His Divine Holiness Acharya Swamishree completed the last leg of this three-week North America vicharan in New Jersey. It had been fifteen years since the Murti Pratishtha of Shree Swaminarayan Temple New Jersey, the first shikhar-bandh temple in North America, had been celebrated with the spectacular Suvarna Tula, the ceremonial weighing of Lord Shree Swaminarayan, Jeevanpran Shree Abji Bapashree, and Jeevanpran Shree Muktajeevan Swamibapa with 780 kilograms of pure gold. This year also marks twenty-five years for the Shree Muktajeevan Swamibapa Smruti Mandir, the temple personifying the spiritual love and guru-bhakti between Shree Muktajeevan Swamibapa, guru, and Acharya Swamishree, disciple. As such, celebrations at Shree Swaminarayan Temple New Jersey, and all throughout North America, were special this year. Everywhere Acharya Swamishree and sants toured, the temples would be decorated with Smruti Mandir Rajat Mahotsav logos and colors.
Acharya Swamishree and His sant mandal arrived on the afternoon of Wednesday, August 3, 2016. A special welcome ceremony and sabha were held in the evening after kirtan-bhakti and sandhya aarti niyams. A swagat yatra, during which Acharya Swamishree was seated upon a grand chariot, made its way from the far end of the temple's main parking lot, down Penhorn Avenue, and all the way around to the temple's main entrance. Shree Muktajeevan Swamibapa Pipe Band USA led the way, and disciples sang kirtans to express the joy that they felt in their hearts that day.
Acharya Swamishree then walked into the temple, which had been decorated by disciples to celebrate His arrival as well as the upcoming Rajat Mahotsav. Upon arriving in front of the sinhasan, Acharya Swamishree cut a welcome cake, and Shree Muktajeevan Swamibapa Pipe Band performed a salute. Acharya Swamishree and sants were then greeted and officially welcomed with flower garlands. Acharya Swamishree then showered His blessings upon the entire congregation, and the evening concluded with Acharya Swamishree tying raakhis for Rakshabandhan on disciples and then mahaprasad.
On the evening of Friday, August 5, 2016, a hindola utsav was held after sandhya aarti niyams. Sants and disciples sang kirtans and performed an utsav with cymbals and percussion whilst Acharya Swamishree lovingly swung Lord Swaminarayanbapa Swamibapa on a Smruti Mandir Rajat Mahotsav-themed hindolo intricately decorated with all sorts of U.S. coins.
Saturday marked the first day of the 15th Patotsav celebrations. In the afternoon, hundreds of disciples participated in the Shree Muktajeevan Swamibapa Smruti Mandir Rajat Mahotsav Maha-Yagna, which has been taking place at temples all cross the world. Everyone then assembled outside for a Smruti Mandir dance, during which over 100 disciples formed the outline of the Smruti Mandir and the Rajat Mahotsav logo and all performed a special choreographed dance. Disciples lovingly offered their reverence to Shree Muktajeevan Swamibapa and Acharya Swamishree. Acharya Swamishree bestowed His divine darshan from a grand throne, which was elevated nearly 25 feet in the air so that everyone could partake in darshan. After the end of the performance, the audience, sants and disciples, was so elated with joy that they danced to the beat of dhols for even longer. Acharya Swamishree also joined in to dance with His beloved children. After the conclusion of the dancing, everyone proceeded to the temple for sandhya aarti niyams and mahaprasad.
In the evening, a cultural program was held to display devotion towards Lord Swaminarayanbapa Swamibapa and Acharya Swamishree.Very young disciples sang a delightful rendition of "Kanthi Baandhi Chhe Swaminarayan Naam Ni." This was then followed by a religious skit, narrating the biographical episodes of Jeevanpran Shree Muktajeevan Swamibapa, from His childhood all the way to the physical embodiment of Shree Swaminarayan Gadi. The audience then watched a promo video explaining the significance of the Shree Muktajeevan Swamibapa Smruti Mandir and its Rajat Mahotsav, and encouraging disciples from North America to attend and reap the salvation-granting benefits from this once-in-a-lifetime event.
The rest of the evening was filled with bhakti sangeet. Disciples sang various kirtans whilst other fellow disciples accompanied them with musical instruments. Many disciples from North America will not be able to attend the Shree Muktajeevan Swamibapa Smruti Mandir Rajat Mahotsav due to school being in session, so these various devotional performances and all the Smruti Mandir-theme decorations all throughout North America were their way of partaking in the festivities. The devotional music evoked love for the Lord in the hearts of every disciple, and after an exciting evening, they were ready for the main event the next day.
Sunday was the 15th Patotsav of Shree Swaminarayan Temple New Jersey. Acharya Swamishree performed the patotsav poojan, as sants and disciples chanted the sacred mahamantra together. A grand annakut was then offered to Lord Swaminarayanbapa Swamibapa, and Acharya Swamishree cut a celebration cake in honor of the occasion. The flags of the temple were also changed and raised to mark the temple entering its sixteenth year.
Everyone then proceeded to the corner of Penhorn Avenue and Secaucus Road for the official inauguration of "Swamibapa Way." Penhorn Avenue was officially renamed "Swamibapa Way," and this was acknowledged by the City of Secaucus as well as Hudson County. Secaucus Mayor Michael Gonnelli and his wife Linda Gonnelli, Councilman Robert Constantino, and Huddson County Police Cheif Frank X. Schillari took part in the inauguration ceremony. Acharya Swamishree and honored guests released a dove to symbolize peace and the joy of this occasion. The name "Swamibapa Way" has a special meaning - if one wishes to walk along the path of eternal salvation (aatyantik moksh), then this is the way to follow. This is the road carved out for us by Lord Shree Swaminarayan, Jeevanpran Shree Abji Bapashree, Jeevanpran Shree Muktajeevan Swamibapa, and Acharya Swamishree.
All then went back inside the temple and into Swamibapa Hall. Patotsav sponsors then brought in chhaab items, which were then offered to Shree Harikrushna Maharaj and Acharya Swamishree. The honored guests were then all greeted by Acharya Swamishree with garlands and raakhdis (with Rakshabandhan upcoming). Secaucus Mayor Michael Gonnelli also spoke a few heartfelt words to the congregation. Acharya Swamishree then showered His divine blessings for this auspicious occasion, and young achieving disciples were then recognized for their educational and professional achievements before everyone had annakut prasad and mahaprasad.
Before everyone knew it, Acharya Swamishree's vicharan had come to an end. On Monday, August 8, the last sabha was held in the temple. Disciples who had performed exceptional seva were recognized, eminent sants spoke about the vicharan, and Acharya Swamishree showered His divine blessings for the last time in 2016 in North America. Acharya Swamishree and sants were then all ceremoniously garlanded. The congregation then proceeded to Swamibapa Hall to have the darshan of Acharya Swamishree and sants having thaal in an ornate setting. They all then had mahaprasad.
On Tuesday, August 10, Acharya Swamishree performed the last aarti in the temple and then departed around 7 PM for Newark International Airport. After bestowing His darshan inside the airport to disciples and the mandal of sants who will remain touring North America until September, Acharya Swamishree and His accompanying sant mandal proceeded to the security screening and waved goodbye to His disciples one last time.
There are not enough ways for the disciples of North America to thank Acharya Swamishree and sants for everything that they do for them and the tireless travel they go through to bestow darshan to them every year. We are all truly blessed to be disciples of Shree Swaminarayan Gadi and the Karan Satsang.