Pramukh Swami Maharaj died a month ago in India, but Sunday 700 Hindus gathered at a hotel in Melville to pay their respects to the spiritual leader of one of the largest sects of Hinduism around the world and the United States.
They hailed the guru, who was 94 and the longtime head of the BAPS sect, as a transformative leader who brought spiritual peace to millions of people around the planet, built schools and hospitals for the needy, and set a world record for the number of temples constructed under his leadership.
“He’s like my everything,” said Jagruti Patel, 30, a critical-care pharmacist from Huntington who flew to India for the guru’s funeral. “He’s been somebody who’s inspired me most of my life.”
Patel said she was on her way to Lake George with relatives on Aug. 13 for a vacation when they got news the guru had died. They immediately turned around to come back to Long Island and started looking on their smartphones for flights to India. The next morning she was airborne.
It took 30 hours in planes and airports, and then a four-hour car ride to reach the village of Sarangpur in Gujarat state for the funeral. Some 2 million people, including India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, traveled to the village to mourn the guru.
The two-hour “Timeless Tribute” service Sunday included prayers, speeches by BAPS monks and local politicians, and short films about the spiritual leader. BAPS stands for Bochasanwasi Shri Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha.
The Long Island service took place not far from a sprawling new temple BAPS is building in Melville that is set to open next month. It will be the first building constructed specifically as a Hindu temple on Long Island.
“He was essentially the most peaceful, the most caring, the most loving, the most merciful person I ever met in my life,” said one of the orange-robed monks, Sahajmuni Swami, who travels the Northeast U.S. ministering for BAPS.
Harshad Bhatt, an orthopedic surgeon from Manhasset, said his life was transformed from the moment he first met the guru in 1988 during a visit to the United States that included Long Island.
“Right from the beginning I felt a change in my life,” Bhatt said. “I felt calm in my life.” He added that the guru’s main message was to find joy and peace through helping others.
BAPS leaders said the guru traveled to 17,000 villages, towns and cities in 50 countries during his leadership, visited 250,000 homes and wrote more than 700,000 personal letters consoling people.
The guru was recognized in 2007 by Guinness World Records for the largest number of temples consecrated by a single individual — 713. The sect now has about 1,100 temples or centers around the world, including 150 in North America.
Michael Balboni, a former head of Homeland Security for New York State and a former Republican state senator from Nassau County, said the guru “was the most compelling religious figure that I have met in my time in public office. He brought a sense of calm, compassion and understanding in a glance.”