Ten-Day Festival Marks Spiritual Leader’s Atlanta Visit
Pramukh Swami Lays Foundation for New BAPS Temple in Lilburn
BY MAHADEV DESAI
Horns blared and drums resounded within the Bochasanwasi Shree Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha (BAPS) temple in Clarkston as devotees welcomed their Guru, His Divine Holiness Pramukh Swami Maharaj, who arrived here on a 10-day visit, from New Jersey, on June 7. This was the Swamishri's 12th tour of North America.
Earlier, he and the accompanying saints were greeted with great fanfare, at the Mercury Air Terminal, by the welcoming party from BAPS, and throngs of haribhaktas from across the Southeastern US (Georgia, Alabama, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Florida).
Colorfully dressed youngsters performed a traditional bhangra dance in the courtyard of the Clarkston temple as part of the swagath sabha (welcome assembly). Two distinguished guests, Mayor of Clarkston, Lee Swaney, and the Chief of Police of Clarkston, Charles Nelson, were present to honor and welcome Swamishri. The guests presented Pramukh Swamiji with a key to the city of Clarkston. As a gesture of tribute to the BAPS, Chief Nelson wrote in the Temple's guest book, "If the city of Clarkston was populated with Hindus, we would not need a police department."
During the 10-day visit, Swamishri delivered spiritual discourses, participated in children's and youth educational and cultural programs and performed the shilanyas (foundation stone-laying) ceremony of the BAPS Temple in Lilburn.The District Attorney of Dekalb County, Jeffrey H. Brickman, presented a Proclamation to Swamishri that acknowledged the socio-spiritual activities of BAPS and propagation of values such as non-violence.
The Charlotte mandal performed a drama with a message during the nine-day cultural extravaganza. The play "Dollar maaro Dev ne hu Dollar no Daas" (Dollar is my God and I am a slave of the dollar), portrayed the difficulties faced by Senior Citizens of Indian origin in America, due to loss of family values. The way out was to spend time in the mandir and do satsang. Swamishri too reinforced the message and exhorted senior citizens to dedicate their retired life to satsang and the mandir and in helping the younger generation to ensure that it has a better tomorrow.
During the Bal-Balika Din, dignitary guests, Representative Hugh Floyd. D - GA (69), and former Councilman of Clarkston, Abdul Akbar welcomed Swamishri to Georgia. The Chief of Staff for the Speaker of the House for the State of Georgia, Charles "Chuck" Topetzes, presented a resolution on behalf of the Speaker of the House to recognize June 9, 2004 as "Pramukh Swami Maharaj Spirit of Humanity Day." Later, children recited Sanskrit shlokas, and recited entire vachanamruts, and sang sakhis during Swamishri's morning walk. The inner sanctum of the temple was festooned with ?Candyland'-candy arches and houses made of goodies! The children sang kirtans, performed traditional dances, skits and played games in the presence of Swamishri.
The Deputy Consul General of Israel graced the evening program and presented a proclamation recognizing Swamishri's efforts to promote non-violence and peace. The Yuvaks organized a program around three topics; seva, bhakti and agna-palan (service, spiritual dedication and obedience)
On Saturday, June 12, 2004, nearly 6,500 devotees of BAPS and Hindus gathered to celebrate "Guru Bhakti Din." at the Gwinnett Arena in Duluth. The Sanskrit root "Gu" means darkness or ignorance. "Ru" denotes the remover of that darkness; therefore, one who removes the darkness of ignorance in one's self is a Guru.��� Guru Bhakti Din is a day specially commemorated for devotees to revere and devote themselves to one's own Guru. Hindus from all over the Southeast came together to recognize H.D.H Pramukh Swami Maharaj's social and spiritual service.
The auspicious evening began with about 75 doctors gathering together for the BAPS Medico Spiritual Conference. The purpose of the conference was to inform the doctors of the connection between medicine and spirituality. Pujya Doctor Swami, Pujya Viveksagar Swami, and Pujya Vishwamurti Swami addressed the assembly and instructed the doctors to add a spiritual aspect in treating patients. Pujya Doctor Swami had attained a medical degree prior to accepting sainthood and he explained the vital role spirituality plays in medicine. Despite battling a fever, H.D.H. Pramukh Swami Maharaj inspired those in attendance with inspiring words that soothed the soul. On this evening, it was evident to all that the humility and love with which he nurtures the community is truly awe-inspiring. The evening program concluded with a dance by the youth to the devotional song, "Aayo re, Aayo re?Suvarna Avsar Aayo re." This dance was symbolic of bridging the gap between Indian and Western culture.
The centerpiece ceremony during Swamishri's 10-day visit was the historic Shilanyas vidhi of a Shikharbaddh mandir in Lilburn, Atlanta, on the morning of June 13. The bhoomi poojan (ground breaking ceremony) of this new temple was performed by Swamishri in the year 2000. Shilanyas vidhi is a unique Vedic ceremony to lay the foundation stone, purify and pay homage to the land before commencing construction. Hundreds of devotees flocked to the temple site to participate in the pooja under two huge canopies. The devotees were supplied with the pooja samgri (ingredients) and instructed by the saints on how to perform the pooja.���Bands marched and played music and BAPS youth members dressed in colorful costumes danced joyously to welcome Swamishri and the saints as they arrived in a motorcade. They were courteously escorted to the Mahapooja site. Swamishri performed an elaborate Mahapooja amid chanting of shlokas in chaste Sanskrit. At the conclusion of the ceremony, Swamishri said that Bhagwan Swaminarayan and Guru Parampara have also conferred its blessings and would ensure the mandir's completion. After explaining the significance and benefits of a mandir, he concluded by showering his blessings on all his devotees and dignitaries who had graced the occasion.���
The dignitaries, Jose Perez, who is a member of the State Board of Education, Jim Maran, President of the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce and Jack Bolton, Mayor of the City of Lilburn were met upon arrival by Radhesh Patel and Ritesh Desai of BAPS. Bolton, presented the ?key to the City' to Swamishri. A proclamation was also sent from Atlanta's Governor Sonny Purdue's office recognizing the importance of a mandir in producing good citizens. A sumptuous breakfast and mahaprasad were served to all at the shilanyas venue.
In the afternoon, the women's wing of BAPS Southeast crafted a marveling cultural program. This event was filled with the singing of devotional songs, moving speeches, extravagant dances, and skits' relaying the role a mandir plays in one's life. Jill Chambers, a representative from Congresswoman Denise Majette's office, as a token of her appreciation for the activities of BAPS, presented the new Georgia flag to the Southeast Ladies Wing coordinators. On the evening of the shilanyas mahotsav, the program consisted of a kirtan aradhana (singing of devotional songs) by the sadhus (saints), who filled the air with spiritual bliss.
The affable Swamishri is the 5th spiritual successor of Bhagwan Swaminarayan and leader of the BAPS, inspiring over a million devotees across the world to lead a God-conscious, character and value-centered life. Under his leadership, BAPS has built hospitals, schools, hostels, medical camps. He is the worthy recipient of many prestigious national and international awards for his spiritual role. He is a great believer in education of women and children. He loves children and strives to turn them into the ?whole child'.
The BAPS he leads is a socio-spiritual organization with its roots in the Vedas. It was established in 1907 by Swami Yagnapurushadas. It has a consultative status with the Economic and Social Council of the UN.
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