This summer, 45 kishores and 45 kishoris from across North America journeyed to India for an unparalleled spiritual experience – the trip of a lifetime, themed Pratigna. From July 4 through August 5, 2016, the delegates toured over 5,000 miles around India, witnessing the deeply rooted and evolving subcultures that shape each individual state. The trip was built around personal development for kishores and kishoris, most of who are Bal/Balika and Kishore/Kishori karyakars. During the trip, they further explored their understandings of satsang), attachmens to His Holiness Pramukh Swami Maharaj, and the concept of building samp (unity) within their peer groups. Furthermore, the trip enabled the North American karyakars to learn about BAPS’ global presence through interactions with swamis and karyakars from India. Upon returning from the trip, the kishores and kishoris had increased aspirations and motivations to progress in Satsang and perform their respective sevas.
Pratigna was designed to provide a physical experience to the concepts kishores and kishoris read about in scriptures and cultural texts. Understanding the historical significance of ancient Hindu traditions provided context to many of the rituals each kishore and kishori practices at home in North America, strengthening the foundation of their spiritual pursuits. The Pratigna delegates also took part in “Brahmavidyani College,” a uniquely crafted satsang shibir in Sarangpur.
At the close of the shibir, the delegates continued on to Swaminarayan Akshardham in New Delhi, where they were reminded of the life and work of Bhagwan Swaminarayan through art and exhibits. From there, they continued to South India to retrace some of Nilkanth Varni’s expansive expedition along the northern, eastern, and southern borders of India. The delegates’ experiences ranged from busy metropolitan life in Chennai to the serene, backwaters of Kerala, as they visited the same mandirs as Nilkanth Varni did during His journey. Each site in South India, which is home to some of Hinduism’s oldest traditions, further refined the delegates’ perspectives on India’s rich history of devotion. Between visiting ancient mandirs and sacred riverbeds, karyakars spent evenings in goshti (spiritual group discussions) among each other while watching the sunset along the beaches of the Indian Ocean. Kanyakumari, Rameshwarram, Madurai, and Pondicherry were just some of the locations visited by the delegates.
After completing the 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 extremely learned Swamis. The swamis delivered the discourses that offered delegates a perspective on sustainable ways to incorporate the best parts of eastern philosophy and teachings into western lifestyle by making their talks and workshops relatable to delegates. They also explained the Akshar Purushottam philosophy as it applies to modern living, and shared how various satsang concepts can be imbibed in each one’s life through practice and discipline. The delegates also learned how samajan or understanding could be developed via having faith in Bhagwan Swaminarayan, patience, optimism, and trust. The Swamis expounded on various instances from Pramukh Swami Maharaj’s virtuous, God-centric life to illustrate these teachings.
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.” Thus, the attendees participated in planned and unplanned seva (service) across the various mandirs they visited.
After spending a month visiting 17 mandirs where the karyakars met their contemporaries who practice the same Akshar Purushottam philosophy as them, the karyakars realized the applicability and need for spirituality regardless of the environment or upbringing. Getting exposed to the broadness of Hinduism’s reach across India helped cultivate a thoughtful examination of each person’s spiritual pursuits. The delegates were able to witness, firsthand, the deep bonds Pramukh Swami Maharaj has built with the devotees throughout his lifetime of transforming and guiding individuals on the path of spirituality. At each mandir they visited, the delegates were astounded to meet new local devotees that left the delegates humbled by the affection and consideration they received from the local devotees.
As the goals of the trip were accomplished - to strengthen the karyakars’ ties to Indian culture, develop a sense of identity in what it means to be Hindu, progress further in satsang through samjan (understanding)., and developing deep attachment for Pramukh Swami Maharaj and His devotees. The trip truly stirred delegates to embark further on their spiritual journeys with Bhagwan Swaminarayan and Pramukh Swami Maharaj. The delegates returned home very spiritually reinvigorated, taking home key messages from the “Brahmvidyani College” as well as the memories to last a lifetime.