On December 7, 2022, the Permanent Mission of India to the United Nations and the BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha came together to honor the life and message of His Holiness Pramukh Swami Maharaj and celebrate his centennial birthday at the United Nations Headquarters in New York.
Pramukh Swami Maharaj (1921-2016) served as the spiritual leader of the BAPS for over fifty years. He was the fifth spiritual successor of Bhagwan Swaminarayan and embodied values of faith in God and service to humanity. His striking humility, noble services, and selfless desire to help all won him the love of everyone. With genuine care and compassion, he connected with all members of society irrespective of race, rank, or religion. Recognized and respected as one of India’s greatest spiritual teachers, he truly lived and taught the principle that the world is one family.
Fittingly themed, The World is One Family, the event at the United Nations aimed to honor his legacy on the special occasion of his centennial celebration in the presence of Her Excellency Mrs. Ruchira Kamboj, the Permanent Representative of India to the United Nations, members of the Permanent Mission of India, Excellencies, Ambassadors and Representatives of countries across the world, and BAPS volunteers.
Dr. Kashyap Patel, a BAPS volunteer and cardiologist at the Northside Hospital Cardiovascular Institute in Atlanta inaugurated the program with a welcome address, introducing Pramukh Swami Maharaj, his life work surrounding humanitarian efforts for social and spiritual upliftment, and his foundational belief that the world is one family.
Pramukh Swami Maharaj’s address at the United Nations Peace Millennium Summit on August 29, 2000, was brought to life through a video presentation. In this address, he appealed spiritual leaders worldwide to have meaningful dialogues with each other to preserve our rich diversity, to not just tolerate but to respect all religions, and to expand the circle of unity to include everyone for true harmony.
Following the presentation, a statement by His Excellency Mr. Miguel Angel Moratinos, the United Nations Under-Secretary-General holding the post of High Representative for the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations, was shared with the assembly. Herein he echoed Pramukh Swami Maharaj’s timeless sentiment of the world is one family with the declaration, “The time to come together as one is now.”
Her Excellency Mrs. Ruchira Kamboj delivered the keynote address and expressed her deepest honor for hosting this event on the centennial birthday of Pramukh Swami Maharaj. “In the truest sense, Swamiji’s life is a message to all humanity, it is a message of oneness, a message of goodness, a message of celebrating peace, harmony, and brotherhood,” opined Her Excellency.
Pramukh Swami Maharaj firmly believed that the entire world, regardless of race, religion, or country, is one family. He did not simply profess this belief but personified it with his actions to uplift communities in remarkable ways. During his lifetime, Pramukh Swami Maharaj responded to over 20 natural disasters in India and abroad, inspiring volunteers to contribute their time and money to deliver relief to more than 6 million people worldwide. Sejal Patel, a BAPS volunteer who is an associate director of professional development with McKinsey, shared a first-hand account of one such instance from the 2017 Hurricane Harvey disaster that struck Texas. She poignantly remarked, “The signature mark of Pramukh Swami Maharaj’s relief efforts was this… his ability to share in the suffering and to channel that empathy into a sense of urgency to provide the swift action needed to save lives and then rebuild them over time…”
Reflecting on BAPS’ contributions to the COVID-19 relief efforts inspired by the credo of Pramukh Swami Maharaj, ‘In the joy of others lies our own’, Professor Sejal Saglani, a BAPS volunteer who is Professor of Pediatric Respiratory Medicine at the Imperial College in London and a consultant in pediatric respiratory medicine at Royal Brompton Hospital, shared the depth and breadth of meaningful initiatives led globally to impart physical, mental, and emotional support to individuals through the peak of the pandemic.
Pramukh Swami Maharaj has been a tireless champion of education, especially women’s education. Thousands of youths have been inspired to become the best version of themselves, creating the foundation for a better society. He has created an environment where everyone, irrespective of gender, is made to feel they are a leader and can make a difference. “Pramukh Swami Maharaj taught me in all aspects of my life that real success comes from serving and uplifting others,” reflected Ria Soni, a BAPS volunteer, first-year medical student at NYU, and co-founder of Project Stree, a menstrual education organization.
Reflecting on similar teachings of Pramukh Swami Maharaj at a crossroads in her life, Aarti Patel, a BAPS volunteer and principal of John D Parker Junior School in Toronto, shared, “Pramukh Swami Maharaj suggested that a career centered around moral purpose is what will bring me the confidence, the happiness, and the satisfaction of creating a positive impact at an individual level… His values of humility, compassion, and integrity have molded me into the educator I am today.”
As Mr. Bawa Jain, Secretary-General for the World Council of Religious Leaders and Founder and President of The Centre for Responsible Leadership, put it, “Pramukh Swami Maharaj was one of the most transformational leaders of our time” for being able to touch countless lives and inspire people of all backgrounds to drive positive change. Today, His Holiness Mahant Swami Maharaj, the sixth spiritual successor of Bhagwan Swaminarayan, continues to uphold this message and inspires all to lead with unity.
Underlining Pramukh Swami Maharaj’s enlightened spiritual state, Pujya Anandswarup Swami virtually offered the delegates an insight into Pramukh Swami Maharaj’s unwavering faith in the all-doership of God that enabled him to not only see good in all but to see God in all. It was this spiritual unity that connected Pramukh Swami Maharaj with all of creation. In closing, Pujya Anandswarup Swami offered his prayers at the feet of Pramukh Swami Maharaj for world harmony, “May we be protected together, may we be nourished together, may we be stronger together, may we excel together, may we never quarrel with one another, may there prevail peace…”
The program concluded with a recital of the Shanti Paath, a Hindu prayer for universal peace and a vote of thanks by Counsellor Mr. Ashish Sharma from the Permanent Mission of India to the United Nations. Attendees left in reflection on the profound impact that Pramukh Swami Maharaj’s life and message continue to have even today.