2 Jan 2008, 1122 hrs IST
My friend Datta Hosbale usually sounds optimistic trying to minimise my recurring cycles of disillusionment about the future but the SMS he sent me on the eve of New Year 2008 was something so unique that it made me share it with my readers. In Hindi it says, Parindo ko milegi manzil ek din, yeh faile hue unke par bolte hain, wahi log rahte hain khamosh aksar, zamane mein jinke hunar bolte hain . What the poet wants to say is something closer to this – the power of silence is usually more eloquent for those who have inner strength and a strong will to reach the destination. And here is a fabulous story that assures us about the great future we shall certainly have –India is on an unstoppable path of glory and happiness in spite of all that wrongs we witness, more through a media that unfortunately uses the misery, trivia and all that is bad to increase its circulation and TRP ratings. One such event that almost skipped media attention was a centenary celebration of a young, vibrant and creative people's organisation I was privileged to witness. If the Indian media celebrated the rise of Vikram Pandit to head Citigroup, the renouncement of worldly pleasures and lucrative careers by fifteen young Hindu professionals from the US and the UK, joining a revolutionary Hindu order of ochre-robed sannyasins of the Swaminarayan sect, was taken quite coolly by the sect popularly known as BAPS (Bochasan wasi Shri Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha) and completely ignored by newspapers and channels. This extraordinary sect with modern ideas about Hindu resurgence has crossed an astounding number of 785 highly qualified Hindu monks serving the poor, illiterate and disadvantaged Indians with a firm, unapologetic Hindu colour. The BAPS were awarded two entries in the Guinness Book of World Records by its central committee member Michael Whitty who specially flew in to Ahmedabad to present the certificates to Pramukh Swami, the head of the sect at their centenary celebrations. The first record is for having built the largest functional comprehensive Hindu temple Akshardham in Delhi and the second one, in the name of Pramukh Swami, is for having consecrated the largest number of Hindu temples, 713 precisely, in five continents across the oceans. Comparatively, the Swaminarayan sect is new, formed in December 1801 by an ascetic Ghanshyam who later rose to be revered as Bhagwan Swaminarayan. He was born in UP, in village Chhapaiya near Ayodhya in April , 1781 and as a divinely gifted boy roamed free since his childhood in the Himalayas and Kailas Manasaorvar, finding ultimately his guru and karmabhumi in Gujarat. It was the British colonial rule in India and Christian missionaries were converting gullible and innocent Hindus through various tactics. In one such incident, a Christian missionary was spell-bound with Swaminarayan by his brilliance expose of Vaishnav philosophy and he returned empty-handed. This is considered as a major event in saving Gujarati people from a planned mass conversion move. Later, a stream of the sect formed BAPS in 1907 and gave it a significance, relevant to contemporary times. But the best part about it is the fact that while holding fort for the age old Vedic ethos and Hindu civilisation in an unapologetic manner, the movement has been able to attract the brilliant young minds sparkling with new ideas and innovations in socio-cultural as well as religious arenas. They do everything: From temple cleaning to washing clothes and learning Sanskrit to understanding Vedas and other Hindu scriptures to painting and applying computer sciences in order to help spiritual advancement. They have some of the best creative artists as sannyaasins and devoted youngsters outside the pale of ochre-robed order. Like Ritesh Gadia, ex-IIM, Bangalore, and Sanjay Parikh, M.Tech. from IIT, Kanpur, who help design and execute creations like Akshardham and make films for Imax theatres running shows in a number of temples to explain the deep philosophies of Hinduism. And they say no, a strict no to any caste-based discrimination. All are equal and special drives are undertaken to spread literacy, life sciences, medical help in Dalit and tribal areas. The young monks run adult education centres, mobile dispensaries, hospitals, schools, de-addiction centres and religious awakening campaigns all over. The women, youth and children's groups have a special task on their hands like special campaigns for de-addiction and mobilising support whenever there is a natural or man-made calamity. They provided help in a big way during the Gujarat earthquake and tsunami, too, down south.
But does this sect cater to mostly Gujaratis? Yes, it has a lot to do with their inception like the Bengali touch in Ramakrishna Mission and a Malayalam colour to Amma's movement. Yet, their vision and actions remain pan-Indian in such a thrilling way that almost every one of their programme, essentially a religious one, has a Tricolour and a touch of Bharat bhakti . They have superbly juxtaposed the saffron spirit with the Tricolour, linking devotion to the Dharma with glory of the nation – a unique expression to Rashtra Dharma - the Hindu nationalism. Each step and act of theirs looks like a celebration of life – no place for despondency or disillusionment any where. The most striking thing about a Swaminarayan place is cleanliness, humility, and perfection to the last detail. They have their own publishing and printing unit with best of the facilities. The programmes like the one I attended at Ahmedabad with 2.75 lakh devotees from India and abroad, was all planned and executed by monks and devotees, from layout plans to the creation of a mega-star film-studio like stage for the performances. And all of them remained just aloof to the visits of any so-called VIP or the big guns in their functions. None ever asked if a political leader visited the Swami or attended the discourse. Everyone was simply glued to see their Pramukh Swami and dedicated all his and her efforts, achievements and creations to him. The surprising fact for those who look at such movements as a can-be-discarded farce or simply Babaji hypocrisies is that an octogenarian Swami, 87 years of age, has been attracting the young, freshly graduated or undergrads, engineers, doctors, CAs, attorneys, who had an exciting new life lying before them, with salaries that would be the envy of any professional, simply vying with each other to devote their life for the cause of the society. There have been a number of such cases where the only son, with no other sister or brother in the family finally coming to Pramukh Swami to get permission to live as an ascetic. The first condition to admit such aspirants is that the boy, willing to devote his life as a Hindu monk should have a happy consent of both the parents, mother first and father too. Unless it happens, none is allowed to get ordained as a monk. Presently there are 787 monks, out of them 37 work in US, 47 in UK, 20 in African countries,02 in Canada and the rest are in various parts of India. And see what marvels have these sannyasins created. Akshardham, declared the world's largest temple on December 17, is 356 ft wide, 141 ft high, with an area of 86,342 sq. ft. The grand, ornately hand-carved stone temple has been built without structural steel in five years, employing 11,000 artisans and volunteers. The temple is not just a religious place with idols of Shiva, Durga and Swaminarayan, but it also showcases prominently through Imax theatre and a Walt Disney style exhibition seen through a boat ride, a unique and breathtaking view of ancient India's glorious achievements in science, technology, medicine, astronomy, mathematics, geometry and war sciences. Heroes Park in the temple shows life-size statues of Indian heroes like Guru Govind Singh, Shivaji, Maharana Pratap and Subramanyam Bharati. Their London temple, considered as an eighth wonder in Europe is visited by more than 480,000 visitors annually. And the temples are also a centre of family conventions, language classes, parenting seminars, blood donation drives and sports competitions. Those who feel disillusioned seeing the politicians failing an otherwise great nation, should turn their eyes away from Delhi and state capitals and try to look at such movements which have emerged stronger, contributing positively for everyone’s welfare without any state help, rather in spite of a state polity that thrives on distancing from Hinduism and placating non-Hindus. They are creating a new, Abhinav Bharat, a resurgent India that's creative, compassionate and friendly to all. Such firebrand youngsters, with a spark in their eyes and an unfathomable love for their motherland are working in many organisatioins, amongst students, tribals, through religious orders and through non-religious ones, from Bangalore to Bomdila and Leh to Port Blair. Aren’t these elements the real Brahmas of India, Bharat Bhagya Vidhata ?