Twenty thousand orange, green and white balloons coloured the sky over Akshardham monument on 8 February 2004. The magnificent sight marked the celebration of the Golden Anniversary of the BAPS Children’s Forum (Bal Mandal). Twenty thousand BAPS children ecstatically cheered and celebrated the golden event in the esteemed presence of His Divine Holiness Pramukh Swami Maharaj, President of India H.E. Abdul Kalam, Deputy Prime Minster Hon. L.K. Advani, Governor of Gujarat H.E. Kailaspati Mishra, Chief Minister of Gujarat Shri Narendra Modi and many other dignitaries.
The celebration was a tribute to Brahmaswarup Yogiji Maharaj, the founder of BAPS Children’s Forum, and the multi-faceted socio-spiritual activities inspired in children by Pramukh Swami Maharaj.
After months of planning, the 50th Anniversary Celebration hosted 20,000 children, between the ages of 12 to 14, selected from BAPS Children’s Forum throughout Gujarat and Mumbai. At 1.00 p.m. on 8 February 2004, they started streaming into Gandhinagar, the capital of Gujarat. For every five children, a youth volunteer was appointed to guide and escort them. As they entered the Akshardham complex, dressed in white and wearing a red band, each boy and girl was given a paper cap. The boys and girls were led onto the sprawling left and right lawns in front of the Akshardham monument respectively. Thereafter, instructions for mass participation for the programme were announced and every child was given a balloon.
At 5.40 p.m., the President of India, H.E. Abdul Kalam, was welcomed by Pramukh Swami Maharaj with a garland by the main foyer. It was the president’s third meeting with Swamishri. Overwhelmed with joy, the president said, “You know, I had a great meeting with him in Delhi, and the words of that meeting still resonate in my mind; and there is always divine radiation, divine vibration in the presence of Swamiji. I feel them as I’m near him.”
Swamishri also welcomed the Deputy Prime Minister of India, Shri Lalkrishna Advani, Governor of Gujarat, H.E. Shri Kailaspati Mishra, Chief Minister of Gujarat, Shri Narendrabhai Modi, and India’s renowned scientist, Shri Y.S. Rajan. When Shri Harikrishna Maharaj, Swamishri and the guests arrived at the podium of the Akshardham pradakshina, a small group of children offered their respects to Swamishri and the president. Then they led them on the main avenue towards the Akshardham monument. Twenty thousand children welcomed the guests by singing the patriotic song, “Sare jahase accha Hindosata hamara…” and waving the Indian flag. As the guests advanced on a red carpet, two files of BAPS children from Gandhinagar, dressed in army fatigues, marched ahead waving the Indian and BAPS flags. The electrifying atmosphere was surcharged with divinity and patriotism. The president was touched by the excitement of the children and he, too, responded enthusiastically by waving to them, saying, “I feel so good. I feel energized. There is the energy of Pramukh Swamiji on all the children’s faces.” He was further enthused by the children chorusing, “Bharat ki santan he, Swamiji ki ham shaan he... Sanskar hamare pran he, seva hamari jaan he...” (We are the children of Bharat. We are the pride of Swamiji. Values are our soul. Service is our life.)
After having darshan of the murti of Bhagwan Swaminarayan in the monument, the President offered his respects by placing flowers at His feet and said, “It is a place of peace.” On arriving at the stage on the Akshardham podium, children sang and the police band played the national anthem. Thereafter, Swamishri, the president and guests released the peace balloons. Twenty thousand children, too, floated orange, white and green balloons amid thunderous chantings of ‘Sahajanand Swami Maharaj ni jai, Akshar Purushottam Maharaj ni jai, Pramukh Swami Maharaj ni jai, Bharat Mata ki jai.’ Thereafter, Swamishri and the guests took their seats, with the president to his left and Thakorji in between them. To the president’s left sat Governor Kailaspati Mishra, Chief Minister Narendrabhai Modi, Ishwarcharan Swami and Shri Y.S. Rajan. To Swamishri’s right were Shri L.K. Advani, Mahant Swami, Dr. Swami and Tyagvallabh Swami.
The celebration assembly commenced with a fabulous welcome dance ‘He matru bhumi Bharat, tuj pad vandana, Vande Mataram’ by BAPS children from Mumbai. Then two boys, Nilkanth Patel (Vadodara) and Dharma Mehta (Mumbai), narrated the amazing story of a fisherman’s boy and a farmer’s boy. The entire assembly listened with rapt attention at the narration, which revealed in brief the success stories of the president and Swamishri. Then Thakorji, Swamishri and the chief guests were honoured with garlands, all at once, by ten children who climbed the steps together, and bowed at their feet. The president was overwhelmed by the children, patting and embracing them.
With the conclusion of the story narration, a third child presented his story about the 20,000 children and BAPS Children’s Forum worldwide. The story was beautifully depicted through dance, dialogue and song, “Ham bal sabha me jate he, jivan ko dhanya banate he…” (We go to the children’s assembly and make our lives noble.) Members of BAPS Children’s Forums from Amdavad and Surat gave an impressive stage performance on how values are attained through satsang assemblies. This was followed by a colourful presentation from children dressed as flowers and birds. Through dance and song they depicted the aims of BAPS Children’s Forum: inspiring character, education, health and spirituality. The presentation was interspersed with the singing of “Matru devo bhavah, pitru devo bhavah, swadhyayan ma pramadah,” by 20,000 children. The president was touched by the mass participation of all children and voiced that because they have imagination and dreams, they can fly.
Then a part of the BAPS Children’s Forum activities was shown through a live presentation of some of its edifying programmes for society. An anti-addiction rally of children marched by the stage, symbolizing the massive campaign held in the year 2000 against addictions in which 10,000 children gave the message of anti-addiction to 900,000 people, out of which about 400,000 people pledged to abstain altogether. This was followed by a drama presentation of how tribal children of Poshina village in Sabarkantha district were de-addicted through the BAPS Children’s Forum anti-addiction campaign. The incident reflected Swamishri’s power to kindle strength and confidence in children.
The first address was made by the Convenor of BAPS Children’s and Youth Activities, Pujya Ishwarcharan Swami, who was appointed as the first volunteer of the Children’s Forum by Yogiji Maharaj in 1953-54 in Mumbai. He elaborated upon the profound love and inspiration showered upon children by Yogiji Maharaj and Pramukh Swami Maharaj.
The Chief Minister of Gujarat, Shri Narendra-bhai Modi, described the giant campaign initiated by Pramukh Swami Maharaj for inspiring values in children in the 21st century. He also added that the power of sadhus and spirituality would be the mainstay of a better future for India.
The Deputy Prime Minister of India, Shri L.K. Advani, described the BAPS Children’s Activities steered by Swamishri on a global level. He also praised and congratulated Swamishri for creating the glorious Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in London, Akshardham in Gandhinagar and the ongoing work of Akshardham in New Delhi.
The Governor of Gujarat, H.E. Kailaspati Mishra, offered kudos to Swamishri and BAPS for the children’s activities.
On this historic occasion, a new website for kids from BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha, kids.swaminarayan.org was inaugurated by President Kalam. The website for children provides infotainment, wisdom and values through stories, games and puzzles.
The peace chant by 20,000 children, “Om, dyoho shantih…” resonated in the air. This was followed by a felicitation programme of BAPS youth achievers who were spiritually nurtured in the Children’s Forum. Their outstanding achievements in the fields of aviation, medicine, space technology, civil service, sports, army, business, music, civil engineering and social service were announced as they were honoured by the president and blessed by Swamishri. The assembly of 20,000 children applauded them with joy and pride and were inspired with a spirit to be the best in life. The youth achievers’ moral uprightness in their careers also inspired respect for the moulding they had received from BAPS Children’s Forum.
This was followed by a fascinating and inspiring question-answer session between the president and 20 children. Thereafter the president read out ten pledges for all children to take for their personal development and contribution to the progress of the nation. The president inspired the children for 48 minutes, answering their questions in English.
At the end, Swamishri began his blessings by talking about the knowledge of atma as taught by Sanatan Dharma. The president was impressed and said, “Pramukh Swami treats children with great respect. He sees them as philosophers.” Swamishri pointed out to the children to derive inspiration from the president’s life.
After a vote of thanks, the divine mass arti ritual was performed by children, guests and invited dignitaries. Swamishri spoke to the president, “Normally, arti is performed of God’s murti. But these children are like the murti of God. They are innocent and God resides in their hearts. So the arti we have performed was that of God residing in their hearts. And the arti the children performed before you was that of God residing in you.” The president was touched by Swamishri’s spirituality and offered his respects.
Finally, after Swamishri had presented mementos to the guests, the assembly concluded with the national anthem. As Swamishri, the president and guests took leave, the complex echoed with the song of “Bharat ki ham shaan he…” and a spectacular display of fireworks.
From 5.45 p.m. to 8.45 p.m., the grand Golden Anniversary celebration of BAPS Children’s Forum left everyone impressed and spiritually intoxicated.
As the children departed they were given prasad in the form of snacks. On their arrival they had been welcomed with ice-cream. The entire celebration programme went smoothly due to Swamishri’s blessings and the efforts of the sadhus and volunteers of BAPS Children’s Forum Central Office.
The entire programme was relayed live by Aastha Channel, covered by Doordarshan and national T.V. channels, like, Zee, Star News, Sahara, Aj Tak and the leading daily newspapers.