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More than 400 kishores and kishoris arrived at the lush, sprawling campus of Keele University on Monday 26 August 2013 for an enlightening three-day shibir entitled ‘Bhagwan Swaminarayan: His Life, His Teaching, His Presence’.

The shibir began on Tuesday morning with a discovery of the reasons why Bhagwan Swaminarayan manifested on earth. This was followed with a vibrant celebration of his birth and learning about the early years of Ghanshyam. Discourses from Ghanshyamcharan Swami and Gnanpriya Swami (both visiting from India) highlighted the differences between Ghanshyam and other children, and further elucidated upon the reasons for his manifestation.

The journey continued further when delegates were guided through the treacherous path that Nilkanth Varni embarked upon around India which spanned more than seven years and covered over 7,000 miles. This was presented through the eyes of a modern historian, where practical activities illustrated the difficulties Nilkanth encountered, giving delegates a closer insight into his divine character. This was further elaborated upon by sadhus who spoke of Nilkanth’s devotion, focus, service and time at Lojpur, and what teenagers can learn from him in addressing the challenges they face today.

Follow-up classroom sessions fostered a more informal environment where delegates could discuss and interact with presenters and fellow participants on the character of Nilkanth Varni.

Bhagwan Swaminarayan’s work was thereafter uniquely revealed with a combination of presentations from kishores and sadhus, highlighting the emphasis of discipline, uplift of women in society, and the practical importance of brahmacharya for youths today.

Bhagwan Swaminarayan’s teachings and their contemporary relevance continued on the second day which included an interactive presentation on the authenticity of the Vachanamrut and an eye-opening question-and-answer session with a panel of sadhus that provided invaluable context and relevance for the attendees.

Classroom sessions covering the Swaminarayan Mahamantra, Ekantik Dharma, and the Vachanamrut delved deeper into Bhagwan Swaminarayan’s teachings in an informal yet informative and inspirational manner. As Akshar (15) from London later shared, “This shibir was fantastic! I honestly think it has changed me. I am determined to devote more of my time to Satsang-related activities and reading the Vachanamrut daily.”

The afternoon session of day two was delivered through a montage of dramas, devotional songs and interactive presentations, exploring the relationship between Bhagwan Swaminarayan and his devotees and paramhansas.

The transportation through time and tradition continued as delegates participated in traditional Indian team games, such as Kabadi and KhoKho. For many it was their first experience of such games and they all thoroughly enjoyed playing these as well as more familiar sports, such as football and cricket.

‘His Presence’ was the focus on the final day of the shibir, examining Bhagwan Swaminarayan’s pledge to forever remain manifest on this earth. Insightful and emphatic speeches from sadhus focussed on the Satpurush and the commonalities between Bhagwan Swaminarayan and Pramukh Swami Maharaj. Practical ways of understanding Swamishri’s spiritual role and connecting with him were explained while Ishwarcharan Swami, via a video recording from India, explained how Bhagwan Swaminarayan’s life and teaching continues today.

The shibir came to a close on the afternoon of Thursday 29 September, with many sharing the sentiments of 17-year-old Maya from Birmingham: “The shibirs get better and better each year. But this year, they’ve jumped ahead a mile.It was absolutely incredible!”

After their three-day journey of learning and inspiration, the delegates made their way back to their respective centres around the UK - having gained a deeper appreciation of Bhagwan Swaminarayan’s life, greater inspiration to study and imbibe his teachings, and a clearer understanding of his continuing presence through Pramukh Swami Maharaj.

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