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On December 18, 2016, devotees gathered at the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandirs across North America to celebrate the 96th birthday of His Holiness Pramukh Swami Maharaj. The celebrations paid tribute to the life and work of Pramukh Swami and allowed devotees to express their gratitude through the theme ‘Thank you Swamibapa’.

His Holiness Pramukh Swami Maharaj left his mortal body on Saturday, August 13, 2016, at the age of 95. The cultural program on the occasion of his 96th birthday shared personal memories of devotees, both young and old. Through stage performances, speeches, bhajans and multimedia presentations, the program highlighted Pramukh Swami Maharaj’s spiritual teachings and brought to light the pure sentiments of love and respect devotees have for their beloved Guru. The birthday celebrations were organized by local youth volunteers with much zeal and devotion. Children and youth dedicated weeks leading up to the celebrations to organize a heartfelt production.

Personifying the motto, “In the joy of others, lies our own,” Pramukh Swami Maharaj dedicated his life to the service of society. The birthday celebration was a celebration of his life and work as a humble servant of society; one who spent his life using the power of his inner goodness to uplift others. He inspired thousands through his deep spirituality, humility and dedication to service. Pramukh Swami inspired and oversaw the construction of over 1,100 Hindu mandirs and centers across Asia, Europe, North America and Africa. These mandirs and cultural complexes have become hallmarks in preserving culture and centers of social services. Pramukh Swami Maharaj encouraged devotees to lead lives based on moral values and the wisdom of Vedic scriptures. His practical guidance helped devotees to balance spirituality with the pressures of school, work and family life. His boundless love, care, patience, selfrestraint, and service to others, inspired all to imbibe these virtues in their own lives.

Himanshu Patel of Edison narrated inspiring incidents from Pramukh Swami Maharaj’s life in the assembly. “I was excited to share these stories because they remind me of how encouraging and motivating my Guru’s life has been.” In the spirit of the occasion, his participation brought festive smiles to the devotees.

Addressing the assembly at Robbinsville, NJ, Pujya Yagnavallabh Swami said, “On countless occasions, we have seen that Pramukh Swami Maharaj always remained steadfast in his morals, he was neither enticed by the glamor of materialism nor affected by honor or insult. He remained in constant communion with Bhagwan and endeavored for the good of all people. He not only enjoyed the bliss of Bhagwan but transformed and transported ordinary souls to the state of eternal freedom and the highest spiritual joy that he enjoyed.”

Expressing his enthusiasm after the program, Samir Bhatt of Long Island said, “I am grateful that I had the opportunity to celebrate my Guru’s life work.”

Social media was flooded with birthday cards, messages and photos of Pramukh Swami Maharaj. Jinal Patel expressed her feeling through a tweet saying, “It’s time for me to live for you, like you did for me all of your life. #PSM96 #PramukhSwami”. Biren Patel wrote, “Love u bapa….!! Miss u bapa…!!” Another devotee wrote “Happy Birthday Bapa.  Just a big THANK you for always being there when needed. Forever loved, Never Forgotten. Generations to come shall celebrate your life and legacy for redefining the meaning of humanity and spirituality till timeless Eternity.”

Earlier in India, an 11day celebration on the occasion of His Holiness Pramukh Swami Maharaj’s 96th birthday was held at Swaminarayan Nagar, Surat. For ten days, the 400acre celebration site became an attraction for all eyes primarily because of the extraordinary exhibitions and evening cultural programs. The cultural village was the creation of volunteers from all over India – 18,000 male and female volunteers offered their services day and night. Volunteers put in their best to pay homage to their beloved guru in the creation of the cultural village.   The festival hosted over 1.5 million visitors as well as 60,000 students and 2,000 teachers from 125 schools.

Pramukh Swami Maharaj’s leadership of the BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha is succeeded by His Holiness Mahant Swami Maharaj who continues to guide the spiritual and social initiatives inspired by Pramukh Swami Maharaj.