On September 21, 2017, His Holiness Mahant Swami Maharaj, the spiritual leader of the BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha, left the United States after having spent nearly three months inspiring thousands of individuals across the country. During Mahant Swami Maharaj’s visit, he personally counseled thousands of devotees and took part in public programs with tens of thousands of participants.
At the same time, over 137 public officials or candidates for public office joined BAPS for events in the presence of Mahant Swami Maharaj. Most prominently, Governor Rauner of Illinois, Lieutenant Governor Cagle of Georgia, Reps. Rob Woodall (GA-7), Joe Wilson (SC-2), Hank Johnson (GA-4), Raja Krishnamoorthi (IL-8), Bill Foster (IL-11), Pete Roskam (IL-6), Ro Khanna (CA-17), Ed Royce (CA-39), Judy Chu (CA-27), Pete Olson (TX-22), Pete Sessions (TX-32), Frank Pallone (NJ-6), Brian Fitzpatrick (PA-8), Donald Norcross (NJ-1) and both gubernatorial candidates in New Jersey—Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno and Ambassador Phil Murphy—took part in various public programs that highlighted messages of unity and service. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (HI-2) and Rep. Jamie Raskin (MD-8) visited the BAPS mandirs in Chino Hills, CA and Beltsville, MD respectively to participate in similar events associated with Mahant Swami Maharaj’s travels across the United States.
“The visits by public officials including 16 members of Congress to BAPS events help us emphasize the importance of civic participation for the Indian-American community,” explained Mukesh Swaroop, the Director of Government Relations for BAPS’ Office of Public Affairs.
Mahant Swami Maharaj also met with former President Barack Obama as part of his first trip to the United States as BAPS’ spiritual leader. During Mahant Swami Maharaj’s discussion with former President Obama, Mahant Swami Maharaj highlighted BAPS’ work to encourage the Indian-American community to more fully participate in civic life and how organizations like BAPS and the Obama Foundation can work to inspire young leaders to take up the call of public service through programs such as scholarships for students aspiring to careers in public service.
Interaction and collaboration between the Indian-American community and elected officials are important because they provide a forum for interfaith understanding and an avenue to understanding Hinduism and its practice. Through BAPS youth activities, Mahant Swami Maharaj and his predecessor, Pramukh Swami Maharaj, have molded a generation of Hindu Americans who both understand their faith and can fluently translate its practices, beliefs, and customs into terms that public officials can easily understand. Similarly, BAPS’ traditional stone temples tell Hindu stories in beautiful carvings that transcend the limitations of language and culture. Throughout Mahant Swami Maharaj’s visit, BAPS members were able to see firsthand how public officials were able to grasp Hindu teachings and the similarities that bind different faith communities. Rep. Roskam explained in an evening service, “Your Holiness, I know that you’re telling the group ‘das na das’, that is, we should be ‘servants of servants.’ And you’ve made me feel very welcome because I’m a follower of Jesus and because we have these themes [i.e. of service] that are unifying themes . . . .”
For Mahant Swami Maharaj, the theme of unity was the most important message he wished to share. He explained that each individual soul is divine and that inherent divinity should foster respect for all individuals, regardless of the differences that sometimes divide us. He consistently prayed that public officials would be able to unite their communities and the nation to work for the good of all. On September 11, he joined community leaders and public officials to pray for peace, harmony, and unity in the United States and around the world.
The BAPS Office of Public Affairs, which Mahant Swami Maharaj blessed and inaugurated earlier this year, will channel the grassroots energy of 93 BAPS mandirs spread across 86 congressional districts and 32 states to help accomplish the goals of civic engagement, advocacy, and education. “While Mahant Swami Maharaj has left the United States, the institutions he has left behind and the committed BAPS volunteers selflessly serving here will certainly continue to work towards the goals he has shared with us,” Swaroop stated.