Centered on the theme of “Akshardham Na Balak Ame,” young children performed in a cultural program on September 2, 2023, at the BAPS Swaminarayan Akshardham in Robbinsville, NJ.
The two-part program was part of the Festival of Inspirations, a three-month-long celebration of the timeless values that BAPS Swaminarayan Akshardham will inspire for generations to come. Akshardham will stand as a testament to the preservation of ancient Hindu traditions and a bridge between these age-old Indian values in a modern world.
The first part of the program was spearheaded by women and illustrated anecdotes of various ways in which young girls have drawn strength from their guru, His Holiness Mahant Swami Maharaj. Robbinsville Board of Education President Tanya Lehmann shared inspiring words during her address to the assembly. “Our youth are the driving force behind celebrating diversity. The girls embody everything that empowers us. I urge all of you to carry this spirit forward, from this mandir, from this celebration into your daily lives.”
Both parts of the unique children’s program married technology with practical tools for creating a personal bond with their guru, Mahant Swami Maharaj. The evening portion, through the setting of virtual reality episodes, explored three keys for strengthening one’s connection while addressing the distractions and negative forces which may derail one’s journey of attaining the happiness of Akshardham. The interactive program included enthusiastic participation from children in the audience, such as glow sticks, color-coded cards for game answers, distribution of personal mementos, and live engagement with Mahant Swami Maharaj himself.
The first key to maintaining a connection with the guru focused on smruti, or memories as an instant connection. In his address to the children, Pujya Pranavmunidas Swami spoke on the power of remembering details of the divine incidents with Swamishri. Even one second of meeting a guru such as Mahant Swami Maharaj creates an eternal memory, and remembering those memories, whether for yourself or through someone else, can conjure the same joy that was felt in the moment.
As the program continued, it brought to light the countless choices children make in navigating childhood. The young participants detailed experiences from their lives in which following niyams, or spiritual commands, helped them excel in parts of life. Pujya Anandswarupdas Swami then explained the second key, the importance of following agnas, or the inner wishes of the guru. Recognizing that laziness and worldly distractions hinder progress, he eloquently used the analogy of a kite to convey how following agna helps one connect to the guru and gain his blessings. Despite the distance of the actual kite, the string maintains the connection. Agna is the string that connects each of us to Mahant Swami Maharaj, making his guidance and influence ever closer. Children will become fearless and achieve liberation by following niyams and agnas.
The power of prarthana, or prayer, is the third key to personally connect with the guru and provides the strength to conquer one’s mind and maintain this connection despite any distance. Personal stories illustrated the point that when one feels alone, the youth felt solace in sharing their prayers with Mahant Swami Maharaj. They were reassured through his blessings: “Talk to me, I’m waiting to listen to your prarthana. And don’t forget you are never alone. I will always be with you.”
After an energetic, welcoming dance, Mahant Swami Maharaj interacted virtually with children from different regions through affectionate gestures. As the children detailed their daily schedules to Mahant Swami Maharaj, he presented them with various mementos to remind them how to maintain this rare bond with the guru throughout their day. He presented the children with a daily prayer to recite, cupcakes he helped make, and a glow-in-the-dark Akshardham magnet for the children to leave them with lasting memories.
In addressing the assembly, special guest Mayor of Bridgewater Township, Mr. Matthew Moench, shared “When you see everything that is here and look at everything being built, you can’t help but be inspired and see the handiwork of God. So many volunteers, giving so much of themselves to build something that will inspire all of us for generations to come. Strength of our community comes from sharing and understanding that there is a greater power when we are a part of something, not just what we want to do ourselves.”
To commemorate the children’s program, His Holiness Mahant Swami Maharaj also sanctified a series of newly-released children’s books published by Swaminarayan Aksharpith, taken from Yogiji Maharaj’s life lessons as conveyed through stories. The evening program concluded with touching blessings from His Holiness Mahant Swami Maharaj to the thousands of children in attendance in person and virtually. He said, “You may be small and young, but know this: You are all akshar mukto. You are divine children of Akshardham. You are mine, and I am forever yours.” Such loving words reminded the children that he is always in their hearts.
The Festival of Inspirations’ program was attended by a number of esteemed attendees. Among them were entrepreneur Mrs. Avani Modi Sarkar, co-founder of Modi Toys; Ms. Swayam Bhatia, an emerging actress; Robbinsville Board of Education President, Mrs. Tanya Lehmann; RWJBarnabas Health's Chief of Hospitalist Medicine, Mrs. Maninder Abraham; and Mr. Matthew Moench, Mayor of Bridgewater Township, who also serves as the General Legal Counsel for Edison School District and was accompanied by his family. The guest list further included Mr. Anil Bansal of First National Realty Management, Turner Associated Dubai's Marketing Director Mr. Ashok Kotecha, Mr. Appen Menon from the Indian American Chamber of Commerce, and Mr. Mahesh Gandhi, a key figure at Powerplant Services and the Jain Temple in Bartlett, Illinois. Many of the guests were joined by their spouses.