Paying a fitting tribute to the values of truth, equality and non-violence, a program centered around the birth anniversary of Mahatma Mohandas Gandhi was celebrated at the BAPS Swaminarayan Akshardham in Robbinsville, New Jersey on October 2, 2023. The significance of the program coincides with the International Day of Non-Violence. A core principle within Hinduism is living a non-violent life, ahimsa, that stems from respect for all living beings and their contributions on Earth. This principle extends beyond physical violence to include peace through thought and speech. Ahimsa is the Hindu belief that symbolizes love, genuine care, and compassion towards all.
Pujya Priyavratdas Swami expounded on the life of Swami Yagnapurushdas, lovingly known as Shastriji Maharaj and the founder of BAPS, who stood for truth so firmly that he attracted other leaders who were drawn to that same foundation. His commitment to truth made him unyielding, while remaining humble. Having served his first guru decades ago, Pujya Iswarcharandas Swami spoke of the deep commitment Shastriji Maharaj had for the Akshar-Purushottam faith, allowing him to overcome numerous obstacles to establish mandirs dedicated to Bhagwan Swaminarayan and Gunanitanand Swami. He became a critical example of preserving, tolerating and standing firm in his conviction of spreading the divinity of satsang.
An homage to Mahatma Gandhi, Bhaktivardhandas Swami recalls that to support his lofty ambition of choosing the path of love even against his enemies, Gandhiji leaned heavily on strengthening his spiritual foundation. Pujya Swayamprakashdas (Doctor) Swami detailed ways in which Mahatma Gandhi practiced the values of satya, freedom from shackles of ignorance; ahimsa, divinity within all; and samadhan, realizing equality by seeing all as the children of God. His disciplined life included daily, routine prayer from which he rarely wavered. One should draw inspiration from Gandhiji, who may have seemed a mere individual donned in simple cloth, but his mindset of spreading non-violence and equality for all humankind was far superior to his simple life.
The values celebrated tonight can be found in the base of the Wisdom Plinth of the BAPS Swaminarayan Akshardham in Robbinsville, New Jersey. Standing tall as a physical testament to these ideals, Akshardham commemorates the universality of these messages as lived by significant figures from various faiths and communities.
The presence of several respected guests enhanced the messages of the evening’s program. Dr. Patrick Sellers made a salient request to “Impart these principles to each and every human, then we will have a place that is filled with love and non-violence.” Mr. Dov Wilker was touched by these ideals as personified within Akshardham itself. He said, “One aspect really touched me, seeing all the different religions represented at the base of the mandir. Thanks for demonstrating truth, equality and non-violence not only here but around the world.” Delaware State Senator Darious J. Brown poignantly reminded everyone: “We take that message [of peace] by not just what we celebrate in the building of the temple, but also recognizing that the hands and commitment to building that temple are also our hands needed to build peace and harmony amongst all of us.” Mr. Dilip Shanghvi remarked, “It never ceases to amaze me that the volunteers believe that doing good for others and the values which Swaminarayan Bhagwan has taught all of us is useful for society and will strengthen their ability to improve the world.” Finally, Deputy Consul General of India, New York Mr. Varun Jeph’s apt sentiments were, “In the physical form he [Mahatma Gandhi] didn’t touch upon the continent of America, but his values and ethos have left a phenomenal mark on the people of this country.”
In his blessings, His Holiness Mahant Swami Maharaj emphasized that non-violence is the universal path to peace, from individuals to families to all of society. He reminded everyone that Bhagwan Swaminarayan established non-violence as the highest form of our duty. He highlighted the impact left behind by Mahatma Gandhiji, who set a new measure to live in a non-violent manner. His Holiness urged the audience to see God in all and hold the belief that every person has a right to live. The path of ahimsa calls for each individual, created equally, to live a pure life through thought, mind and action. Mahant Swami Maharaj reiterated that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was inspired by the values and teachings of Mahatma Gandhiji. They both walked this path before us, only for us to continue in the same direction.
Throughout the nine-day inaugural ceremonies, Akshardham Mahotsav will celebrate the significant aspects of the mahamandir, and the universal values upon which it was constructed.
During the program, several esteemed guests were recognized: Dr. Patrick L. Sellers, Chief of Staff to the President of the Alabama State Missionary Baptist Convention; Mr. Dov Wilker, the Regional Director of the American Jewish Committee Atlanta; Delaware State Senator for District 2, Mr. Darious J. Brown; Mr. Varun Jeph, the Deputy Consul General of India in New York; Mr. Dilip Shangvi, Managing Director of Sun Pharmaceutical Industries in India, accompanied by his wife, Vibha; entrepreneur and small business owner, Ms. Deepti Jani; Mr. Pankaj Desai, a representative of the Gujarat legislative assembly, who attended with his wife, Mrs. Marul Desai; Mr. David Fleisher, the Council President of Cherry Hill Township; Dr. Atul Chokshi, a renowned physician specializing in cardiovascular disease; and Mr. Mak Jawadekar, a seasoned leader in the pharmaceutical industry.