On a quiet summer afternoon on Aug. 7, Acharya Swamiji Maharaj, the religious leader for a local Hindu sect, visited the meditation garden behind the Secaucus Recreation Center to give his blessing. As he was led along the grassy path to the circular garden in the back that borders Mill Creek he held Mayor Michael Gonnelli’s hand. “You’ve been doing all great things for the town of Secaucus,” said Swamiji to Gonnelli via an interpreter. “God is giving you a blessing.”
Acharya Swamiji Maharaj was surrounded by sants or monks wearing flowing orange robes and sandals. Swamiji blessed the meditation garden “so that everyone that comes there can achieve internal peace.”
“May your devotion be as pure as platinum.” – Acharya Swamiji Maharaj
Special weighing ceremony
On Sunday, Aug. 5 thousands gathered at the Shree Swaminarayan Temple in Secaucus to celebrate a number of milestones, including the 11th anniversary of the temple’s founding, the 70th year anniversary of Swamiji’s manifestation on earth, and the 25th anniversary of the establishment of the Hindu sect in North America among others. The event was broadcast live and watched by followers in India, Africa, and Europe.
“We wished to show our appreciation for [Acharya Swamiji Maharaj] by performing an ancient Hindu tradition by weighing the idol of Gurudev Shree Muktajeevan Swamibapa against five holy objects,” said Devika Patel, a representative of the group.
The five holy objects included flowers, sugar crystals, coconuts, betel nuts, and platinum as the precious metal. That morning around 6:45 a.m., 175 pounds of platinum worth $3.9 million arrived at the temple with the Secaucus Police Department and a heavy security detail in tow. Snipers were stationed on the roof and security was armed with rifles and machine guns. The platinum was mined in Africa, stored in the United Kingdom, and was lent to the group by TD Securities in Canada. The group had to raise over $5 million to use as collateral. Upon returning the platinum the millions raised will go toward charitable programs.
The 22,500-square-foot facility was packed as attendees gathered inside around 9:30 a.m. for the weighing ceremony referred to as the Tula.
There was much revelry and celebration as each item was placed on a grand scale and weighed against the idol of Shree Muktajeevan Swamibapa. As the idol was weighed for the first time in 45 years against the platinum, Swamiji began to dance and the entire congregation joined in singing and dancing. He then sat down on the scale at the feet of Shree Muktajeevan Swamibapa.
“On this occasion of this Platinum Tula you are granted this blessing that may your devotion be like this platinum,” said Swamiji to the congregation near the end of the ceremony. “May your devotion be as pure as platinum.”
When the temple first opened on Aug. 5, 2001 North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco, former Jersey City Mayor Glenn Cunningham, and former Mayor Dennis Elwell donned white turbans for a gold weighing ceremony, which was the first time the event took place outside of India.
This time Gonnelli, Costantino, and Corcoran were adorned with flower garlands, shawls, and were given chocolates.
“That is like meeting the Pope in the Catholic religion,” said Gonnelli last week of meeting Swamiji. “He is a big deal.” Gonnelli meets with Swamiji every time he visits Secaucus. However, it was the first time Gonnelli had witnessed the weighing ceremony.
He noted that “there are a lot of people in our community and a lot of people in this area that worship him.” There are thousands of followers throughout the country and tens of thousands worldwide, according to the group.
The local Shree Swaminarayan Temple donated $1,000 to the municipal emergency fund and $1,000 to the Fire Department. They also paid for the security provided by the municipality the day of the weighing event.
“It is very important that we support the things that they do,” said Gonnelli.
“Our residents come from diverse backgrounds and have different religions and customs, but we share a common ground,” said Gonnelli in a past statement.
From seeds in Secaucus
The Swaminarayan sect of Hinduism follows the teachings of Lord Shree Swaminarayan who incarnated in a human form 200 years ago in India. The core principles of the group include love, respect, strong work ethic, high morals, education, and compassion.
The first spiritual successor to arrive in the United States in 1970 was Shree Muktajeevan Swamibapa – he was followed by a number of disciples who mostly settled in the Metropolitan area.
“We used to hold religious gatherings on important holidays and festivals at the homes of various disciples,” said Patel. “When our congregation got larger, we used to rent community halls (including Secaucus High School gymnasium) and hold gatherings there.”
Almost two decades later in 1987, the next spiritual successor, Acharya Swamiji Maharaj, returned to the United States and began to establish roots in this country. He established a small temple at the home of a disciple in Secaucus in 1995. After searching many properties in the area to build the first temple, the location on Penhorn Avenue in Secaucus was chosen. The group broke ground in 1998 and completed the temple in 2001.
Since then, the group has grown to thousands of followers across the country and includes main temples in Chicago, Los Angeles, and Florida and smaller temples in Toronto and Delaware. The Hindu sect spans the world with followers in India, Africa, the United Kingdom and Australia.
Adriana Rambay Fernández may be reached at email@example.com.