held in Edison, New Jersey during the summer of 1991, for instance, showcased traditional Indian arts, architecture, dance, and music as well as Hindu culture and spirituality, aiming to foster deeper intercultural and interfaith understanding to the over one million visitors who attended.
  • 2000
    Age 78
    The sentiments he shared with world religious leaders at the 2000 Millennium World Peace Summit at the United Nations reflected a similar message.
    More Details Hide Details In his address, he emphasized the goal of cooperation and mutual respect among religions, for "religion is that which spreads love for one another". He also expressed a desire that all forms of organized religion be able to coexist in harmony, noting that "flourishing together is the secret of peace". In particular, he analogized every religion to a goldmine of values from which all people could draw lessons for life. Pramukh Swami also encouraged his fellow spiritual leaders to teach their followers that religion does not grow by quantity of followers, but by quality of spirituality. In his words, "a Hindu should become a better Hindu, a Jew should become a better Jew, a Christian should become a better Christian, a Muslim should become a better Muslim. If the follower of every religion becomes a better and true follower then our world will be a much better world".
    Pramukh Swami Maharaj has been recognised by the United Nations for his efforts in religious harmony, and his message of peace and goodwill, having been asked to deliver a message to all at the World Peace Summit of 2000.
    More Details Hide Details Pramukh Swami Maharaj is credited as being the inspirer of the Swaminarayan Akshardham cultural complexes in New Delhi and Gandhinagar, Gujarat and also numerous traditionally built stone temples across the world, such as the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandirs in London, Chicago, Houston, Atlanta, Toronto and Nairobi. He has contributed to projects in social (famine relief, cattle camps, earthquake relief work), educational (literacy campaigns, youth hostels), ecological (tree planting, well recharging, recycling projects), medical (diagnostic camps, blood donation), moral (anti-addiction drives), cultural (child and youth development), and spiritual areas. The first three records appeared in the 2000 and 2002 editions of the Guinness World Records whilst the others will appear in the 2009 edition.
  • 1981
    Age 59
    Inspired by Pramukh Swami Maharaj, the Sanstha has enjoyed success in international festivals celebrated in 1981 (Bicentenary Celebrations of Lord Swaminarayan), 1985 (Bicentenary Celebrations of Gunatitanand Swami) and 1992 (Centenary Celebrations of Yogiji Maharaj), as well as the spectacular ‘Cultural Festivals of India’ held in London, 1985 and in New Jersey, 1991.
    More Details Hide Details Pramukh Swami Maharaj has embarked on no less than 15 preaching tours, covering 50 countries in 5 continents over the last 38 years. Temples and Satsang Centres have been established in USA, Canada, Europe (UK, France, Portugal, Holland, Belgium, Ireland), Africa (Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Malawi, Mauritius), South Africa, The Middle East (Bahrain, UAE), The Far East (Japan, Fiji, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Hong Kong), Australia and New Zealand.
  • 1971
    Age 49
    On 4 June 1971, in the village of Sankari, he consecrated the first temple after Yogiji Maharaj’s death.
    More Details Hide Details After that he inaugurated hundreds of temples and centers around the world, leading to his recognition by the Guinness Book of World Records for having consecrated the greatest number of Hindu temples. Outside India, such temples include shikharbaddha temples in the metropolitan areas of Houston, Atlanta, Chicago, London, Toronto, and Nairobi. The temple in the Atlanta metro area is currently recognized as the largest traditional Hindu temple outside the Indian subcontinent. Within India, he is credited as the inspirer of the Swaminarayan Akshardham complexes in Gandhinagar and New Delhi, itself the world’s largest comprehensive Hindu temple. In discussing BAPS’ efforts to construct traditional Hindu temples around the world, Pramukh Swami emphasized the importance of such houses of worship in modern society and values and faith they inspire in members of the community. In addition to meeting with and providing spiritual guidance to devotees during his international visits, he met with other religious and civic leaders. Brian Hutchinson notes that in speaking with these individuals, the pramukh "consistently emphasizes what religions hold in common and advocates cooperation between them with the purpose of uplifting the moral and religious life of mankind".
    Beginning with his first sadhu initiation ceremony in January 1971, he initiated over 850 youth into the sadhu fold.
    More Details Hide Details Hutchinson observes that his "selfless love…was his most frequently and enthusiastically reported characteristic that had influenced persons to become devotees and sadhus". After renouncing worldly ambitions, these sadhus were guided by him in their service of God and society. Milestone events in this realm include the bicentenary celebrations of Swaminarayan in 1981 and of Gunatitanand Swami in 1985, which saw the initiation of 200 and 173 sadhus, respectively, in a single day.
    Prior to his passing, Yogiji Maharaj gave leadership to Pramukh Swami Maharaj in 1971.
    More Details Hide Details Over the last 40 years, under his able leadership and guidance, the BAPS faith has spread throughout India and internationally. What was, 85 years ago, a relatively small institution with only several thousand devotees and a handful of sadhus, is now a dynamic worldwide organisation with over 720 temples, over 5600 Satsang centres, more than 850 sadhus and a million followers spread over five continents.
  • 1960
    Age 38
    He accompanied Yogiji Maharaj on a tour of East Africa in 1960 as well as in 1970, and embarked upon his first overseas visit as the guru, or spiritual leader, of BAPS in 1974.
    More Details Hide Details In the following decades, his 27 international spiritual tours spanned over fifty countries in five continents.
    For instance, he helped Yogiji Maharaj in expanding the faith to England and East Africa in 1960 and 1970, constructing new temples, and instituting new programs within the organization.
    More Details Hide Details Throughout these efforts, he remained unassuming in his conduct and uncomplaining during the hardships he encountered. Before dying in 1971, Yogiji Maharaj had explained to sadhus and devotees, "From now onwards, Pramukh Swami Maharaj will carry on my work…Pramukh Swami is my everything". Under his leadership, BAPS had rapidly grown into a global Hindu organization and had witnessed a significant expansion in many measurable parameters. Currently, BAPS encompasses over one million devotees, more than 900 sadhus, 3,300 mandirs and congregations, over 7,200 weekly assemblies, and a host of humanitarian and charitable activities.
  • 1951
    Age 29
    He continued to serve as the president of BAPS under guru Yogiji Maharaj after Shastriji Maharaj died in 1951.
    More Details Hide Details He became particularly esteemed for his aptitude as an organizer and administrator, fulfilling all of Yogiji Maharaj’s goals and dreams for the organization.
  • 1950
    Age 28
    On 21 May 1950 at Ambli-Vali Pol in Ahmedabad, Shastriji Maharaj appointed Shastri Narayanswarupdas, then merely 28 years of age, as the administrative president ("Pramukh") of BAPS.
    More Details Hide Details After that Shastri Narayanswarupdas was widely known as "Pramukh Swami." At the ceremony, Shastriji Maharaj placed his own shawl around Shastri Narayanswarupdas’s shoulders, and asked Yogiji Maharaj to bless him. Shastri Narayanswarupdas then addressed the group, "I feel overwhelmed by the kindness and love showered upon me so lavishly here by my guru, Shastriji Maharaj, and by my mentor Yogiji Maharaj. Always will this day remain sacred for me, in that I am considered worthy of so great a trust and confidence by the two most noble souls of our fellowship, and by you all despite my young age." Despite being appointed the president of the organization just hours before, that evening, Shastri Narayanswarupdas was found washing the cooking utensils and dishes used by the devotees who had attended the ceremony. This incident was emblematic of the humble style of servant-leadership that would characterize the next six decades of his presidency.
    In the early part of 1950, Shastriji Maharaj wrote several letters to 28-year-old Shastri Narayanswarupdas expressing his wish to appoint him the president of the organization.
    More Details Hide Details Twice Shastri Narayanswarupdas wrote back respectfully declining, citing his young age and inexperience, and the presence of many senior sadhus who would be more suited to the responsibility. Shastriji Maharaj continued to insist, sending several senior devotees to convince Shastri Narayanswarupdas. Perceiving it to be his guru’s inner wish, Shastri Narayanswarupdas ultimately acquiesced.
  • 1946
    Age 24
    In 1946, when Shastri Narayanswarupdas was 25, Shastriji Maharaj appointed him the head, or "kothari", of the large BAPS temple in Salangpur.
    More Details Hide Details As head of the temple, Shastri Narayanswarupdas oversaw a major expansion of the temple facilities despite considerable financial constraints. His leadership and unassuming personality in the midst of significant hardships earned him the respect of his fellow sadhus and devotees, and presaged the significant responsibility that his guru would soon entrust to him.
  • 1940
    Age 18
    Pramukh Swami Maharaj received initiation as a Hindu Swami in 1940 from Shastriji Maharaj, the founder of BAPS, who later appointed him as President of BAPS in 1950.
    More Details Hide Details Yogiji Maharaj declared Pramukh Swami Maharaj to be his spiritual successor and guru of BAPS, a role he commenced in 1971. As president of BAPS, Pramukh Swami Maharaj had overseen the growth of BAPS from an organization centered in Gujarat, India, to one spread around the world, maintaining many Hindu Mandirs and centers outside of India. He built more than 1,100 Hindu temples, including the Swaminarayan Akshardham temples in New Delhi and Gandhinagar, Gujarat. He had also spearheaded the efforts of BAPS Charities, which is the charitable service organization affiliated with BAPS. Pramukh Swami Maharaj is succeeded as the guru and President of the BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha by Mahant Swami Maharaj. Shantilal was born in the village of Chansad, Gujarat, on 7 December 1921. His parents, Motibhai and Diwaliben Patel, were disciples of Shastriji Maharaj and followers of the Akshar Purushottam faith. Motibhai and Diwaliben were both involved in the Swaminarayan fellowship; Diwaliben’s family’s association with the Swaminarayan fellowship extended to the time of Bhagatji Maharaj. Shastriji Maharaj had blessed young Shantilal at birth, and had told his father, "This child is ours; when the time is ripe, please give him to us. He will lead thousands to the devotion of God. Through him, thousands will attain liberation."
  • 1939
    Age 17
    Shastriji Maharaj gave Shantilal primary initiation, parshad diksha, at Ambli-Vadi Pol in Ahmedabad on 22 November 1939, and renamed him Shanti Bhagat.
    More Details Hide Details One of Shastriji Maharaj’s first requests to the newly initiated Shanti Bhagat was for him to study Sanskrit; Shanti Bhagat complied with this wish, and excelled in his studies. Soon thereafter, on 10 January 1940 at the Akshar Deri in Gondal, Shanti Bhagat was given the bhagvati diksha, initiated as a sadhu, and named Sadhu Narayanswarupdas (meaning "the form of Narayan"). Upon giving him this name, Shastriji Maharaj elaborated, "His face carries the brilliance of God, so I name him Narayanswarupdas (the servant of the form of God)." Yogiji Maharaj also gave Narayanswarupdasji his blessings, observing, "He will surely become great." Renouncing worldly pleasures, Sadhu Narayanswarupdas adopted vows of celibacy (nishkam), non-covetousness (nirlobh), non-taste (nisswad), non-attachment (nissneh) and humility (nirman) and committed himself to lifelong dedication and service to God and humanity.
    On 7 November 1939, when Shantilal was seventeen years old, he received a letter from his guru, Shastriji Maharaj, asking him to join the sadhus.
    More Details Hide Details His parents gave their permission and blessings, and Shantilal left home that day to join Shastriji Maharaj and his sadhus.
  • 1921
    Born on December 7, 1921.
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    Born on December 7, 1921.
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