Throughout generations, women have contributed to society, improving communities through Sanskar (values), Seva (service), and Sanskruti (culture). These three pillars are pivotal in paving the way for future generations. For that reason, women leaders of BAPS organized a program themed “Celebrating Women’s Contributions: Sanskars, Seva and Sanskruti” at BAPS Swaminarayan Akshardham in Robbinsville, New Jersey on October 3, 2023.
A melodious symphony introduced the audience to the beauty of song as a form of self-expression. Interspersed within the core messages of the program were cultural dances that showcased the vibrant traditions of dance within cultural identities. Rooted in the rich arts of ancient India, this classical music is a means of devotion within the Hindu faith.
In the first pillar of Sanskar, the program highlighted the benefits of attending weekly spiritual discourses that teach us to live a life based on values. Through an engaging monologue, the message of a mother being a key link to passing values across generations in a family exhibited her vital role to the audience. These values are something each Indian mother strives to share to her children, values which have been expounded upon by learned swamis.
Through a recorded video message, Pujya Swayamprakashdas (Doctor) Swami emphasized that one single virtuous mother can have the impact of one million good teachers. He stressed the wisdom of ancient sages who upheld that the foundation of values begins from when the child is in the mother’s womb. Pujya Anandswarupdas Swami shared similar sentiments through a recorded video message, encouraging that the biggest asset of parents is our children, upon whom we bear the responsibility to pass on these values.
Throughout Hindu sanatan dharma, offering Seva (service) has benefited communities, exemplifying how to live a life based on values such as unity, faith, and compassion. It is through seva that inspiration develops to serve others. Those whose lives are grounded in such principles help the greater community by giving back through their actions and character.
Through touching narrations, several young women shared their inspiring stories of when they first arrived at the campus of Swaminarayan Akshardham as volunteers. Experiencing a range of emotions that spanned from anxiety, excitement, and apprehension, these young women recounted the moment when they first put on a hard hat. As days passed, they developed the courage to overcome fears while being positively influenced by other women in service. The resounding messages of unity, fraternity, and oneness within their teams, brought to light the intangible yet valuable benefits of selfless service.
That which makes cultures unique also stands as a unifying feature across the world, remaining constant throughout time. The defining factors of Bhasha (Language), Bhusha (Adorning), Bhojan (Food), and Bhajan (Prayers) carry the heritage of one’s identity. In this last pillar of Sankruti, centuries of Hindu culture and traditions have been preserved through mandirs, scriptures and spiritual guides which have protected, nourished and promoted our timeless traditions. Today, mandirs like Swaminarayan Akshardham help carry forward the legacy of our Hindu Sanatan Dharma. The landmark is a tribute to all faiths and beliefs that span across the world, a true reflection of global harmony. Several devotees shared touching stories of multiple generations of women, who made a conscious sacrifice to participate in the building of Swaminarayan Akshardham and aid in preserving Hindu sanskruti.
Many visionary guests who have made significant contributions as women leaders in their fields shared their remarks. Dr. Purvi Parikh, an immunologist, conveyed introspective thoughts on her visit: “As I arrived, I felt at peace and I know that is one of the goals of spirituality of this community. Everyone in this community reminded me of Gandhi's lessons. Not only by helping others, but you’re actually helping yourself. Places like Akshardham remind you of your purpose. I’m inspired by this community and hope to be part of it for many years to come.” Gayatri Patel Bahl, an actor, Indian classical dancer and tech entrepreneur candidly shared what it means to be a modern woman navigating modern society. Reflecting on her upbringing she said, “Thank you for everything you’re doing for our community, culture and our children. Watching these performances I'm moved and reminded of the commitment my parents made to foster in me a deep connection to my culture.”
Megha Rao, designer and curator for holiCHIC by Megha, found many similarities between her work in South Asian fashion and her visit today. She shared “I encourage each and every one of you to keep finding new and innovative ways to carry our culture forward the way we are witnessing within these walls. Take pride in our roots and the traditions that have shaped us. Continue as a community to push the narrative forward.”
This celebration of women’s contributions was further deepened by the attendance of many inspirational guests who foster diversity, equity, and inclusivity, while many serve the community through government or medicine, or push the bar daily in their respective fields. Among these esteemed guests were: Ms. Denise Keyser, partner at Ballard Spahr and Practice Leader for firm’s Labor and Employment Group; Mrs. Komal Dangi, Founder and CEO of Synkriom Inc., and creator of VeriKlick; Ms. Carol Lucky, CEO of North Texas Behavioral Health Authority, joined by CSO, Dr. Walter Taylor; SSGT Elizabth Rabjohn, Senior Master Sergeant in the U.S. Air Force, joined by her husband, Mr. Sanjay Allen; Dr. Sejal Hathi, NJ Deputy Health Commissioner, joined by her husband, Mr. Sheel Tyle; Dr. Lalitha Masson, OBGYN and CMO in Jersey City, NJ; Ms. Rene Burrows, General Manager at Spirit Airlines, an active FRG member, and military service in the New Jersey National Guard; Dr. Purvi Parikh, Allergist and Immunologist at NYU School of Medicine and Medical Expert on news outlets; Ms. Rakhi Agarwal, VP and Global Head of Supplier Diversity & Risk at SANOFI, joined by her husband Dr. Parminder Agarwal; Ms. Sundari Pai Luts, Senior Manager of Global Supplier Diversity at Bristol Myers Squibb; Ms. Sydney Klein, Senior VP at Bristol Myers Squibb, and CIS and Data Officer at BMS; Ms. Priya Samant, Co-Founder and CEO of Abris Inc, and creator of Uprate.ai; Gayatri Patel Bahl, Actor, Indian classical dancer, and tech entrepreneur; Mrs. Pooja Jhunjhunwala, Content creator for The Global Vegetarian blog, joined by her husband Mr. Jigar Doshi; Ms. Manisha Sethi Varma, Founder and CEO of WhoozCooking; Ms. Lavina Melwani, Journalist & content creator for Lassi with Lavina magazine; and Ms. Megha Rao, Founder and fashion designer for holiChic by Megha, joined by her husband Mr. Ajay Rao, Chief of Staff at CITI Bank.
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.