The centennial birth anniversary of His Holiness Pramukh Swami Maharaj was celebrated with a special commemorative event at the Palace of Westminster, home of the British Parliament, on Monday 19 December 2022.
The event paid tribute to Pramukh Swami Maharaj’s countless contributions to the UK during his 19 visits between 1970 and 2007, and the legacy of values and culture that he bequeathed.
The afternoon commenced with a short introduction from Karishma Patel, a BAPS volunteer at Neasden Temple, who noted the fitting venue of such global prestige to honour a person who was an inspiration for millions of people around the world and who, by his genuine care and compassion, dedicated his life to the greater good of humanity, serving as a global ambassador of love, peace and harmony.
The programme was attended by a diverse group of distinguished guests, including Members of Parliament, Lords, local government officials, charity partners and faith representatives who offered their personal testimonies about Pramukh Swami Maharaj’s profound impact in the UK.
Lord Jitesh Gadhia, who had hosted the event, said, “Pramukh Swami’s pioneering work has left a strong legacy throughout this country, not only in the form of the iconic Neasden Temple, which has become a source of pride for all one million British Hindus, but also through the growing activities of BAPS throughout the UK, with new mandirs recently opened in Manchester and Birmingham. And, on the global stage, it is source of huge pride for the entire global Indian community that the first Hindu mandirs are now being built in Abu Dhabi and Paris. This global impact is one of Pramukh Swami Maharaj’s enduring legacies, manifested not only through thousands of temples and centres outside of India, but in the special relationships he forged across the world and the thought-leadership he offered. It also explains why we are joined this afternoon by a wide cross-section of colleagues from across Parliament – from both Houses [the House of Commons and the House of Lords] and representing all parties.”
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak had also sent a personal video tribute offering his admiration and gratitude to Pramukh Swami Maharaj. He said: “Pramukh Swami Maharaj lived by the maxim, ‘In the joy of others lies our own.’ Over the past 50 years, these [Pramukh Swami Maharaj’s] efforts have not gone unrecognised. Roads have been named after Pramukh Swami and our iconic Wembley Stadium arch has been lit up to pay tribute to his service and support for our country. Let me pay my respect to his enduring memory and the incredible legacy he has passed on.”
Dr Mayank Shah, a trustee for BAPS in the UK, recalled the formal felicitation of Pramukh Swami Maharaj at the House of Commons during his visit in 1988, before adding, “Pramukh Swami Maharaj brought countless families and communities together through his untiring personal efforts. This was perhaps his greatest contribution to the UK. We hope his service continues to inspire peace and hope for generations to come.”
His Excellency Vikram Doraiswami, the High Commissioner of India to the UK, also shared, “Pramukh Swami Maharaj embodied in his life a true selfless spirit of love, service and harmony. The concept of being able to love and serve is in the DNA of all at BAPS. Pramukh Swami Maharaj’s message of love for humanity was central to his life and work. The purpose of charity is not to give because you have extra, but because there others who need it, and that was the essence of Pramukh Swami Maharaj’s life. If life is indeed a short journey, then it is our duty to make it a better one for all those who travel with us, just as Pramukh Swami Maharaj did.”
Mei Sim Lai, Representative Deputy Lieutenant for Brent as well as Trustee of the Pan-Asian Women’s Association, added, “Pramukh Swami Maharaj was truly an amazing, extraordinary and inspirational person who had done so much over seven decades to help so many people around the world. He was such a great spiritual leader. His message of ‘In the joy of others lies our own’ is universal and the world would be a much better place if everyone followed his message.”
Kamlesh Patel, who has led many of BAPS’s voluntary relief efforts, read a testimonial from British Airways, another of BAPS’s longstanding partners. The message stated: “British Airways have had the great honour of serving under His Holiness’s leadership when the people of Gujarat fell victim to a terrible and tragic earthquake in 2001. What we witnessed was the dedication, commitment and sincerity with which the BAPS volunteers worked and it clearly spoke volumes of the leader Pramukh Swami Maharaj and his character. His humble, compassionate and selfless nature would capture the hearts and minds of everyone he met, inspiring them toward a higher purpose of serving society in a way that was unencumbered by any desire for recognition or material gain.”
Natascha Gibson, Development Manager for Anthony Nolan, a leading charity working for leukaemia sufferers and a longstanding charity partner for BAPS in the UK, expressed her gratitude by adding, “I have had the most fantastic day today and it has been a reminder of why we should all meet. I have understood how far His Holiness’s message stretched, how inclusive it was, and how we can all be part of it wherever we come from.”
Janhavi Dadarkar, Governance Lead at the Institute of Directors, shared, “I have had the pleasure of visiting Neasden Temple and speaking at the International Women’s Day before, and so had already experienced so much of the love and harmony that we have experienced today. There is so much we can learn from Pramukh Swami Maharaj’s life that we can apply in business and anywhere in the world, and it is my hope that his message reaches out to many people.”
Other distinguished guests included His Excellency Gyan Chandra Acharya, the Ambassador of Nepal to the UK, Barry Gardiner MP, Member of Parliament for Brent North, and Navendu Mishra MP, Labour Hindu Faith Champion.
The programme included a beautiful rendition of Vaishnav Jan To Tene Kahiye Je on the flute by Mayukhjit Chakraborty and the singing of the Shanti-Path, an ancient Vedic prayer invoking peace and harmony in all aspects of creation, by three young ladies from Neasden Temple.
The evening concluded with a vote of thanks by BAPS lead volunteer Rena Amin before the participants enjoyed some traditional Indian snacks and refreshments.