Pramukh Swami Maharaj, spiritual guru and head of Bochasanwasi Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha (BAPS) of Swaminarayan sect, passed away at Sarangpur in Gujarat’s Botad district Saturday evening. He was 95. Under treatment at Sarangpur temple of the sect for lung infection, he breathed his last at 6 pm. “He was a heart patient and was being treated for a lung infection. His last rites will be conducted on August 17,” said a close associate of Pramukh Swami Maharaj as a steady stream of devotees started arriving at Sarangpur to pay their final respects. For the last two years, old age and frail health had restricted Pramukh Swami to remain within the BAPS Swaminarayan temple at Sarangpur.
Thousand of his devotees started thronging temples of his sect in various cities and towns and women were seen crying at those temples, mourning his death. Condolences poured in from all quarters on Saturday evening after the news of his death spread. Posting a picture of the spiritual guru holding his folded hands, Prime Minister Narendra Modi wrote on Twitter: “HH Pramukh Swami Maharaj was a mentor to me. I will never forget my interactions with him. Will miss his presence.” In another tweet, he wrote: “HH Pramukh Swami Maharaj, a stalwart among humans who embodied compassion & humility. His service to society will always be remembered.” Political leaders cutting across party lines and other religious leaders also expressed their condolences.
Paying tribute, Congress president Sonia Gandhi said he will always be remembered as a “crusader of humanity, religion and spirituality”. His death is a huge loss and he leaves behind a rich legacy, the Congress president said. Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi said the spiritual guru’s message of compassion and service will remain an “inspiration”.
“Deeply saddened by the passing away of HH Pramukh Swami Maharaj. His message of compassion & service will remain an inspiration,” the Congress vice-president said on Twitter. Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani, deputy CM Nitin Patel and former chief minister Anandiben Patel too expressed grief over Swami’s demise.
Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) convener and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal will be in Gujarat to pay his tributes to Pramukh Swami Maharaj on August 16. “Pramukh Swamiji was epitome of the great philosophy of uniting theworld with his teachings,” AAP leader Ashutosh tweeted.
Pramukh Swami Maharaj, the fifth spiritual successor of BAPS, was born as Shantilal Patel at Chansad village in Vadodara on December 7, 1921. He left home in 1939 to become a sadhu. He was just 28 when he was appointed as BAPS pramukh (president). He became the spiritual guru of BAPS in 1971 after Yogiji Maharaj, the fourth spiritual successor of BAPS, passed away.
During his lifetime, he created and consecrated 1,100 temples and giant cultural complexes like Swaminarayan Akshardham in New Delhi and Gandhinagar. In his first overseas tour after becoming guru, he consecrated the first BAPS mandir in New York in 1974. At the age of 62, Pramukh Swami suffered a heart attack. Later, in 1998, he underwent a heart bypasssurgery in New York. In 2012, he also got a pacemaker implant in Ahmedabad.
In 2000, he addressed the Millennium World Peace Summit of Spiritual Leaders at the United Nations and in 2004, he was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award from the US government. He travelled extensively, both in India and abroad, holding “satsangs” and creating a large base of devotees.