Shraddanjali Sabha - Johannesburg

Pramukh Swami Maharaj was an inspirational spiritual leader, a powerful ambassador for peace, an influential teacher and a widely loved father figure to millions. Following His passing on the 13th of August 2016, at the age of 94, Bochansanwasi Shree Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha (BAPS) South Africa hosted a tribute assembly on the 24th of September 2016 at the Jubileum Grounds in Johannesburg.
Devotees filed into the marquee amidst the settling dust on an orange-tainted spring evening; respectfully dressed in white clothes. Upon entering, one sees the large banners displaying Pramukh Swami Maharaj, His words of wisdom, and heartfelt tributes to Him. Blank books were available in which devotees could express their final, personal messages to Swamishri. Pramukh Swami Maharaj’s Murtis were set up in the centre of the tent and intricate carved pillars upon the stage framed images of him against heaven-like cloudy skies. A large screen was set up behind the stage, upon which Swamishri was depicted with folded hands.
South Africa was fortunate to have Pujya Viveksagar Swami and Pujya Narayancharan Swami as the keynote speakers of the assembly. The audience was comprised of more than 2 300 people. Also attending the event were highly respected saints, various V.I.P.s, and many esteemed South Africans. Dignitaries present included: Swami Satyanandji (Divine Life Society South Africa’s secretary), Mr Ismail Vadi (Gauteng M.E.C. for Roads and Transport), Mr Imtiaz Cajee (activist and nephew of Ahmed Timol, an Apartheid-era freedom fighter), Mr Ashwin Trikamjee (President of the South African Hindu Maha Sabha), Mr Naren Singh (Inkhata Freedom Party’s M.P.), Mr Navin Lakha (member of the South African Earthquake Fund), and Dr Xolani Mkhwanazi Former chairman of BHP Billiton SA and President of SA Chamber of Mines).
Pramukh Swami Maharaj’s life and work were honoured through videos and speeches throughout the evening. Swamishri’s utmost humility and dedication to serving others were the central characteristics of His life that were emphasised by the speakers. Speakers praised Swamishri as a leader of millions, a driving force behind building over 1 200 temples worldwide, a pioneer for charity work and a founder of many schools and health care facilities. Despite His eminence; His humbleness, focus on the greater good, and attention to and regard for each individual, inspired love and admiration for Him in return.

Each of the guest speakers emphasised Pramukh Swami Maharaj’s selflessness, dedication to service and awe-inspiring presence. Mr Ashwin Trikamjee described how his meeting with Swamishri felt like a blessing and how Swamishri’s dedication to his values allowed Him to transgress the human challenges of power, greed, jealousy and attachment.

Pujya Viveksagar Swami, one of the most learned and well-read saints of the organisation, gave an account of his experiences with Swamishri and drew upon Hindu scriptures to describe Swamishri’s illustriousness. He spoke of Swamishri to be the one who could rebuild the honourable and much-needed values, outlined in Hindu scripture, in the modern era; and described Swamishri to be the “Ram of Kali Yuga”. One of these values emphasised by Pujya Viveksagar Swami was forgiveness. He explained how Pramukh Swami Maharaj advocated forgiveness and peace following a terrorist attack on the Gandhinagar Akshardham temple. Swamishri placed flowers, not only where temple-goers were killed, but also where two of the terrorists had been killed as well. This shows His incredible capacity to forgive and his ability to accept each person. Pujya Viveksagar’s Swami’s description of Swamishri as an “ocean of virtues” was certainly a fitting way to explain His essence.

As the evening drew to a close, a sense of calm pervaded and the Mantra Pushpanjali was recited. While offering red rose petals to Swamishri’s murti, the message resonating with each devotee was to continue his/her tribute by living according to their Guru’s words: “In the joy of others, lies our own.”