During their stay at the BAPS Swaminarayan Chhatralayas, students learn to excel in academics, become more organized and disciplined, and are inspired with values and faith in God. They also gain self-confidence and learn to serve others through various activities in the chhatralaya and services to society. The following are stories of a few students reflecting the benefits they attained through their stay at the BAPS Swaminarayan Chhatralayas.
Inspired in Studies and Satsang
Mahendra Bharatbhai Patel
BAPS Chhatralaya, Surat
I, Mahendra Bharatbhai Patel, was born and raised in Sadgavan village in the district of Tapi. It is a remote village on the border of Gujarat and Maharashtra, untouched by modernity. The entire vicinity was known as a tribal and underdeveloped area.
I was one of the many ignorant teenagers in the village.
On 10 July 1991, a man from my village brought me to Surat. He lived near Olpad, working in a local factory. He had brought me so that I could work and study.
For me, Surat was a different world. It was the first time I had sat in a train, and seen so many people and so much traffic. The big houses and wide roads were also a new experience for me. I was overawed by it all and desperate to return to my peaceful village. Further, I am handicapped in my right leg and that added to my inferiority complex.
Due to my disability, the person who had brought me thought about placing me in a mandir where I would be treated with sympathy. Around that time, we learnt that the BAPS mandir in Adajan was being built. There was a small hari mandir at the time.
On meeting the sadhus, they agreed to let me stay and do seva. The word ‘seva’ was itself new to me. I had never even heard the name of ‘Swaminarayan’ before.
Somebody instructed me to mop the floor. Our homes were made of mud, so I didn’t even know what a mop was. Yet, the sadhus arranged for me to stay and study in the BAPS chhatralaya. Due to my lack of finances, they provided for my admission fees, clothes, books, footwear, brush and even the smallest of things. I did not even know how to brush my teeth. But they lovingly taught me.
Gradually, I learnt about satsang. I wore a kanthi and began doing daily puja. After about ten months I returned to my village. Seeing the tilak-chandlo on my forehead, all my family members and the other villagers were astonished. Everyone especially came to see me at home, since my attire and appearance had changed dramatically.
At that time, we all ate meat. Addiction to bidis and tobacco was commonplace. In our community men also kept mistresses. Around 80% of the men in my village, had one, including my father. She had three children. They lived in a small hut on our premises. My mother was married to my father according to our village tradition, but he was steeped in addictions and other vices. All our ancestors in my village and surrounding areas were like that. It was accepted as the norm.
After I became a satsangi, during my 1992 summer vacation, I started a bal mandal in my village. The children used to come, but my father and other parents would come in drunk and stop the assembly. So, I frequently changed the venue. Everyone viewed me as an enemy.
Whenever I returned home during vacations, I applied what I had learnt in Surat in my village. Slowly, some understanding villagers began to support my efforts to promote an addiction-free life. By Pramukh Swami Maharaj’s blessings, in 1994, a satsang sabha was commenced in my village.
My area was regarded as educationally and financially underdeveloped, and the people were steeped in superstitions and vile habits. However, as my satsang strengthened, I took my friends and the youngsters of my family to Surat, where they engaged in seva and received guidance from the sadhus.
Over time, the local leaders began to trust us and cooperate and satsang spread to other villages.
Due to my staying in the chhatralaya, I progressed in my studies also. So, other youths also wished to stay there. Along with their studies, they would also do satsang and help to strengthen satsang in the villages.
In our district, there were no basic amenities and no awareness to create them. This was due to a lack of education and finance. However, as the education standards rose due to the BAPS satsang mandals, the new generation developed, not only individually, but also worked to develop their villages: new schools were built, a regular bus service was established, drinking water was supplied. Through government loans, farmers became more productive.
There are over a hundred youths from my village and the surrounding villages who have stayed in the Surat chhatralaya. Of these, around 30 now have homes in Surat.
As satsang and education increased, families became more financially secure. Now, instead of mud huts, over 80% of families have concrete homes. Every home has a motorbike, many have tractors for farming and some even have cars. Everyone has benefitted and many facilities are now available in the villages, including tar or concrete roads and health clinics.
Previously, in our area, girls did not study. But after the BAPS balika and yuvati mandals were started, they too embraced studies and many now hold good jobs. Thus, through the blessings of Pramukh Swami Maharaj and the chhatralaya, a whirlwind of transformation has enveloped this area.
In Sadgavan there is now a beautiful BAPS hari mandir set in one acre of land. The satsang activities in the Sadgavan sector is coordinated by nirdeshak Shri Lakshmanbhai Patel. He, too, is a product of the chhatralaya. In Sadgavan, the weekly satsang sabhas for the elders, women, youths and children are held regularly. Throughout the sector, a total of 8 sanyukta, 4 mahila, 2 yuvak and 2 bal mandals have been established. In 18 surrounding villages, there are BAPS devotees who lead a devout, addiction-free life. Over 70% of villagers in Sadgavan have accepted satsang.
My father has also given up all his addictions and vices and now serves as the pujari in the mandir.
Whenever Swamishri visited Surat, he proactively enquired about our village, and gave guidance and blessings. He also instructed the sadhus to continually support us. While staying in the chhatralaya, I graduated with MA and LLB degrees. Presently, I serve as the assistant manager of the BAPS Pramukh Swami Hospital in Surat. I am also studying healthcare management.
I feel immensely satisfied with life and pray that I may serve according to the wishes of Pramukh Swami Maharaj and earn his innermost blessings.