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Select Committee on Home Affairs Written Evidence


12. Memorandum submitted by the Swaminarayan Hindu Mission

  Further to your invitation to make representations to the Home Affairs Committee in response to baseless allegations made by Mr Jagdeesh Singh, we would like to state the following:

  Bochasanwasi Shri Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha (BAPS), also known as The Swaminarayan Hindu Mission (The Mission), is a registered charity in the UK (number 273425). The Mission runs the Hindu Temple, Shri Swaminarayan Mandir (widely known as the "Neasden Temple"), situated at Brentfield Road, Neasden NW10.

  The Neasden Temple is exclusively used by the Mission for its religious charitable purposes. It is one of the most prominent Hindu Temples in the United Kingdom and the focal point of worship for Hindus in the UK and Europe. Its very existence is a beautiful, living monument to the Hindu principles of peace and harmony. The Temple makes a major contribution to community life, and the trustees and devotees are committed to peace, tolerance and love of humankind; and they are respected by people of all faiths and none.

  The Neasden Temple is an independent Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) and has no political affiliations in any way, shape or form and is exclusively religious. No other organisation other than The Swaminarayan Hindu Mission and its associated bodies, have ever organised, operated from, been based at or conducted any activity from Neasden Temple, let alone the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) or any other organisation whatsoever.

  The Hindu community is one of the most peaceful and law abiding in the country. We do not countenance violence of any kind whatsoever. And it is a slur to suggest otherwise. Therefore, the allegations by Mr Singh have caused profound offence to the wider Hindu community in the UK and are irresponsible, inflammatory and incorrect. It would be a tragic injustice that your witness should have sought to use the Committee as a vehicle to undermine community relations in this way. You will no doubt agree that these comments rather than helping inter-community relations only serve to do the opposite. Left unchallenged, the minutes of evidence, on the Committee's website could, albeit erroneously, lend credence to such falsehood.

  To begin to understand exactly how offensive such baseless lies are to inter-community relations it is important to note that recently the mother Temple of the Neasden Temple, Akshardham in Gandhinagar, India was itself the target of an appalling terrorist attack in which some 33 innocent lives were lost including a sadhu and very young children. The Gujarat riots had just about abated and a small spark was all that was needed to re-light the fuse that could turn Gujarat into a burning inferno. However, due to the composed and measured appeal by His Holiness Pramukh Swami Maharaj, the Spiritual Master of the Neasden Temple, to pray for peace and to do nothing that might incite retaliatory violence or conflict in anyway, this was averted. In fact, delegations of Muslim elders came to His Holiness to pay their respects and thank him for his message of peace, which resulted in peace throughout India.

  BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha (also known as The Swaminarayan Hindu Mission in the UK) is a socio-spiritual, charitable organisation with an international network of over 8,100 centres, 700 learned sadhus, a million members and 55,000 volunteers performing 162 humanitarian activities. It is an NGO in Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations.

  BAPS promotes care for education, environment, health, de-addiction, disaster management, family values, serving the needy, tribal and rural welfare, transmission of traditional and cultural awareness, Youth Development and curbing of social ills like violence and crime. It creates a society with active volunteers serving skilfully and selflessly and spreading the message of socio-spiritual harmony.

  The organisation opens up new horizons of a meaningful better life, creating a climate of peace and purity, harmony and understanding through cultural, moral and spiritual values, that inspire to serve God and humanity.

  These endeavours are a saga of sacrifice, of selfless service and boundless dedication, of continuous combined efforts of countless people; of people who have risen above the narrow confines of caste, creed, colour, sex and nationality and who live a life free from crime, aggression and addictions.

  The organisation is the inspiration of His Holiness Pramukh Swami Maharaj, the fifth spiritual successor of Lord Swaminarayan and the present Spiritual Leader of BAPS.

  His compassion for humanity, deep concern for its problems and conscious efforts to alleviate them, cure conflicts and promote peace in this world have touched many world religious and national leaders. However, most important is his quiet, undisturbed love for God, which rises beyond all borders of nation, religion and race. This makes him universally revered and respected.

  He has been honoured by the House of Commons and the Canadian Parliament and has been given the Freedom of the City by no less than 40 cities in the United States of America. Additionally, he was named by the Guinness World Records 2001 as one of 20 most influential people in the world.

  Various international leaders including HRH The Prince of Wales, Rt Hon John Major (then Prime Minister), Rt Hon Tony Blair (then Leader of HM Opposition) and Sir Richard Branson have visited the Neasden Temple, and confirm the peaceful nature of the Mission.

  We would like to thank you for giving us this opportunity to hopefully redress the utterly false and baseless allegations by Mr Singh.

Mr Jitu Patel

Trustee

The Swaminarayan Hindu Mission

6 December 2004

  I attach quotations[1] from leading British and international personalities to show the esteem in which BAPS (also known as The Swaminarayan Hindu Mission in the UK), His Holiness Pramukh Swami Maharaj—the Spiritual Leader of BAPS and the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, Neasden, London are held.

OPINIONS OF DIGNITARIES

  "Swamiji is doing great work and may he be supremely successful in achieving his goal of curing conflicts and creating peace in this world."

  The Duke of Edinburgh at Buckingham Palace

"BAPS volunteers are the real heroes . . . In his heart, Pramukh Swami has no distinction!"

  Former President of the USA, Bill Clinton

He met survivors of the earthquake who had been provided relief aid by the BAPS. He heard the story of a Muslim, Sidikbhai of Soyla village, who said that despite the fact that there is not a single Hindu in their two villages, Pramukh Swami Maharaj had provided aid and relief materials for the last two months.

  "Akshardham, built with such faith and devotion by members of the Swaminarayan sect, is one of the great spiritual jewels of our country. Under your enlightened guidance, it stands for the finest values in the Hindu tradition—love and compassion, peace and righteousness, and devotion to the Almighty."

  President of the Congress Party, Sonia Gandhi

"I cannot tell you how marvellous it is to visit a community in this country which is so clearly inspired by the values of Hinduism, the children of which are also brought up and educated within the framework of such values. It was a most heart-warming experience, and I came away with my spirit re-invigorated!"

  HRH The Prince of Wales

"I was touched by the peacefulness and tranquillity that surrounds one when passing through the doors of the temple, and it is astounding that such beauty was constructed in only three years.

  Diana, Princess of Wales

"I've learned much in the last two hours touring around this magnificent building. I've learned of the inspiration that one man (Pramukh Swami Maharaj) can place in the minds and hearts of many others, that they will work without pay simply for love to build a magnificent temple to dedicate to the religion that they care about . . . Your religion is based upon tolerance and love."

  Rt Hon John Major MP

Prime Minister of the UK

"I have never seen such a magnificent work of modern architecture as this. It is a magnificent mandir built thanks to the love and devotion of countless people. It is a place of beauty, a source of inspiration to worship and to reflect. It is a veritable pavilion of peace and of promise."

  Rt Hon Tony Blair MP

Leader of HM Opposition

  "Your followers have made a great contribution to Hindu thoughts and philosophies, and to promoting a better understanding between religions and cultures not only worldwide but also here inside the UK."

  Rt Hon Michael Howard MP

Home Secretary

"I thoroughly enjoyed a chance to look around at your beautiful Mandir/Haveli and remain in awe of the dedication involved in building such a monument to the Hindu faith."

  Rt Hon Paddy Ashdown MP

Leader of the Liberal Democrat Party

"Apart from being a truly remarkable piece of architecture, it is also spiritually uplifting in its serenity and in the messages which it conveys—of morality, tolerance, sacrifice and service to humanity."

  H E Chief Emeka Anyaoku

Commonwealth Secretary-General

"The temple is a monument to the love of man for God and his fellowmen. It is an inspiration to all who are blessed to visit this sacred spot."

  Basdeo Panday

Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago

"A truly beautiful and inspirational place . . . This is the most remarkable place I have ever seen. I shall never forget this day in my life."

  Jimmy Carter

Former President of the USA

"I have seen many temples, but none as beautiful as this. Such a temple cannot be built by man, such work is possible only by one possessed by God."

  R Venkataraman Former President of India

"May I say, how much I have been impressed by the exquisite workmanship and the care and love that has gone into the building of this Temple."

  Dr George Carey

Archbishop of Canterbury

"Thank you. The most beautiful temple; both in terms of concept and implementation. It is very clear to any visitor that it is a true labour of love and a triumph for the spirit."

  General Sir Michael Walker

Chief of the Defence Staff

"This magnificent Temple is one of the wonders of the world; the impact of the Hindu religion has only begun to be felt in Britain. I am very pleased and proud that this wonderful building has been built in Brent. It will become a centre for Hindus throughout the world to visit and be part of the uniquely diverse culture of Brent. This event has demonstrated a message of hope and peace for the whole world."

  Sir Richard Branson

Chairman, Virgin Group of Companies

In support of our rejection of the baseless allegations made against the Neasden Temple, I draw your attention to letters from the Leaders of Local Councils and our Local Metropolitan Police Superintendent.

Letter from Councillor Ann M John, Leader of Brent Council

Re: Swaminarayan Mandir, Neasden (Neasden Hindu Temple)

  I am writing to add my voice to the chorus of protest against the evidence given by Mr Jagdeesh Singh at the Home Affairs Committee on 16 November 2004.

  I am proud to have the temple in this borough and indeed in the ward I represent, The temple makes a major contribution to community life and the trustees and devotees are respected by people of all faiths and none.

  I have worked closely with the temple trustees and others involved with the temple ever since I was first elected for the St Raphael's (now Stonebridge) ward. More recently, as Leader of the Council I have worked with the temple trustees to resolve problems around parking, to facilitate the successful celebration of religious festivals and to promote good relations between those who use the temple and local residents.

  I know that the temple is an exclusively religious organisation that is not affiliated in any way shape or form to any political organisation, I have been privileged to visit the temple on countless occasions and I have always been struck by the profoundly spiritual atmosphere therein. Its very existence is a beautiful, living monument to the Hindu principles of peace and harmony. I know that the trustees and devotees, in common with most truly religious people are committed to peace, tolerance and love of humankind. It is inconceivable that they would advocate terrorism or allow their premises to be used by those who do. The accusation made in Mr Singh's "evidence" is deeply wounding to all associated with the temple and doubly so when one remembers that the Swaminarayan temple in India, which is closely linked to the Neasden temple, was itself subjected to an horrific terrorist attack a couple of years ago.

  The Hindu community in Brent is a peaceful, law abiding community that has made a major contribution to our borough in every field of human endeavour, To my certain knowledge Hindus in this country have had no involvement with terrorist organisations and it is a slur to suggest otherwise, moreover, it is a slur that if unchallenged, could have profoundly damaging implications for community relations.

3 December 2004

Letter from Councillor Navin Shah, Leader of Harrow Council

Response to Q-164 of evidence at Home Affairs Committee session on 16 November 2004 on "Terrorism and Community Relations" by Jagdeesh Singh

  As a regular visitor to Shri Swaminarayan Mandir (also known Neasden Hindu Temple or Neasden Temple) over the past nine years (since 1995), and representing Kenton East Ward, Harrow as a local Councillor, I have both a civic and personal knowledge of the Neasden Hindu Temple.

  I can state categorically that they are a peaceful, law-abiding community. I can also state that no organisation other than The Swaminarayan Hindu Mission and its associated bodies, have ever organised, operated from, been based at or conducted any action from Neasden. This includes the VHP and any such organisation.

  The references to the Swaminarayan Hindu Temple in Neasden are irresponsible, inflammatory and incorrect; such a baseless lie is very damaging to race relations. I have known Neasden Temple to promote spiritual values of peace and service to others. I consider the testimony given to the committee to be utterly false and without any foundation whatsoever.

  The appearance of the minutes as evidence, unchallenged on the Committee's website could, erroneously lend evidence to such a falsehood—which could definitely cause inter-community conflict.

  So I request, on behalf of the temple that you correct the factual inaccuracy. Hence kindly, for the sake of cordial community relations, ensure you have the testimony of The Swaminarayan Hindu community on behalf of Neasden Mandir so that the Committee can satisfy itself about the true, peaceful nature of the Swaminarayan Hindu community. It is a matter of urgency as it could spell disaster to community relations.

  I hope you will kindly do your best, at the earliest, to address the issue and concerns.

6 December 2004

Letter from Superintendent Steve Brown, Operational Commander, North Brent Borough

Home Affairs Committees—Terrorism and Community Relations ("The Committee") website commentary

  I am writing to the Home Affairs select committee as I have become extremely concerned about the possible impact of an entry which you've made on your website relating to the Neasden Temple.

  This entry makes a reference to a quote by Mr Jagdeesh Singh, which alleges that the terrorist organisation VHP is working from The Neasden Temple. This statement is incorrect and is distressing not only to the Hindus which attend the Neasden Temple but also to the larger communities within Brent. This Temple is one of the largest Hindu Temples in Northern Europe and serves a huge Hindu community within London and South East England.

  I fully appreciate that Mr Singh's comments are part of a transcript of evidence given to the committee on 16 November 2004. However, I feel that such comments could provoke religious or political tensions within the wider population and could discredit the excellent work, which the leaders of this mission are currently doing within the community.

  The Metropolitan Police Service has had a long association with this Temple and its leaders and I personally feel that Mr Singh's statement is without justification and is abhorrent, Police are currently visiting the Temple on a regular basis in order to reassure the Hindu community and to ensure that groups apposed to the Hindu religion do not over react as a result of these derogative statements.

  I would urge you and your committee to disassociate yourselves from this statement at your earliest opportunity as it may be perceived by website visitors that there is either credence to this allegation or Home Office backing for Mr Singh's assertions.

3 December 2004

  I also feel that the following example of BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha's social, educational, spiritual and other activities in the United Kingdom and across the world and the comments on them from others working in these areas, are relevant to issues covered by the Committee's inquiry, in that they demonstrate the practical inter-faith activity and the way in which these can contribute to community cohesion.

  Credentials of BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha (also known as The Swaminarayan Hindu Mission in the UK)

  European Headquarters: BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, 105-119 Brentfield Road, Neasden, London NW10 8LD

  www.swaminarayan.org

  www.akshardham.com

  www.mandir.org

  Tel: 020 8965 2651

  Fax: 020 8965 6313

  Email: admin@mandir.org

  Jitu Patel (Trustee): 07836 347 222


CONTENTS

  1.  BAPS—An Introduction

  2.  BAPS Activities

  3.  BAPS Achievements

  4.  BAPS Children's Activities

  5.  Children's Awards

  6.  World Harmony

  7.  A Hall of Harmony

Transcript of Handwritten Letter from Bill Clinton

Pramukh Swami Maharaj's Appeal & Prayer for Peace

For the Tragedy at Godhara

Pramukh Swami Maharaj's Prayer for Peace

After the Attack on 11 September 2001

  8.  BAPS Gujarat Earthquake Rehabilitation Work

  9.  Terrorist Attack on BAPS Akshardham

Gandhinagar, Gujarat, India

  10.  Extract from the Akshardham Visitors Book

  11.  BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, Neasden, London

  12.  Extract from the Mandir Visitors Book

  13.  Pramukh Swami Maharaj

Leader of BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha

  14.  Recognition from Across the Globe.

1.  BAPS—AN INTRODUCTION

  Many ask, "How can you mix spirituality and social service?

  We ask, "How can you separate the two?

  Those who wish to sincerely serve society must be spiritually pure and only those who are spiritually pure can sincerely serve society!

  The Bochasanwasi Shri Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha (BAPS), a socio-spiritual organization with its roots in the Vedas, was revealed by Bhagwan Swaminarayan in the late 18th century and established in 1907 CE by Swami Yagnapurushdas. Founded on the pillars of practical spirituality, it reaches out far and wide to clear the confusions and questions in our moral, social and material world of today.

  BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha (also known as The Swaminarayan Hindu Mission in the UK) is a socio-spiritual, charitable organisation with an international network of over 8,100 centres, 700 learned Sadhus, a million members and 55,000 volunteers performing 162 humanitarian activities. As an NGO in Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations, BAPS provides its voluntary services in areas as diverse as educational, environmental, medical, social, cultural and spiritual.

  Its strength lies in the purity of its nature and purpose. The Sanstha strives to better the world by consolidating character in societies, families and individuals. This is done not just by mottos and slogans but by mass motivation and individual attention, through elevating projects for all, irrespective of class, creed, colour and country. The Sanstha's universal work has received many national welfare awards. The hallmark of the Swaminarayan devotee is that he or she devoutly begins the day with puja and meditation, works or studies honestly and donates regular hours in serving others. He/she observes the five principal vows: No Stealing, No Adultery, No Alcohol, No Meat, No Impurity of body and mind. Such moral purity and spiritual surety add a deeper brilliance to all the hundreds of social services performed for a better life.

Aims and Objectives

  The socio-spiritual activities of the BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha aim to inspire a better and happier individual, family and society.

  Through its 170 spiritual and humanitarian activities it endeavours to:

  INSPIRE

  one and all towards a better way of life through the humanitarian values of service, purity, discipline, love, tolerance, harmony.

  ENERGIZE

  its on-going efforts against dowry, smoking, drugs, alcohol and other destructive addictions.

  PROMOTE

  harmony and peaceful coexistence among all communities through understanding and co-operation.

  DEVELOP

  constructive and creative youth and children's activities to channelise their energy, promoting education and social services.

  SUSTAIN

  the roots of Indian Culture and all the good that it stands for.

2.  BAPS ACTIVITIES

  BAPS, Non-Governmental Organisation in Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations, is an international socio-spiritual organisation that serves society with devotion, dedication and a spirit of volunteerism.

8,100 international centres

    —  2,710 youth centres

    —  1,320 women centres

    —  4,070 children centres

1,000,000 followers worldwide

    —  45,000 youth volunteers

    —  10,000 women volunteers

    —  12 million annual volunteer hours in service

27 moral and cultural activities

    —  421,000 annual assemblies

    —  nine international festivals visited by 33.5 million visitors

    —  383,000 students have taken cultural examination

21 medical activities

    —  10 hospitals and healthcare centres

    —  483,600 patients treated annually

    —  59 medico-spiritual conferences attended by 14,750 doctors

23 educational activities

    —  29 permanent educational institutes serve 8,000 students

    —  Over 5,000 scholarships awarded annually

    —  800 education seminars held annually

23 environmental activities

    —  1,500,000 trees planted in over 2,170 villages

    —  5,475 wells recharged in 338 villages

    —  497 rain harvesting projects

38 social activities

    —  29 disaster relief operations successfully managed

    —  25,000 family assemblies begun

    —  600,000 people have quit addictions

15 tribal activities

    —  30 permanent centres for tribal uplift

    —  1,800 tribal families have quit addictions and superstitions

    —  209 remote tribal villages socially and morally transformed

15 spiritual activities

    —  Over 500 BAPS mandirs worldwide

    —  150,000 pilgrims visit BAPS mandirs daily

    —  700 sadhus.

3.  BAPS ACHIEVEMENTS

Affiliation to the UN

  Member in Consultative Status (Cat II) to the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations (EcoSoc, UN).

Guinness World Records 2000

  Recognizes the Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in London as the largest stone Hindu Temple outside India and labels this achievement of Pramukh Swami Maharaj, its inspirer, in its Architects & Master Builders page. Also Pramukh Swami Maharaj is recognized as having consecrated the most mandirs—355 in 11 countries between 1971 and 2000.

Guinness Book Recognises Annakut Festival, London

  On 27 October, 2000, the Guinness World Record book presented a certificate for the world record 1,247 vegetarian dishes during an Annakut Festival at the Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, London.

Stone Federation National Stone Awards, London, 1995

  The biennial stone Federation National Stone Awards, organized by the Stone Federation, Great Britain, presents awards for stone architecture in the following categories: New Build/Interior, Restoration, Craftsmanship, Landscaping, Interior.

  On 21 February 1996, the trustees of the Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, London, were presented a special award for the mandir's architecture, craftsmanship and beauty.

Building Award

  Most Enterprising Building Award, 1996—awarded by the Royal Fine Art Commission & British Sky Broadcasting for the Swaminarayan Mandir in London.

Environmental Award

  Brent Green Leaf Award for 1995, England, was presented by AL-Can to the BAPS for collecting over seven million cans in less than three years.

4.  BAPS CHILDREN'S ACTIVITIES

  Some of the children's dynamic contributions towards more vibrant and happier society are:

De-addiction Campaign

  10,000 children contacted 800,000 people and 312,000 people vowed to give up drugs and violent behaviour.

Environmental Care, UK

  A record-breaking seven million aluminium cans collected for recycling by children of BAPS in the UK.

Prayers for Patients

  5,000 children offered personal prayers and solace to 20,000 patients by visiting 500 hospitals in India.

Visiting Residential Care Homes, UK

  100 children and volunteers visited 18 Residential Care Homes in London to entertain 900 elderly people, who were touched by the love and respect these children had for them.

Cultural Programmes

  30,000 children in 1,000 cities, towns and villages in India inspired 15 million people towards cultural and moral dignity.

Parental Awareness Programme, UK

  1,300 parents were awakened to the need to invest in time for children, to give love and to instil character and spiritual values in children.

20,000 Children took an oath before the President of India, HE Abdul Kalam

  To excel in education, to teach 10 persons to read and write, wean five persons away from addictions and violence, grow 10 saplings, endeavour to remove pain of the suffering.

5.  CHILDREN'S AWARDS

  As a result of Children's Activities mammoth contribution to society and the world at large, BAPS Children's Forum have received many great awards and honours. To name a few, they are as follows:

  1992  National Award for Child Welfare from the President of India, H E S D Sharma

  1995  Alcan Recycling Award, UK (seven million aluminium cans collected)

  2000  Certificate of Appreciation for Anti-Addiction Campaign from The Governor of Gujarat State, India

  2002  UNICEF RECOGNITION, USA


6.  WORLD HARMONY

  In both the East and the West, BAPS and its activities have been a source of attraction and inspiration for countless people. Even world leaders both political and religious have been drawn to this ray of hope.

Pictures not printed of His Holiness Pramukh Swami Maharaj showing:

  1.  Dialogue for Religious harmony with Pope John Paul II at The Vatican.

  2.  Meeting with the Dalai Lama.

  3.  Interfaith Dialogue with the Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Ramsey.

  4.  Interfaith Understanding with the Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Runcie.

  5.  With Sheikh Isa Bin Al Khalifa, Bahrain.

  6.  Chief Rabbi Lau of the Ashkinazi Sect, Chief Rabbi Bakshi Doron of the Safrazi Sect in Jerusalem, Israel.

  7.  Addressing spiritual leaders at the Inaugural Session of the "Millennium Peace Summit" UN, New York.

  "Let us teach our followers that religion does not grow by quantity of numbers—but by quality of spirituality. Vertical depth is much more important than horizontal spread. If the follower of every religion becomes a better and true follower then our world will be a much better world. Therefore, we should steer our followers away from fanaticism and focus on faith and pure living.

  Let us guide ourselves and our followers not just to tolerate but to respect other religions, not just to exist but to co-exist. We must not progress at the cost of others, but sacrifice a part of ourselves for the good of others. Because in the good of others lies our own, in the progress of others rests our own and in the joy of others abides our own."

  Pramukh Swami Maharaj address at the Millennium World Peace Summit (29 August 2000).

7.  HALL OF HARMONY

  Akshardham in Gandhinagar contains a unique Hall of Harmony, where there is a sweet coexistence of World Religions.

  Here you are informed about the symbol, scripture, pilgrim places, moral codes and prayer of Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

  All religions stand side by side and go hand in hand.

  They are but one family.

  Born on the same earth, growing under the same skies, they share the same threads of purity and morality.

  Like windows in an endless tapestry of man's eternal search, they give visions of Truth and Reality.

  And the real truth of all religion is Harmony.

  Our prayers may differ in words and ways

  but they convey the same feelings!

  Our pilgrim places may differ in place and form

  but they carry the same sanctity!

  Our morals may differ in phrase and style

  but they preach the same message!

  Our religions may differ in symbols and names, but they reveal the same meaning—universal harmony.

  "Members of the Swaminarayan community are upright and law abiding and make a most valuable contribution to our society . . . We have valued enormously the support which the Swaminarayan Hindu Mission has given to promoting inter faith relations in this country as a member of the Network from its formation".

  Brian Pearce, Director, The Inter Faith Network.

  "Its interfaith activities and commitments are well-known."

  Brother Daniel Faivre, Co-ordinator, Westminster Interfaith.

  "The Swaminarayan Hindu Mission consciously endeavours to forge links with different faiths and cultures. It has also won plaudits for its humanitarian efforts . . . followers are morally upright citizens with large measure of integrity."

  Michael Whine, The Board of Deputies of British Jews.

  "The Swaminarayan Hindu Mission is an impressive organisation with a proven track record of achievement through its now legendry Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, which is the most distinctive part of the London landscape, attracting visitors from all over the world. It will contribute to the development of a just, more tolerant and fairer society for everyone."

  Sir Herman Ousley, Chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality.

Transcript of Handwritten letter

  WILLIAM JEFFERSON CLINTON

  Your Holiness,

  I wanted to write to reiterate my best wishes on the New Year, and to say my heart is filled with sadness over all the religious strife in Gujarat. I know how it must sadden you after all the good work you did for both Hindus and Muslims after the earthquake.

  But we must press on. I will be in India in early March and hope to see you again.

Sincerely,

Bill Clinton

1 January 2003

Pramukh Swami Maharaj's Appeal & Prayer for Peace For the Tragedy at Godhara

  The tragedy at Godhara and the on-going violence has led to the death of many lives, which is painfully shocking. We have prayed to God to bless the departed souls with peace and to provide inner strength to the bereaved families and society to overcome this crisis.

  The violence which has continued should stop. May peace prevail everywhere and daily life be restored as before; Such is our sincere request and appeal to one and all. For this we continually and wholeheartedly pray to the all compassionate God.

Shastri Narayanswarupdas

 (His Divine Holiness Pramukh Swami Maharaj)

Pramukh Swami Maharaj's Prayer for Peace After the Attack on 11 September 2001

  The recent terrorist attacks in New York and other parts of America have caused unimaginable death, destruction and depression—inflicting intense pain and panic. It is a matter of great shock and sorrow to see such acts of unspeakable horror that result in unbearable loss of innocent people and property

  The terrible tragedy is not just confined to America but an open attack on humanity as a whole. In this hour of need, grief and deep shock, our prayers, support and solidarity are with the people of the United States. We offer our deepest sympathies and prayers. May Lord Swaminarayan bless the victims whose souls have departed and give physical, emotional and spiritual strength to the survivors to overcome and recover from this catastrophe.

  Let us all join hands and hearts to help the victims and survivors, and comfort the families which have lost their loved ones. America is the land of freedom and opportunity, and in this time of need we all join together in prayers and peace.

  With innermost prayers,

Shastri Narayanswarupdas

 (His Divine Holiness Pramukh Swami Maharaj)

8.  BAPS GUJARAT EARTHQUAKE REHABILITATION WORK

  On 26 January 2001, the earthquake that shattered Kachchh solidified the world. Overnight, the whole world stood at their doorsteps. Humanity united and gelled into a single powerful force of love, care and commitment. Volunteers from all ends of the earth came together, with hands full of help, hearts full of hope. The spirit of volunteerism, as demonstrated by BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha, has served the victims from day one till today, at the inspiration of Pramukh Swami Maharaj. Kachchh, which became instantly famous as the epicentre has grown more important as the epicentre of human resource, resilience and resurgence.

Summary

    —  1.8 million hot meals served to over 40,000 people daily for 45 days at 11 BAPS Relief Camps.

    —  6,500 volunteers supported a team of 60 sadhus and 450 volunteers on site.

    —  409 remote villages were reached with tons of relief supplies and medicines.

    —  Tin-tent cities for 3,300 victims in Bhuj and Khavda provided housing for 655 families.

    —  1,000 families helped through the BAPS Economic Rehabilitation Program. A total of 250 temporary shops and 40 permanent shops given to provide livelihood to thousands.

    —  1,529 earthquake resistant homes built in nine villages and colonies.

    —  321 classrooms in 43 schools have been built to accommodate thousands of students in the districts of Bhuj, Rajkot and Surdenranagar.

    —  35 architects and engineers supervised over 1,100 workers to complete the reconstruction work.

    —  45,000 patients served through four mobile medical vans.

  "I commend The Swaminarayan Hindu Mission for its truly remarkable role in working closely with other international aid organisations such as the Red Cross, DFID . . . for providing an extraordinary example of aid and practical assistance without any administrative cost which is the truly remarkable part."

  HRH The Prince of Wales when he launched the BAPS Sponsor-A-Home Scheme at BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, Neasden, London

  "BAPS volunteers are the real heroes . . . In his heart, Pramukh Swami has no distinction!"

  Former President of the USA, Bill Clinton. He met survivors of the earthquake who had been provided relief aid by the BAPS. He heard the story of a Muslim, Sidikbhai of Soyla village, who said that despite the fact that there is not a single Hindu in their two villages, Pramukh Swami Maharaj had provided aid and relief materials for the last two months.

  Dr Rudi Vis, MP said: "I want to focus on the earthquake in Gujarat . . . I also wrote to Ministers about the enormous work undertaken in India by the BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha who have provided food, medicine, clothing and many other necessities for the survivors of the earthquake. The distribution of relief material was the initial focus of BAPS; help was given by 6,500 volunteers, including doctors and many professionals. To give but one example, well over 1.5 million pouches of water have already been provided by BAPS. All the volunteers offer honorary services and the organization has zero administration costs—remarkable in itself—so every pound donated goes directly and in full to the relief of the sufferers. At present; rehabilitation of the homeless is the focus for BAPS; there is an imaginative low-cost; sponsor-a-home scheme."

  "I wish the Sponsor a Home Scheme every success and will be urging members of the Jewish community to support it."

  Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, UK

  "Tremendous work. This is the largest and most organised relief camp I've visited here in Bhuj. Congratulations."

  Maria Calivis, Project Officer, UNICEF

  "This camp is special because it not only provides excellent physical aid, but also the loving care and attention so necessary to heal emotional scars of such a traumatic tragedy."

  Dr Mahesh Arora, International Co-ordinator, Red Cross

  "Our team have been to disasters all over the world but we've never seen a camp working so efficiently at zero administration cost. It's quite unique! The dedication and sacrifice of the volunteers is also inspiring. This will surely regenerate confidence in the people much faster."

  Victor Antoine, Reuters, Singapore


9.  TERRORIST ATTACK ON BAPS AKSHARDHAM, GANDHINAGAR, GUJARAT, INDIA

Akshardham—An Introduction

  A 23-acre cultural complex that stirs your soul with sights, sounds and silence. Attracting more than two million visitors annually since its inauguration on 30 October 1992. Akshardham combines an intricately carved 6,000 ton traditional monument of pink sandstone, exhibition halls, 15 acres of beautiful gardens and a research centre. Created by volunteers and built as a monument to Bhagwan Swaminarayan, Akshadham is the most powerful experience of Indian culture generated through the best of modern technology and traditional values. Akshardham is dedicated to world peace and harmony, it gives pilgrims the universal message of hope and peace.

Terrorist Attack on BAPS Akshardham Monument

  The world watched in shock as the harrowing and tragic events unfolded at Akshardham. On the ill-fated day of 24 September 2002, this holy place of pilgrimage was attacked by terrorists. Two terrorist armed with automatic weapons and grenades murdered 33 innocent victims and injured 70. The dead included a BAPS monk—a British Citizen, four BAPS volunteers, three children and six women. Akshardham was another international tragedy where the terrorists have taken lives of innocent men, women, and children in a senseless act of violence. Their act of cowardice is even more acutely felt since it was perpetrated in the midst of the very place that serves as an inspiring source of peace, harmony and tolerance.

Akshardham Response

  Pramukh Swami Maharaj, Leader of BAPS—Appeal for Peace

  24 September 2002, Sarangpur, Gujarat

  "The merciless terrorist attack on innocent pilgrims at Akshardham—a spiritual and cultural complex—in Gandhinagar, Gujarat, is a matter of great shock and anguish for the entire world. The death of innocent people is painful and heartrending.

  I offer my condolences and prayers to Bhagwan Swaminarayan for peace for the innocent souls who have departed and for their near and dear ones to be able to bear this terrible calamity. For those who have been injured, I offer my sympathies and prayers for their quick recovery.

  I appeal to all the people of Gujarat and India to maintain peace and unity in the wake of this national tragedy."

  Due to this appeal the whole of India remained at peace.

  This has come to be known as the "Akshardham Response" to terrorist attacks.

10.  EXTRACTS FROM THE AKSHARDHAM VISITORS BOOK

  "It is my hope that this beautiful complex built in the rich tradition of this country will help to preserve both the ancient heritage as well as the religious endeavour."

  His Holiness Dalai Lama.

  "I know that Akshardham is not only a unique place in India but in the whole world. It is even more beautiful than what I had imagined. Taj Mahal is definitely beautiful, but this place, along with beauty, has a beautiful message!"

  Former President of the USA, Bill Clinton.

  "O Lord! Please guide my generation!"

  President of Poland H E Lech Walesa.

  "Akshardham, built with such faith and devotion by members of the Swaminarayan sect, is one of the great spiritual jewels of our country. Under your enlightened guidance, it stands for the finest values in the Hindu tradition—love and compassion, peace and righteousness, and devotion to the Almighty."

  President of the Congress Party, Sonia Gandhi.

  "A pleasant surprise! The effort of filling the whole ocean into a pot is truly commendable. The concept is attractive! The noblest experience of leaving a long-lasting impact through the combination of light and sound. A project worthy of emulation, which transmits the eternal message of religion right down to the common man. Congratulations!"

  Prime Minister of India, Hon Atal Behari Vajpayee.

  "This is a truly remarkable demonstration of how to fuse the past; the present and the future. Truly a miracle! God bless you all."

  Prime Minister of Trinidad & Tobago, Hon Vasudev Pandey.

  "This Movement has done so well and so much for India. You are retaining unity, moral behavior and respecting all religious beliefs. I have been very impressed to see Akshardham and the service your people are rendering."

  Vice President of Uganda, H E Samson Kisseka.

  "Akshardham is a place of virtue, devotion and knowledge. Going through the place makes me feel inspired—the glory of India's past and the efforts of present sages and the hope of a better world to follow, swells the heart with joy and confidence. In building Akshardham, Swamiji has made India's spiritual life alive. May Swamiji's message of love, harmony and devotion spread and make this world a better place.

  Indian Ambassador to the USA, H E Abid Hussain.

11.  BAPS SHRI SWAMINARAYAN MANDIR, NEASDEN, LONDON

  Standing like a shimmering jewel on the architectural landscape of Britain, Shri Swaminarayan Mandir owes its beauty and attraction to its inspirer, His Holiness Pramukh Swami Maharaj. It is a divine miracle that embodies an eloquent alliance of volunteerism and craftsmanship. Twenty seven months of unflagging effort had produced a majesty in the realm of architecture. The tale of its epic creation is breathtaking and monumental! The creation of the Shri Swaminarayan Mandir was History in the Making.

  Shri Swaminarayan Mandir is the first traditional Hindu Mandir in Europe, built of 5,000 tonnes of Limestone and Italian Carrara marble which had been shipped to India and carved by over 1,500 craftsmen. The entire Mandir an assembly of 26,300 carved stone pieces created a media euphoria in England. Out of its stunning architectural and sculptural beauty, the Mandir has been praised as "Neasden's Taj Mahal", a veritable "Gateway to Heaven", "Neasden's Eighth Wonder of the World" and the "Crown Jewel of Hinduism".

  Besides this, the Mandir is unanimously regarded as an exciting and noble addition to the landscape of London and one of the most spectacular sights in the world. In the realm of modern architecture it has been lauded as magnificent and genuinely exceptional.

  Since its opening in August 1995, the Mandir has attracted over 4.5 million visitors and 4,750 school visits. They come to experience living Hinduism and the peace and tranquillity that the sacred Mandir and deities provide. Together with the Mandir, the Understanding Hinduism exhibition treats visitors to a concise yet comprehensive study of the Hindu religion. It is an ideal place to learn about the glorious culture of India and the values of Hindu Dharma.

  The Mandir perennially throbs with a variety of character building philanthropic and inspiring activities. In times of natural calamities the Mandir volunteers arduously campaign for funds and support. Free medical screening camps help thousands every year. Leadership training camps, education and careers guidance, language and music classes, fitness training and aerobics, traditional dance and theatrics and sports shape the lives of our children and youth for the future.

  Festivals are celebrated on a grand scale at the Mandir. Swaminarayan Jayanti, Ramnavmi, Janmashtami, Shivratri, Holi and Ganesh Chaturti are all celebrated in a traditional manner. Diwali and Annakut are the grandest festivals of all, attended by more than 50,000 people on a single day. The successful and sensitive management of these celebrations is an object lesson for all and underlines how well integrated the cohesive community is both internally and with the host community.

  The Mandir has also achieved international recognition with two entries into the Guinness World Records; the first is for the largest Hindu stone Mandir in the west and the second for the largest Annakut displayed with 1,247 vegetarian items offered to the deities.

Socio-Spiritual Activities

  The weekly spiritual assemblies, cultural programmes and festival celebrations reinforce character and faith in the youth, thus channelising their energy and enthusiasm towards constructive purposes. Yoga and meditation classes provide spiritual nurturing.

  The Mandir is a nucleus of socio-spiritual activities for the benefit and elevation of individuals and society. It inspires a society free from violence, crime and addiction. It charges people with a spirit of selfless service, to live in tune with God and in harmony with humanity.

  The Mandir's multi-faceted humanitarian projects for the welfare and succour of society have earned it respect and universal appeal.

First Hindu School In Europe

  The Swaminarayan Independent Day School provides a sound academic and value-based education to over 480 students.

  It prepares the young to pursue learning and go forth to serve the society, community, nation and humanity at large. It provides character-building education leading to morally upright and spiritually enlightened youth.

26 Major Activities

    —  Weekly Assemblies

    —  Festivals

    —  Camps and Conventions

    —  Volunteer Training Seminars

    —  Education and Careers Guidance

    —  Employment Network

    —  Vegetarian Catering

    —  Cultural Programmes

    —  Language Classes

    —  Music Classes

    —  Traditional Dance Training

    —  Family Conventions

    —  Parents Seminars

    —  Bandhutva Pravas

    —  Environmental Protection

    —  Interfaith Dialogue and Conferences

    —  Health Screening Fairs

    —  Blood Donation Camps

    —  Cultural TV and Radio Programmes

    —  Yoga Classes

    —  Karate Classes

    —  Sports Competitions

    —  Fitness Training

    —  Sponsored Walking

    —  Audio and Video Publications

    —  Newsletters

12.  EXTRACTS FROM THE MANDIR VISITORS BOOK

  "I cannot tell you how marvellous it is to visit a community in this country which is so clearly inspired by the values of Hinduism, the children of which are also brought up and educated within the framework of such values. It was a most heart-warming experience, and I came away with my spirit re-invigorated!"

  HRH The Prince of Wales

  "I was touched by the peacefulness and tranquillity that surrounds one when passing through the doors of the temple, and it is astounding that such beauty was constructed in only three years.

  Diana, Princess of Wales

  "I've learned much in the last two hours touring around this magnificent building. I've learned of the inspiration that one man (Pramukh Swami Maharaj) can place in the minds and hearts of many others, that they will work without pay simply for love to build a magnificent temple to dedicate to the religion that they care about . . . Your religion is based upon tolerance and love."

  Rt Hon John Major MP, Prime Minister of the UK

  "I have never seen such a magnificent work of modern architecture as this. It is a magnificent mandir built thanks to the love and devotion of countless people. It is a place of beauty, a source of inspiration to worship and to reflect. It is a veritable pavilion of peace and of promise."

  Rt Hon Tony Blair MP, Leader of HM Opposition

  "Your followers have made a great contribution to Hindu thoughts and philosophies, and to promoting a better understanding between religions and cultures not only worldwide but also here inside the UK."

  Rt Hon Michael Howard MP, Home Secretary

  "I thoroughly enjoyed a chance to look around at your beautiful Mandir/Haveli and remain in awe of the dedication involved in building such a monument to the Hindu faith."

  Rt Hon Paddy Ashdown MP, Leader of the Liberal Democrats Party

  "Apart from being a truly remarkable piece of architecture, it is also spiritually uplifting in its serenity and in the messages which it conveys—of morality, tolerance, sacrifice and service to humanity."

  H E Chief Emeka Anyaoku, Commonwealth Secretary-General

  "The temple is a monument to the love of man for God and his fellowmen. It is an inspiration to all who are blessed to visit this sacred spot."

  Basdeo Panday, Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago

  "A truly beautiful and inspirational place . . . This is the most remarkable place I have ever seen. I shall never forget this day in my life."

  Jimmy Carter, Former President of the USA

  "I have seen many temples—but none as beautiful as this. Such a temple cannot be built by man, such work is possible only by one possessed by God."

  R Venkataraman, Former President of India

  "May I say, how much I have been impressed by the exquisite workmanship and the care and love that has gone into the building of this Temple."

  Dr George Carey, Archbishop of Canterbury

  "Thank you. The most beautiful temple; both in terms of concept and implementation. It is very clear to any visitor that it is a true labour of love and a triumph for the spirit."

  General Sir Michael Walker, Chief of the Defence Staff

  "This magnificent Temple is one of the wonders of the world; the impact of the Hindu religion has only begun to be felt in Britain. I am very pleased and proud that this wonderful building has been built in Brent. It will become a centre for Hindus throughout the world to visit and be part of the uniquely diverse culture of Brent. This event has demonstrated a message of hope and peace for the whole world."

  Sir Richard Branson, Chairman, Virgin Group of Companies

13.  PRAMUKH SWAMI MAHARAJ, LEADER OF BAPS SWAMINARAYAN SANSTHA

  Pramukh Swami Maharaj is the fifth spiritual successor of Lord Swaminarayan and the present leader of Bochasanwasi Shri Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha (BAPS).

  Swamiji leads an austere life of celibacy, without personal wealth or comfort. In his presence, doubts dissolve, confusions clear, hurts heal and the mind finds peace. People find valid answers to life's toughest questions.

  Even at the age of 84, he continuously travels in society to attend to the smallest need of an individual. Having personally counselled over 810,000 people, read and replied to over 500,000 letters, Swamiji has also visited over 15,000 villages and 250,000 homes. His compassion for humanity, deep concern for its problems and conscious effort to alleviate them, have given rise to international moral, social, educational and spiritual projects. His striking compassion for humanity, universal wisdom and striking simplicity have touched many world religious and national leaders. However, most important is his quiet, undisturbed love for God which rises beyond all borders of nation, race and religion. This makes him universally respected, for he has a heart wherein the whole world can live.

  He lives by the credo:

  "In the joy of others, lies our own,

  In the progress of others, rests our own,

  In the good of others, abides our own."

  "There are many leaders religious groups and people in this world who believe that by pulling others down, you can bring yourself up. And by discounting others, isolating or segregating them . . . but (pointing to Swamishri) he is different! Swamiji connects. He connects with others and everyone around him. He works through connectivity. That is why he has been able to bring peace and harmony and so many people together. I saw in his eyes that he is a man who has not come ahead by eclipsing others. He has come forward by always placing others before him."

  President of the USA, Bill Clinton

  "The Swaminarayan Movement is a Faith that has been serving the nation. Many saints and sages have descended on this earth and enshrined the highest ideals of life. Who has preserved these values? It is saints like Pramukh Swami who have imbibed them. The Government needs such noble saints; however they do not need the Government

  President of India, H E Gyani Zail Singh

14.  RECOGNITION FROM ACROSS THE GLOBE

Pictures not printed of His Holiness Pramukh Swami Maharaj showing him with

  1.  Kofi Annan Secretary General of the UN at the UN HQ, New York

  2.  HRH The Prince of Wales at St James's Palace

  3.  The President of Portugal George Sampaiao

  4.  Former Prime Minister of India Manmohan Singh

  5.  President of Uganda Yuweri Museveni

  6.  Prime Minister of Israel Shimon Perez

  "Pramukh Swami Maharaj is regarded as one of the 20 most influential people in the world."

  Guinness Book of Records 2002

  "Swamiji is doing great work and may he be supremely successful in achieving his goal of curing conflicts and creating peace in this world."

  The Duke of Edinburgh at Buckingham Palace

  "I have been so honoured too, to spend some moments before coming to speak to you with Your Holiness. And I say from the bottom of my heart that even in those few moments I could see your inner spirit, your devotion, your humility and your Godliness . . .

  Rt Hon Tony Blair MP

  "Only you can produce one lakh (100,000) virtuous, cultured youths every year."

  President of India, Dr APJ Kalam

6 December 2004





1   Illustrations not printed on this or following pages. Back


 
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Prepared 6 April 2005