This summer 34 kishores and 45 kishoris from North America journeyed to India for the experience of a lifetime. From July 4 through August 5, 2015, the delegates traversed over 5,000 miles – witnessing the deep rooted and evolving cultures of India’s diverse states. The trip was designed to strengthen each delegate’s foundation of spirituality by providing context to the ancient Hindu traditions that remain in practice throughout India, and are preserved at BAPS mandirs in North America. Themed “Shanti Through Samjan,” the delegates were reminded through their planned itinerary of daily events that the key to creating a peaceful life is establishing an understanding that is shaped by perspective. Highlights of the trip included many opportunities for Pramukh Swami Maharaj’s darshan in Sarangpur, and attendance to a uniquely crafted satsang shibir titled, "Brahmvidyani College”.
To set the stage for the trip the journey began at Swaminarayan Akshardham in New Delhi, where delegates became familiar with each other as they reviewed the life and work of Bhagwan Swaminarayan through art and exhibits. The first phase of the trip followed: a tour of South India to retrace some of Nilkanth Varni’s expansive journey along the northern, eastern, and southern borders of India. Visiting the same mandirs as Nilkanth Varni did during His journey, the delegates’ experiences ranged from busy metropolitan life in Chennai to the vast tea farms and mountains of Munnar, Kerala. South India is home to some of Hinduism’s oldest traditions, and each site visited further refined the delegates’ perspectives on India’s rich history of devotion. Between visiting ancient mandirs and sacred riverbeds, delegates spent some evenings in spiritual discussion among each other while watching the sunset along the beaches of the Indian Ocean. Some of the locations visited include Kanyakumari, Rameshwar, Madurai, and Pondicherry.
Upon completing their mandir-yatra across South India, the delegates arrived in Sarangpur, Gujarat, to attend “Brahmvidhyani College” – a one-week shibir filled with enlightening discourses, highly curated and delivered by learned swamis, that offered delegates a perspective on sustainable ways to incorporate the best parts of eastern philosophy and teachings into western lifestyle. Many of the swamis presenting the shibir content received their academic educations outside of India, making their talks and workshops relatable to delegates. Swamis explained the logic and relevance of the Akshar Purshottom philosophy as it applies to modern living, and shared how various principles can be imbibed in each delegate’s life through practice and discipline. Workshops with senior swamis provided insight on how faith in Bhagwan, optimism, and trust can be leveraged to develop “samjan,” or understanding, in life. Swamis narrated inspiring moments from Pramukh Swami Maharaj’s life to illustrate these teachings, and daily darshan of Pramukh Swami Maharaj was a time for each delegate to reflect on the divine qualities of their guru.
As part of the shibir, the delegates also engaged in a variety of planned and unplanned seva activities that provided a helping hand at each local mandir they visited. Understanding BAPS to be an international network, or family, of Pramukh Swami Maharaj’s devotees is a core element of youth education that fosters samp, meaning “togetherness”.
By the end of the four-week travels, the delegates had visited 17 mandirs where they met their contemporaries who practice the same Akshar Purshottam philosophy as them – putting into perspective the relevance and need for spirituality regardless of environment or upbringing. Exposing the delegates to the broadness of Hinduism’s reach across India helped cultivate a thoughtful exploration of each person’s spiritual pursuits. Delegates looked back most fondly on their time spent with local devotees at each mandir site where they witnessed, firsthand, the deep bonds that Pramukh Swami Maharaj has built with devotees throughout his lifetime of guiding and transforming their lives. The delegates were humbled by the affection and consideration they experienced when they met with local devotees at each mandir.
The goal of the trip was to strengthen the delegates’ ties to Indian culture, and each of the 79 youth participants returned home with a greater sense of identity in what it means to be Hindu. The trip inspired delegates to push forward on their spiritual journeys with Bhagwan Swaminarayan and Pramukh Swami Maharaj, remembering that peace is a matter of perspective.