The birth celebrations of Bhagwan Swaminarayan and Bhagwan Rama were devoutly observed on Thursday 2 April 2020 at BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, London. Families across the UK and Europe viewed the celebrations in their respective homes via a live web stream due to the closure of all BAPS mandirs and centres in response to the global COVID-19 pandemic.
Swamis delivered a programme of devotional singing and discourses in Hindi during the morning, in which the exemplary life of Bhagwan Rama was described in detail, drawing particularly upon the challenges that he overcame in his life through spiritual faith and understanding.
These teachings imparted a timely source of strength and wisdom at a time of great uncertainty facing the world. The ceremonial arti, marking the divine birth of Bhagwan Rama, was held at noon.
Bhagwan Swaminarayan’s values of compassion and selfless service to society transformed the lives of millions of people. Swamis began the evening programme with a celebration of these ideals, fittingly joining in a nationwide tribute of all health workers and key personnel who are serving tirelessly and selflessly to protect others during the current pandemic. Devotees also participated in this ‘Clap for Carers’ campaign from their respective doorsteps, windows, gardens and balconies.
A special evening assembly thereafter unfolded in which swamis presented a musical narration of Bhagwan Swaminarayan’s divine life and work. Their devotional singing was interspersed with enlightening video presentations and discourses, charting Bhagwan Swaminarayan’s journey of social and spiritual reform, and the spiritual legacy that he bequeathed.
Swamis then performed the ritual bathing of Thakorji with panchamrut – a holy mixture of milk, yogurt, honey, sugar and ghee – amid the chanting of the Sahajanand Namavali, the 108 auspicious and liberating names of Bhagwan Swaminarayan. Devotees simultaneously performed this ritual in their own homes and prayed for God to provide strength for everyone affected by the pandemic.
The evening celebrations culminated with a special arti at 10.10pm, signifying the precise time Bhagwan Swaminarayan chose to be born to mother Bhaktimata in the small north Indian village of Chhapaiya. Devotees joined in this arti from their homes and gently swayed the murti of Ghanshyam in the cradles they had earlier made together as a family.
Families had marked these celebrations throughout the day with a host of festivities, beginning their day with a samuh puja, preparing freshly made sweet dishes as a devotional offering in their ghar mandirs, and adorning their mandirs with vibrant and colourful decorations. Children also made birthday cards inscribed with their personal prayers. The uplifting and auspicious day brought a profound sense of warmth and joy to thousands of individuals in homes around the UK and European continent. Even at a time of national lockdown, it brought people together in a shared sense of spiritual purpose, through the aid of technology and the power of their devotion.