Hundreds of people filled the Shree Swaminarayan Temple on Sunday, Aug. 3, sitting cross-legged on the floor and waiting to hear the words of their leader, Acharya Shree Purushottampriyadasji Swamiji Maharaj.
The occasion was the 13th anniversary of the temple’s founding in Secaucus. Acharya (“teacher”) Swamishree was visiting from India, traveling to various temples in the United States and Canada. He has been to Secaucus on several occasions in the past.
Local officials participated in the event, including Mayor Michael Gonnelli, who presented the acharya with a basket of fresh vegetables grown in his personal garden.
The three-day celebration included cultural performances, an Indian feast, a blood drive, and an appearance by the Swamibapa Pipe Band.
“It’s always my pleasure to be here with you,” said Gonnelli. “The last 13 years you have created a safe haven for generations of American youth, a place where they can connect to their motherland away from home. And as mayor of Secaucus I can tell you there’s nothing that happened better for the town of Secaucus. We appreciate everything you do for the community, so on behalf of myself and the entire council, bapa, thank you for all you do.”
The temple was opened in 2001 and serves as the U.S. headquarters of the religion. Established in Gujarat in western India, Swaminarayan Hinduism was founded in the 18th century by Swaminarayan, who is considered a supreme being.
Congregants believe Swaminarayan speaks through the current acharya, who was appointed to his position in 1979.
Speaking in Gujarati (translated by temple spokesman Hersh Patel), Acharya Swamishree said, “Whatever talent or skill that we possess is a gift from God therefore it should be used for God and the community in a positive manner.”
Although material success is attainable, he said, “You will not leave this Earth with that money. You will leave the Earth with the selfless service and devotion you perform. That is the meaning of true success.”
The acharya’s appearance capped three days of celebration at the temple. “It started Friday afternoon and then it continued Saturday night and Sunday,” said Patel. “There was a religious drama that was socially motivated. And the other night was singing with young children and females. It was all devotees, people that come to the temple.”
The festival also included performances by the Swamibapa Pipe Band, referred to as North America’s first Indian American bagpipe band. A blood drive was held in conjunction with Community Blood Services, and the temple donated $1,000 each to the Secaucus Fire Department and the Office of Emergency Management.
Assemblywoman Angelica Jimenez honored the acharya on behalf of Senator Nick Sacco, Speaker Vincent Prieto, and Assemblyman Raj Mukherji, with a letter that “pays tribute to the inspirational teachings and practices of Acharya Shree Purshottampriyadasji Swamiji Maharaj and extends sincere wishes and good luck in the future.”
Also present for the event was Hudson County Sheriff Frank Schillari.