Pramukh Swami Maharaj's absolute poise in the face of the attack on Akshardham amazed everyone.
His appeal for peace impressed all.
Under normal circumstances we are all calm, good, understanding and helpful. But in adverse situations or tragic events, we break down and collapse or become violent and explosive. The emotional turmoil throws us off balance in times of tragedy, difficulty and even in success.
When the terrorists struck Akshardham, Pramukh Swami Maharaj's sthitpragnata (balance of mind) was amazing. When the whole world was stunned and shocked with disbelief, disgust and hatred at the cowardly act, Swamishri calmly prayed and set about reinstating things to normal. He appealed to the devotees and citizens of Gujarat to remain calm and peaceful. He attended to those who came to offer their condolences and to those who came to seek solace. Such resource of equanimity is not found in ordinary human beings, but in people who are divine. The spiritual virtues in a physically diminutive 82-year-old Pramukh Swami Maharaj amazed all.
When the terrorists entered the Akshardham precincts at 4.45 p.m. and went on the rampage, Vishwavihari Swami, the administrator of Akshar-dham, was informed of the attack on the intercom telephone system. The District Superintendent of Police, Collector of Gandhinagar and other officials were called for help. Thereafter, Vishwavihari Swami rang up Pramukh Swami Maharaj in Sarangpur. At that time, Swamishri was engaged in a meeting regarding the BAPS relief and rehabilitation projects in Kachchh. On hearing of the tragedy, Swamishri calmly informed those before him, "Terrorists have entered Akshardham and they have killed many people. Let us pray to God that no further killing takes place. May the terrorists be caught." And Swamishri became absorbed in prayer. Then he instructed Ishwarcharan Swami, Anandswarup Swami, Brahmavihari Swami and Nikhilesh Swami who had come for the meeting to rush back to Gan-dhinagar. Swamishri told the 250 sadhus and 2000 devotees who had gathered for the festival of Shastriji Maharaj's shraddh to join in the prayers.
After the prayers, Swamishri became engaged, without a hint of the disturbance, in a meeting with sadhus and devotees of Surat regarding the ongoing local construction of a BAPS hospital. At 7.30 p.m., Swamishri went to the Yagnapurush Smruti Mandir and prayed by chanting the Swaminarayan dhun while performing pradakshinas. He prayed, "May there be no further loss of lives and the operation be resolved peacefully..."
On returning to his room, Swamishri became engaged in replying to phone calls from people offering their condolences from India and abroad. Many religious leaders and political leaders like the Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani, Chief Minister Narendra Modi, Ahmed Patel on behalf of the Opposition leader Sonia Gandhi and the President of India Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam expressed their personal sympathies by phone to Swamishri.
Swamishri then held a meeting with Dr Swami, Tyagvallabh Swami, Viveksagar Swami, Narendraprasad Swami, Gnaneshwar Swami, Narayanmuni Swami and others to announce the cancellation of Shastriji Maharaj's shraddh assembly the following day and transform it into a memorial meeting. Swamishri then advised that the prasad of dudhpak that had already been prepared be distributed to orphans and school children in the surrounding villages. He also instructed that all BAPS centres in India and abroad should join in prayers on the day of shraddh the following day.
All the while, Swamishri's constant communication and suggestions provided guidance and moral and emotional support to the sadhus in Akshardham.
By 9.00 p.m. all the pilgrims, except those in the multimedia theatre, had been safely evacuated. The heated exchange of fire between terrorists and commandos and the proximity of the terrorists to the multi-media theatre left no alternative but to keep the 85 visitors locked inside the multimedia hall. When Swamishri was informed of this late in the night, he enquired about provisions for drinking water and the toilet arrangements, especially for children and the elderly. Though there were no such arrangements available inside, makeshift provisions were immediately set up on Swamishri's instruction. Swamishri was, at the same time, concerned that the attack could spark off a communal backlash. At 12.35 a.m. he got news by phone that Parameshwar Swami had become a fatal victim of a terrorist's bullet. Swamishri grieved for his loss and to prevent any eruption of communal violence he urgently sent an appeal for peace and prayer to the print and electronic media. The appeal played a major role for peace in the days to come.
For the next two days, Wednesday 25 September and Thursday 26 September, the people of India observed a strike to mourn and pay respects to the dead. All public services, offices and businesses were closed in Gujarat, Mumbai and many other parts of India. The national strike was a cause for concern for many leaders, for it could spark off violence on a national scale. But Swamishri's appeal for peace had an overwhelming impact. The two-day strike was observed peacefully and even in Amdavad, a communally sensitive city, there was no incident of agitation or violence.
Tim Sullivan, the South Asia head for Associated Press, during his visit to Akshardham on 1 October asked a mandir official, "Whenever something of this sort happens in Gujarat there is violence. Why has Gujarat remained peaceful this time?" The official replied, "Due to Pramukh Swami's appeal the people of Gujarat have remained calm. For the last three decades people have been witnessing the socio-spiritual services that Pramukh Swami Maharaj has been performing in Gujarat. This includes the relief and rehabilitation services after the Kachchh earthquake and the Orissa Cyclone, and services in the field of health, education, etc. People know that he has been contributing for peace and betterment of society, and that is why people have observed his appeal for restraint and peace."
"Is it only because of Swami's appeal that there has been peace?" Tim asked. The official replied, "Other religious and political leaders have appealed for peace but Pramukh Swami Maharaj's appeal has carried more weight because the incident took place on our own premises."
The leader of a popular Hindu organisation told Swamishri, "Swami if you had only signalled otherwise, then things would have been different. There is peace in Gujarat and Bharat because of your appeal. Through your powers of austerity and goodness there has been peace."
A social thinker lauded Swami's peace appeal, "Swami, you have saved Gujarat from another chapter of violence."
The attack on an exquisite religious place like Akshardham and the killing of innocent men, women and children was unbearable and intolerable for all. For those deeply dedicated to Hinduism and all apostles of humanitarism it was a heart-wrenching incident. In such circumstances how could one bear and tolerate such pain and injustice! But Swamishri's voice resonated with words of peace, "It is a time to maintain peace and unity and offer sympathy. Pray that such violence never occurs to anyone, in any part of the world."
The kshatriyas of a village in Saurashtra came to Swamishri in Sarangpur and told him about a condolence meeting arranged by them. Swamishri advised, "Talk about peace and make sure there are no angry and inflammatory speeches…"
Swamishri's composure was appreciated by all. A TV channel anchorman-cum-educationist said, "Leading members of the intelligentsia are impressed by Pramukh Swami's call for peace. If something like this had happened in one's own place, then the person concerned would have given statement after statement to become popular. However, Pramukh Swami and his sadhus, rather than issuing statements or reacting with anger, have remained silent and engaged in the service of the victims. And to add more, instead of becoming emotionally paralysed, the entire Sanstha was actively engaged in service. This is a congratulatory approach."
Swamishri remained in Sarangpur for another four days after the tragedy due to ill health and instructions from the state police. To look after the situation in Akshardham, Swamishri had sent Dr. Swami and Ishwarcharan Swami. Under their guidance, Anandswarup Swami, Vishwavihari Swami and other sadhus handled the post-attack responsibilities. On Swamishri's instruction, the hospitalised victims at the Civil Hospital in Amdavad and their relatives were provided with meals and fruits from the BAPS mandir in Shahibaug. Dedicated doctors of BAPS, Dr. Bajadia, Dr. Harshad Joshi, Dr. Bharat Panchal and others offered their services with the doctors of the Civil Hospital in Amdavad. At the Civil Hospital in Gandhinagar the patients were under the care of Dr. Mangalbhai Patel (a devotee) and other doctors.
The rush of media reporters and dignitaries from Wednesday 25 September onwards was satisfactorily attended by Brahmaprakash Swami, Vivekjivan Swami, Brahmavihari Swami, Aksharvatsal Swami and other volunteers. BAPS sadhus personally consoled the relatives of those who had died and sent them condolence letters on behalf of Swamishri.
In this way Swamishri actively guided and inspired the sadhus and volunteers to offer their services during and after the attack.
On Sunday 29 September, Swamishri travelled from Sarangpur to the Civil Hospital in Amdavad and personally blessed and consoled more than 24 injured commandos, policemen and visitors being treated in different wards. The victims and their relatives were moved by the compassion and strain taken by Swamishri.
In a letter to the editor's section of The Times of India on 8-10-02, Kaushik Joshi wrote, "In the wake of the attack on Akshardham, Pramukh Swami has shown magnanimity by not indulging in any blame game and imputing motives. Akshardham is his most priceless, splendid and wonderful creation. Yet, he has been calm. His saintliness is very touching. His heart bleeds for the helpless victims of the barbaric act…"
A renowned Jain acharya, Pujya Shri Chandrashekharvijayji, wrote a letter to Swamishri, "An idol of patronage, gem among saints and the highest devotee of God Swamishri Pramukh Swamiji,
"My heart is intensely shocked at the terrible turmoil that broke out on Akshardham. To ask you what pain must have afflicted you is improper because you are a saint who lives on a sthitpragna level. You console devotees who come in tears to offer their condolences. This is the high level of saintliness you have."
In the Shrimad Bhagvat Gita, Arjun enquires of Shri Krishna as to how a person with a steady mind (sthitpragna) speaks, behaves, etc. Shri Krishna replies, "Sukhe-dukhe same krutvã lãbhãlãbhau jayãjayau…" A sthitpragna person is one who is undisturbed in happiness and misery, in gain and loss and in victory and defeat.
Pramukh Swami Maharaj's unwavering steadiness and calmness in the midst of the carnage at Akshardham and his appeal for peace thereafter is a living proof in our contemporary times of the highest Hindu wisdom prescribed in our scriptures and of the great souls that lived in the past. As long as we have sthitpragna souls like Pramukh Swami Maharaj there will be sanity, peace and redemption in our world.