Aug 20, 2016

Pramukh Swami Maharaj, Whose Hindu Sect Became Largest in U.S., Dies at 94

NY Times
AUGUST 19, 2016

MUMBAI, India — Pramukh Swami Maharaj, the spiritual leader who engineered the global expansion of a socially conservative Hindu sect that grew to be the largest in the United States, died on Aug. 13 in Sarangpur, a village in the state of Gujarat in western India. He was 94.

The guru’s death was confirmed by Jayesh Mandanka, a spokesman for the sect, Bochasanwasi Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha, known as BAPS.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi flew to the village to deliver an emotional eulogy. Mr. Modi built his political career in Gujarat.

Under the guru’s leadership, the sect, which practices a relatively modern form of Vaishnava Hinduism, established more than a thousand temples worldwide. He made numerous trips to East Africa, to Britain, to Canada and later to the United States after American immigration laws were loosened in 1965, attracting a tide of educated Indians.

The BAPS philosophy helped moor those immigrants, especially those from Gujarat, to their homeland.

“Immigrants of all backgrounds experience nostalgia, homesickness, a desire for companionship,” Hanna Kim, an associate professor of anthropology at Adelphi University, said in a phone interview. “It’s absolutely reasonable to say that BAPS provides a very welcoming place for the newcomer.”

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