BAPS Cattle Camp: Sheltering Spiritual Ideals
After being battered with floods in 1982 and 1983, Gujarat was then gripped with severe droughts for several years. Land was untillable and livestock was dying. Of the 34 million cattle across Gujarat, the Gujarat government later reported that some 18 million had died by the time rains arrived in 1988. At the height of the famine in 1987, BAPS organized cattle camps at four locations to assist farmers. The camps fed and tended to the cattle for over eight months, until the rains came and their owners were financially and agriculturally stable enough to support them once again. During this time, Swamishri’s passion for bhajan was revealed through the sentiments behind his service to society.
Under Pramukh Swami Maharaj’s leadership, what appeared to be primarily a famine-relief activity, was actually something more profound. Swamishri’s clear vision and deep-rooted faith enriched the project with sincere spirituality through his natural inclination for bhajan and bhakti.
“These are not menial efforts but a form of bhakti,” explained Swamishri. “Any service you do for these cattle is bhakti… Serving these cattle is like serving Bhagwan, Shastriji Maharaj and Yogiji Maharaj.” Thus, Swamishri would often remind the sadhus and volunteers of this spiritual sentiment behind the service they were performing.
In Vachanamrut Gadhada II 11, Bhagwan Swaminarayan explains, “All activities of a devotee of God are solely for serving God and his devotee. As a result, the devotee’s activities become a form of bhakti.” To Swamishri, tending to these helpless animals was the need of the hour and a service to God. He firmly believed that by serving with such an understanding, even menial tasks become a form of devotion.
It was this clarity of purpose that allowed Swamishri to remain undisturbed even in the face of baseless criticism. Once, Swamishri instructed volunteers to prepare and distribute buttermilk and sukhdi, a nutritious sweet, to famine-affected villages. Some misguided community leaders criticized this kind gesture saying that BAPS is hoarding stockpiles of food and other resources while distributing only a small fraction. Such reports disheartened the volunteers. They felt hurt that despite their pure intentions, some were making such baseless claims. Many lost their motivation to continue serving. During one of his routine visits to camps in the Saurashtra region, Swamishri reminded the volunteers, “We are not helping people to win them over, but we are doing this service to please Bhagwan. Therefore, continue to serve, and ignore the criticism.” Swamishri’s words rekindled their spirits and realigned them to the objective of their service.
Another key element of Swamishri’s bhajan-centric leadership was his absolute faith in God’s all-doership. It was the reason for him accrediting all his success to God and guru and the reason for his resilience in failures or setbacks.
One hot afternoon, in the Vadodara cattle camp, the main haystack kept for livestock was completely destroyed in a fire. Swamishri arrived as soon as possible to inspect the damage. “Whatever happens is by God’s wish,” he said calmly. “He is warning us to be more cautious.” With that, Swamishri alleviated all the volunteers’ tension and steered them well clear of any blame game.
On another occasion, writing to a volunteer, Swamishri said, “Maharaj has met all our needs, and he will do so in future as well. Do not worry. Placing all the burden on Bhagwan’s shoulders allows us to remain stable, even in the face of obstacles.” These words encapsulate the understanding with which Swamishri led the BAPS Cattle Camps, and indeed all of his projects.
These brief examples of Swaminarayan Akshardham and the BAPS Cattle Camps bear witness that Swamishri performed every project or service while engaged in bhajan. His prayers, sentiments and faith reveal a distinguished, spiritual style of leadership. Pramukh Swami Maharaj’s life is a testament to Satsang Diksha shloka 124, and his bhajan-based leadership will remain a legacy for generations to come.