Mahant Swami Maharaj was joyously welcomed to the UK and Europe by thousands of devotees and well-wishers on Tuesday 2 May 2023 at BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, London.
Streams of people filled the Mandir steadily from 3.30am, eagerly awaiting their first darshan of him in London since 2017. Live updates of Mahant Swami Maharaj’s journey to the Mandir from the airport were relayed, which included photographs and a personal voice note from Swamishri shortly after he landed at Luton Airport, in which he said: “I am just as eager to have your darshan as you are to be with me.”
Youths sang welcoming kirtans in the morning assembly, which were interspersed with discourses from swamis who narrated inspiring accounts of Mahant Swami Maharaj’s spiritual greatness and his selfless compassion. A series of video clips of Pramukh Swami Maharaj’s previous visits to the UK were also shared as the anticipation of Mahant Swami Maharaj’s arrival continued to build.
Swamishri arrived on Pramukh Swami Road shortly after 6.30am, where he was greeted with flags and a showering of flower petals from devotees and volunteers who had lined the street. The vibrant welcome continued inside the courtyard of the Mandir, where youths offered their own devotional reception with dancing while swamis greeted him at the Mandir steps. Youths on the steps held aloft a large sign with Swamishri’s handwriting in which he had written in 2020, during the Mandir’s 25th anniversary, “London Mandir Our Home.”
Swamishri continued inside the Mandir and performed abhishek of Shri Nilkanth Varni Maharaj, then proceeded for darshan of the murtis before finally making his way to the assembly hall.
A few weeks prior to his arrival, Mahant Swami Maharaj was asked how devotees can best prepare for his visit to the UK. He guided everyone towards internal improvement – specifically, on increasing divyabhav (seeing the divinity in everyone) and personal purity through antardrashti (introspection). This led to ‘The Divyabhav Project’ and ‘The Antardrashti Project’ in which children, youths and families engaged in a number of ways to imbibe these principles and make personal life improvements.
Personal pledges from these projects were transcribed into four types of origami (artistically folded paper) shapes – clams, butterflies, swans, and lotuses – which depicted promises to perceive virtues in others, transformation from seeing divinity in others, humility and service, and remaining pure amidst impurities. More than 5,500 of these patiently hand-folded decorative pieces flanked Mahant Swami Maharaj’s path from the moment he had entered the Mandir.
Mahant Swami Maharaj arrived inside the main hall amid scenes of ecstatic joy and overwhelming happiness. Many from the thousands who had gathered from the early hours of the morning could not hold back their tears of joy, whilst others danced and some simply folded their hands in prayer and reverence.
The welcome continued with offerings of garlands made from various objects, including further pledges written on origami shapes. Many devotees across the UK and Europe had also undertaken special austerities as a devotional form of welcome for Mahant Swami Maharaj. These efforts were recognised and appreciated by Swamishri before he briefly addressed the devotees to conclude the assembly.
Dipa Patel, who had travelled more than 200 miles from Preston, shared her experience: “When I first saw him enter the hall, I had goosebumps! I was filled with joy and peace. We’ve waited six years for him to be with us here in the UK again, and the next five weeks will bring so many opportunities for my family, my children and me to strengthen our connection with him and progress on our spiritual journey together.”
All the latest news and updates about Mahant Swami Maharaj’s stay at Neasden Temple (London Mandir), including live webcasts, will be available from msm.neasdentemple.org