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Biography Pramukh Swami Maharaj was born in a very small village called Chansad on 7 December 1921 (Magshar sud 8, Vikram Samvat 1978). His father’s…
Pramukh Swami Maharaj was born in a very small village called Chansad on 7 December 1921 (Magshar sud 8, Vikram Samvat 1978). His father’s name was Motilal Prabhudas Patel, and his mother’s name was Diwaliba Patel, who came from the village of Menpur. Motibhai was in regular contact with Shastriji Maharaj, while Diwaliba’s family had been satsangis since the time of Bhagatji Maharaj. Motibhai and Diwaliba decided to name their child Shantilal, meaning peace. Shantilal had nine siblings, of whom four passed away at a young age. Shantilal was the youngest. Shantilal started doing daily puja from the age of seven. His first puja was presented to him by Nana Akshar Swami.
As a child, young Shantilal excelled in his studies. When he began studying in Padra, a village 6 km from Chansad, he would insist on getting there early. His childhood friend, Ambalalbhai, recalls, “I used to be lazy, but Shantilal would always insist that we left on time. We would both take a long time in cycling but when it came to hills I would stop cycling and let Shantilal pull me uphill. He would happily cycle away without a single complaint.”
As well as studies, singing bhajans and offering bhakti, Shantilal loved sports. Cricket and swimming in particular were his favourite. Cricket was introduced to the village of Chansad by a government worker called Ramlal. He had bought a bat, ball and stumps and taught the children how to play. Roughly a year later, Ramlal was transferred elsewhere and he took the equipment with him.
As they were getting ready to leave, a youth from Bhaili, the neighbouring village, approached Shantilal with a letter from Shastriji Maharaj, addressed to his father, Motibhai. Shantilal showed the letter to his parents. In the letter Shastriji Maharaj had instructed that Shantilal be sent to become a sadhu. Motibhai was reminded of the time when Shastriji Maharaj gave the infant Shantilal vartman and said, “He is ours. Please make sure to give him to us when the time is right.” That time had arrived. Without tears or anguish, his parents accepted guru Shastriji Maharaj’s wish and Shantilal immediately left.
At the age of 18 Shantilal embarked on a new chapter in his life.
Shantilal was strongly inclined towards spirituality from a young age. Upon completing his schoolwork, he would often rush off to the village’s Hanuman temple, where he and a childhood friend would listen to the discourses of a Hindu “holy man” named Haridas.
Shantilal’s daily “darshan”, or worship, at the Swaminarayan temple in Chansad, and his association with Shastriji Maharaj and his disciple sadhus whenever they came to the village, further reflected Shantilal’s affinity for spirituality. Shantilal took his meals only after having darshan at the Swaminarayan temple. He used to meet other sadhus who passed through the village from the holy places of pilgrimage in North India.Swaminarayan sadhus, such as Ghanshyam Swami and Balmukund Swami, frequently visited Chansad and other nearby villages; Shantilal regularly engaged in serving them during those visits.
In the early part of 1950, Shastriji Maharaj wrote several letters to 28-year-old Shastri Narayanswarupdas expressing his wish to appoint him the president of the organization. Twice Shastri Narayanswarupdas wrote back respectfully declining, citing his young age and inexperience, and the presence of many senior sadhus who would be more suited to the responsibility. Shastriji Maharaj continued to insist, sending several senior devotees to convince Shastri Narayanswarupdas. Perceiving it to be his guru’s inner wish, Shastri Narayanswarupdas ultimately acquiesced.
On 21 May 1950 at Ambli-Vali Pol in Ahmedabad, Shastriji Maharaj appointed Shastri Narayanswarupdas, then merely 28 years of age, as the administrative president (“Pramukh”) of BAPS. After that Shastri Narayanswarupdas was widely known as “Pramukh Swami.” At the ceremony, Shastriji Maharaj placed his own shawl around Shastri Narayanswarupdas’s shoulders, and asked Yogiji Maharaj to bless him. Shastri Narayanswarupdas then addressed the group, “I feel overwhelmed by the kindness and love showered upon me so lavishly here by my guru, Shastriji Maharaj, and by my mentor Yogiji Maharaj. Always will this day remain sacred for me, in that I am considered worthy of so great a trust and confidence by the two most noble souls of our fellowship, and by you all despite my young age.” Despite being appointed the president of the organization just hours before, that evening, Shastri Narayanswarupdas was found washing the cooking utensils and dishes used by the devotees who had attended the ceremony.:14 This incident was emblematic of the humble style of servant-leadership that would characterize the next six decades of his presidency.
Under his leadership, BAPS had rapidly grown into a global Hindu organization and had witnessed a significant expansion in many measurable parameters. Currently, BAPS encompasses over one million devotees, more than 900 sadhus, 3,300 mandirs and congregations, over 7,200 weekly assemblies, and a host of humanitarian and charitable activities. He accompanied Yogiji Maharaj on a tour of East Africa in 1960 as well as in 1970, and embarked upon his first overseas visit as the guru, or spiritual leader, of BAPS in 1974.In the following decades, his 27 international spiritual tours spanned over fifty countries in five continents.
He led BAPS’ efforts in conducting a number of large-scale cultural festivals, with the aim of fostering better understanding and appreciation of Hindu traditions and promoting moral and spiritual living. The month-long Cultural Festival of India held in Edison, New Jersey during the summer of 1991, for instance, showcased traditional Indian arts, architecture, dance, and music as well as Hindu culture and spirituality, aiming to foster deeper intercultural and interfaith understanding to the over one million visitors who attended.
Pramukh Swami Maharaj is an exceptional guru who speaks little. However, when he does speak, his words convey the wisdom of eternal truth and carry the power to liberate all of humanity. His simple, humble and direct words are a reflection of the Supreme Divinity within him. Through him God speaks.
His thoughtful and meaningful words are a distillation of his profound experience, bringing peace to even the most disturbed.
His words remove impurities, bring joy, inspire greatness, lift the gloom, give direction, remove ego and imbue the bliss of God.
Pramukh Swami Maharaj’s experienced words of wisdom provide inspirational guidance on dharma, jnan, bhakti, family values, nurturing children, duty of citizens, appropriate speech and many other essential aspects of daily life.
He had been suffering from a chest infection in his last days from which he was gradually recovering. However, due to his longstanding heart problems, he died on 13 August 2016, at 6 pm at the BAPS Swaminarayan Mandir, Salangpur, Botad district, Gujarat, India.On 20 July 2012, Pramukh Swami had declared in the presence of senior Swamis that Mahant Swami Maharaj would succeed him as the sixth guru and spiritual head of BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha.
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