The ambiance of Atlanta, Georgia filled with pure spiritual bliss as His Divine Holiness Pramukh Swami Maharaj touched down on the runways of Hartsfield-Jackson Airport for his fifth vicharan (religious tour) of the area. Similar to his past trips, Swamishri was greeted with pomp and enthusiasm by his eager devotees. At the age of 84, H.D.H. Pramukh Swami Maharaj has come to America after four years to oversee and inspire the initial stages of Atlanta’s much-anticipated Shikharbaadh Mandir (traditional Hindu temple). Despite fluctuations in his health condition, Swamishri graced the community with unexpected amounts of time and affection.
Indian horns blared and drums resounded within the Bochasanwasi Shree Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha (BAPS) temple as its devotees welcomed their Guru, H.D.H. Pramukh Swami Maharaj. A Swagat Sabha (welcome assembly) commenced as the vibrantly dressed youths of BAPS performed a traditional bhangra dance on the outskirts of the Clarkston temple. With Clarkson Industrial Blvd. filled with cultural dynamics and the temple with a resonating aura, the arrival of H.D.H. Pramukh Swami Maharaj marked the kick-off of the culminating, nine day cultural event.
The first four days of his nine day vicharan were filled with cultural programs, spiritual discourses, devotional songs, as well as blessings from H.D.H. Pramukh Swami Maharaj. These days were laid out in a structure that benefited people of all ages. Senior Citizens Din, Bal Din, Kishore Din, and Yuva Din were held on individual days and the themes of each day were geared toward senior citizens, children, young adults, and adults, respectively. Swamishri had opened his heart and enabled all to experience his eternal bliss.
With each day geared toward a certain theme or celebration, a yajman pujan was performed daily by Pujya Viveksagar Swami. The yajman pujan is considered to be a form of devotion. Also, spiritual discourses were held daily of the Taitreya Upanishad by Pujya Viveksagar Swami. In one of his lectures, Pujya Viveksagar Swami emphasized how true happiness lied within God through a unique analogy; in a sugar cane, the richest juice is found in the center, only once the leaves have been shed. Similarly, the society we live in today is disguised with materialistic happiness and only through awareness can one see that true happiness lies in the service of God.
BAPS is greatly a youth driven organization and on Bal-Balika Din (Children’s Day), all the events were organized by its youth wing. A glimpse of the Indian culture present in today’s youth was seen in the morning of Bal-Balika Din, as the children of BAPS recited Sanskrit shlokas during H.D.H. Pramukh Swami Maharaj’s morning walk. The theme in the evening’s cultural program, “Swaminaa baag ma khilya re,” translates to: In H.D.H. Pramukh Swami Maharaj’s redemptive garden, we [the youth] blossom as a field of luminous souls. With such a moving theme, needless to say, the evening program’s speeches, colorful multimedia presentations, and recitations from Hindu scriptures by the youth truly exhibited their place of pride in BAPS.
On Kishore-Kishori Din, H.D.H. Pramukh Swami Maharaj locked hands with all the kishores as a symbol of being pleased and overjoyed of the youths’ dedication and commitment to the temple. The young adults acted out skits which portrayed their morals of abstaining from drinking, partying, and having bad company. Their characters reflected rising above peer pressure, doing well in school, and respecting their parents.
On Saturday, June 12, 2004, nearly 6500 devotees of BAPS and Hindus gathered to celebrate “Guru Bhakti Din.” at the Gwinnett Arena (Duluth, GA), 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 Southeastern United States 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.
From 9.00 am-12 noon on Sunday, June 13, 2004, thousands of devotees and Hindus surrounded the brick-laying foundation site on Lawrenceville Highway in Lilburn, GA. A Hindu tradition 8000 years old, the Shilanyas Vidhi (The Foundation Stone Laying Ceremony) of the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir & Cultural Complex in Lilburn, GA was performed with elaborate Vedic rituals in the presence of H.D.H. Pramukh Swami Maharaj. Prior to constructing a shikarbaadh mandir (traditional Hindu temple), a ceremony is held for bricks to be laid at the foundation of the temple. This ceremony and the auspicious day it is held on are called the Shilanyas Mahotsav. Into simpler terms, “shill” means character, “nyas” means to instill, and “shila” means brick. Therefore, to instill character within the community and within one’s own self is the strength of the hand crafted stone used in a Shilanyas Vidhi. In general, the Shilanyas Vidhi is a distinctive Vedic ceremony to lay the foundation stones of the temple, purify and pay homage to the land, and bless those that are involved in the temple’s construction.
Upon completion of the Vedic rituals by senior saints, such as Pujya Doctor Swami, and H.D.H. Pramukh Swami Maharaj himself, nearly twenty distinguished guests representing the city of Lilburn and/or the state of Georgia graced the ceremony. The splendid Shilanyas Mahotsav concluded with a dance from BAPS youths by the devotional song, “Aavo Kariye Mandir,” meaning let us unite our hearts and minds for God, as we build this traditional Hindu temple.
In the afternoon of such an auspicious day, 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. Representative 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.
Throughout the nine days, Swamishri had left an impression on many of the state’s leaders in government and humanitarian efforts. Swamishri was given 9 proclamations and 1 State Resolutions and a Commendation. Pramukh Swami Maharaj’s efforts in social and spiritual endeavors had been fully realized and honored. Among the honorary guests were of Mayor of Clarkston, Lee Swaney and the Chief of Police of Clarkston, Charles Nelson. Both guests presented Pramukh Swami Maharaj with a Key to the City of Clarkston. As a symbol of the values and morals reflected by BAPS, Chief Charles Nelson wrote in the temple’s guest experience book, “If the city of Clarkston was populated with Hindus, we would not need a police department.” One of the most notable honors was presented by Terry Coleman, Speaker for the Georgia House of Representatives, who declared “June 9, 2004, Pramukh Swami Maharaj Spirit of Humanity Day. In this resolution, Coleman recognized “the City of Atlanta and its suburbs to have been blessed, during the week of June 7 through June 15, 2004, by the presence of H.D.H. Pramukh Swami Maharaj, a true humanitarian in every sense of the word.”
A representative from the Office of the Governor Sonny Perdue, brought a commendation for H.D.H Pramukh Swami Maharaj. In the commendation, Gov. Sonny Perdue commented, “we are proud of the BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha for their commitment to the future construction of a new Hindu mandir that we hope will promote and encourage the citizens of Georgia to foster ideals such as spiritual peace, love, and happiness for all.” The Mayor of the City of Lilburn, Mayor Jack Bolton, presented a Key to the City of Lilburn to H.D.H. Pramukh Swami Maharaj and the Chairman of the Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners, Commissioner Wayne Hill, presented an honorable proclamation. In the proclamation, he recognized the upcoming Shikarbaadh Mandir to “add to the social and cultural diversity of Gwinnett County.” Each of these distinguished guests left the temple with an experience that they would never forget.
As Swamishri departed, he left Atlanta with blessings that were imprinted in the hearts of several thousand people who were able to witness even a glimpse of his divinity. Swamishri’s inspiring words at the Shilanyas Mahotsav encouraged all devotees to immerse themselves throughout the construction of the temple and beyond. Finally, Swamishri’s visit motivated devotees and everyone else touched by his divinity to better themselves and selflessly serve God and others.