Spiritual leader Pramukh Swami Maharaj

Kenya is one of the few African countries that recognise Hinduism as a religion. Therefore, as the Indian community across the world celebrates the life of one of their greatest gurus, Pramukh Swami Maharaj, Kenya will be right in the mix.

Having been in existence for over 8,500 years, Hinduism is the world’s oldest religion.  There are more than 60,000 Hindus in Kenya.

It was a beehive of activity when The Sunday Standard visited the Bochasanwasi Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha (BAPS) temple in Nairobi and watched the preparations by the Hindu faithful for a grand procession in the city.

Hundreds of volunteers and well-wishers, both young and old, have taken on voluntary work in preparation for the grand celebrations.

They will be commemorating the birth centenary of Maharaj, marking the 100 years of his service to humanity in a nine-day festival themed, “Celebrating a Life of Inspirations.”

The event will be held at Jamhuri High School grounds, Nairobi, on September 17.

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More than 200 schools and over 15,000 students from across the country will participate in the celebrations, which will go on until September 25.

Maharaj, who died in 2016, was the fifth guru (spiritual master) of the BAPS, a major branch of the Swaminarayan Sampradaya, a Hindu denomination.

An Indian hero described Maharaj as a rare soul who always lived for others and at the same time remained absorbed in God. “A peaceful, humble, simple and spiritual personality,” reads the description on a website dedicated to him.

Maharaj was born on December 7, 1921, in a small village in the State of Gujarat called Chansad in India. He left home at 18.

The spiritual leader received initiation as a swami in 1940 from his guru, Shastriji Maharaj, who was the founder of BAPS and later appointed him as the founder of BAPS in 1950.

A swami is a spiritual teacher or guru whose objective is to master the self through renunciation. A swami has to sacrifice personal and earthly pleasures to pursue a life of spiritual realisation.

Priyavratdas Swami, the BAPS Head Priest of Africa, said that under Maharaj’s leadership, BAPS rapidly grew into a global Hindu organisation that witnessed a significant expansion.

According to Priyavratdas Swami, Pramukh helped in expanding the faith globally, with over 3,850 centres in India, the US, the UK, Europe, Africa, Asia, the Pacific and the Middle East.

“He was devoted to God throughout his life and was able to impact over 1.2 million people around the world and built at least 1,100 temples for Hindu faithful in five continents,” said Priyavratdas Swami.

“This led to his recognition for having consecrated the highest number of Hindu temples outside India by the Guinness World Records on July 8, 2000.”

The first traditional Hindu temple in Africa was the iconic BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Nairobi, Kenya, built through Pramukh Swami’s inspiration and guidance. The temple was inaugurated in 1999.

Millennium Award

In November 2000, the temple received the prestigious Millennium Award for Excellence in Architecture, furthering the iconic temple’s importance and paying tribute to Maharaj’s work.

Globally, Swami said Maharaj led charity initiatives that led to the establishment of over 100 hospitals, 100 schools and hostels and inspired many humanitarian activities.

He also responded to over 700,000 letters from people who had marriage, business, education and unemployment challenges and were seeking counselling. Maharaj met Kenya’s founding President Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, the late President Daniel Arap Moi, and the late President Mwai Kibaki.

He also met Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni, Tanzania’s first President Mwalimu Julius Nyerere and former president of Tanzania Jakaya Kikwete, Pope John II and former US President Bill Clinton, among other world leaders.

“The reason we are having the centennial celebrations is that his holiness Pramukh Swami Maharaj’s life was dedicated to the uplifting of society, be it spiritual or personal social uplifting,” said Satish Patel, the chairman of BAPS in Kenya.

Sadhu Nityamundias, a Hindu priest, added that he lived a great life, sacrificing his life for humankind around the world.

“We are grateful that he came to this earth and sacrificed his life. It is a fortune for us that we get to celebrate these 100 years, to pass his messages across the world,” said Nityamundias.

He added: “He believed in the main message that in the joy of others, lies our own. Meaning if you help others, you become happy as well.”

The upcoming cultural exhibitions will celebrate the rich Indian heritage. Those who attend will have a chance to enjoy the fine cuisine from the land of spices, and children will have a chance to attend spiritual mentorship programmes, in addition to a rare tour of the journey and works of Maharaj.

The celebration highlights the values of selfless service, global peace, harmony, and unity that he promoted.