Acharya Swamishree Purushottampriyadasji Maharaj, the spiritual leader for Swaminarayan, a branch of Hinduism which was founded about 200 years ago, is visiting the U.S. from Ahmedabad, India, and will be spending time along the East Coast and Toronto until August.
Rasik Patel, who is the treasurer of the local branch of the organization, said the spiritual leader hopes to promote nonviolence and unity during his visit.
“(He’s here to) bring all people together,” Rasik Patel said.
At the celebration at the Clarion Inn and Suites, guests sang and listened to remarks from the spiritual leader, who spoke Gujarati. To round out the festivities, they also presented him with a cake.
The spiritual leader celebrated his 72nd birthday on May 28.
Hampton Mayor George Wallace, and later, Hampton Councilman Donnie Tuck, both stopped by and during the celebration they received turbans, which symbolize prosperity, in a ritual recognizing honored guests. Wallace and Tuck also put a garland of flowers on the spiritual leader in a show of honor.
“It’s an honor and a pleasure to be in your midst to say happy birthday,” Wallace said. “He looks so young.”
Manish Patel, who came to Hampton from upstate New York, is volunteering as a driver for the spiritual leader and others who are traveling with him.
His parents and grandparents are active in the faith, and he is following in their footsteps, he said.
“I’m always looking forward to (his visit),” Manish Patel said.
Jignishe Patel, a Hampton resident, also said she was looking forward to the occasion.
“I can’t wait for Bapa,” she said of the spiritual leader, who is sometimes referred to as Bapa. “We are happy he came here.”