5 April, 2001, Gandhinagar,
1.45pm on 5th April 2001, Bill Clinton,
the former president of United States of America, arrived with
his cavalcade of security and pilot cars to Akshardham
in Gandhinagar, Gujarat. Before he alighted from his vehicle,
his security men ringed the car. He was introduced to Ishwarcharan
Swami, Viveksagar Swami and Brahmavihari Swami, who welcomed him.
As he walked towards the main foyer Mr Clinton was honoured with
a red carpet, welcomed by BAPS children showering flowers and
auspicious traditional Indian music. On seeing Pramukh Swami Maharaj,
Bill Clinton was filled with joy. Swamishri garlanded the former
president and he responded with a warm handshake. The warm impression
he had of meeting Swamishri in Miami on 4 October 2000 was apparent
in his happy response.
After the formal welcome rituals,
the former president was impressed by the brief overview of the
Akshardham complex in the model room. On stepping out of the model
room, Mr Clinton slowed his pace and waited for Swamishri to be
with him. On seeing the impressive and towering Akshardham monument,
Mr Clinton touched Swamishri's shoulder in a gesture of appreciation
and exclaimed, "It is beautiful. You have made something
more beautiful than one can imagine. Extraordinarily beautiful!
More overwhelming than can be seen in photographs."
Swamishri responded in Gujarati, "Thank you, thank you.
Your coming here has made everyone happy."
After descending the podium of the
parikrama Mr Clinton and Swamishri walked towards the main monument.
The former president waved to the devotees and wellwishers seated
under the parikrama. On arriving by the main steps of the monument
Mr Clinton and members of the American Indian Foundation (AIF)
removed their shoes. When he reached the main podium of Akshardham
Mr Clinton was simply flabbergasted. The inner sanctum of Akshardham
with its grand pillars captivated him. "The earthquake
has not damaged Akshardham?" he enquired. He was pleased
to hear that it had remained sound.
Both Swamishri and Mr Clinton stood before the pacifying and beautiful
7 feet murti of Bhagwan Swaminarayan. When he was told that Prince
Phillip, Lech Walesa and other dignitaries had offered prayers
here, the former president responded, "I will also say
my prayer." While Vedic peace prayers were being sung
by sadhus, Swamishri tied a nada-chhadi (auspicious thread) on
Mr Clinton's wrist. Then Swamishri placed flower petals in the
ex-president's right hand. And while the mantra pushpanjali was
being sung, Swamishri and Mr Clinton went up to the murti and
offered the flower petals at the feet of Bhagwan Swaminarayan.
While Swamishri was praying before Maharaj, Mr Clinton looked
at the murti.
Then Swamishri blessed Mr Clinton, saying, "You went to
Bhuj because you have love and compassion for people. So God will
shower His grace and bless you. Because you have sympathy in your
heart you have come all the way to Gujarat to help. May Bhagwan
Swaminarayan make you happy. May your health remain good. You
have immensely served and done a lot for America. Today America
is at the top and the honour for that goes to you. You have faith
in God, faith and respect for holy men and love for people - this
is why you find success in all your works. You have endeavoured
abundantly in bettering the relationship between India and America.
I thank you very much. You have also enormously strived for world
peace. We pray that a lot of good deeds be done through you, may
you attain fame and may your health remain well." While
Brahmavihari Swami was translating Swamishri's words Mr Clinton
acknowledged by nodding and looking respectfully at Swamishri.
He then replied, "I feel blessed. Thank you."
On seeing the rangoli of the auspicious pot and 'Su-Swagatam',
Clinton remembered the 'Amrut Kalash' that Swamishri had presented
to him in Miami last year. "Yes, I remember it. I have
it!" he said.
After observing the intricate and aesthetic carvings on the pillars
he also expressed wonder at the towering central dome and profusely
carved ceilings. On being introduced to a couple of volunteers,
he opined, "Your strongest force is dedication, love and
volunteers. That's why perhaps your every work seems beautiful."
During a brief photo session by the roop-choki (before main entrance
of monument) Swamishri introduced Lord Harikrishna Maharaj. The
former president folded his hands in respect before Thakorji.
As he walked observing the complex, Mr Clinton expressed, "I
know that Akshardham is not only a unique place in India but in
the whole world. It is even more beautiful than what I had imagined.
Taj Mahal is definitely beautiful, but this place, along with
beauty, has a beautiful message!"
While descending the steps Mr Clinton
revealed his experience of Swamishri, "You know something,
ever since I met him in Miami, I was moved. When I look into his
eyes, they are filled with integrity." After coming down
the stairs Mr Clinton sat on a sofa to put on his shoes. Swamishri
was standing nearby. With the mercury touching 41 degree celcius,
a light white cloth was held as a canopy to protect them from
the heat. Mr Clinton continued to chime the glory of Swamishri,
"See, there are too many leaders, religious groups and
people in this world who believe that by pulling others down,
you can bring yourself up. And by discounting others, isolating
or segregating them... but (pointing to Swamishri) he is different!
Swamiji connects. He connects with others and everyone around
him. He works through connectivity. That is why he has been able
to bring peace and harmony and so many people together."
The former president added further, "The first time Pramukh
Swami met me in Miami, I saw in his eyes that he is a man who
has not come ahead by eclipsing others. He has come forward by
always placing others before him. And that is why I had a deep
desire to meet him again."
And so saying Mr Clinton looked respectfully at Swamishri
and gestured with his hand to sit on the sofa. Swamishri complied
and sat on the sofa. Despite the heat, the former president was
in a relaxed and comfortable mood. He continued, "In order
to embrace what they believe they have to reject other people
and their convictions. And he (Swamishri) is the person I have
met who is trying to go beyond all that. And I believe that the
great challenge of the world is to find that sort of integrity;
to be able to celebrate your own religion, celebrate your own
race or ethnic group, but still embrace our common humanity and
our common connection to God is more important."
Bill Clinton expressed that he got that feeling of universality
that Swamishri has for all. Then he continued, "If you
look at all the fighting in the Middle East, it is based on religion.
Jesus Christ said that the most important commandment is to love
God with all your heart. And the second is to love your neighbour
like yourself. The Koran says that all the different peoples of
the world on earth should love one another and not despise one
another. The Torah of the Jews says that he who turns away a stranger
might as well turn away God Himself. So all these faiths say the
same thing. People say they accord respect to others but somehow
they believe they will lose their identity."
Swamishri, agreeing on his thoughts, replied, "Bhagwan
Swaminarayan and our Guru have taught us the same thing - to love
and serve others. Because you have love for people you have come
from afar and visited Bhuj and met people in this heat. That (sympathy)
is a virtue of God. You have love for ordinary and great people
and that is why you meet them all. You met the ordinary folks
by visiting their villages."
Then Mr Clinton said, "I was raised to believe that
there is no difference between a president and a common man living
in the villages."
Swamishri happily confirmed, "You have lived accordingly.
Despite your appointment to a high post you have not forgotten
trivial people. You have done your lesson well. And that is why
people love you."
The informal, relaxed mood of the dialogue transcended the pressures
of time constraint and prickly heat. Mr Clinton was amicably and
respectfully holding Swamishri's hand while he continued the dialogue.
"I feel that people who have power or wealth should understand
that there's no difference. They are simply more fortunate. In
fact they should feel a greater obligation to work in the villages
with all kinds of people."
Swamishri conceded, "We too believe in the same principle
that there should be no discrimination or distinctions. One should
serve regardless of distinctions of high or low, religion or caste."
When the security officer reminded him of the time schedule Swamishri
said, "Saheb prefers the company of people. He forgets
how fast time flies. Our guru Yogiji Maharaj was also inclined
towards having the company of people. Before their love and sentiments
he too forgot about time."
The former president and Swamishri got up and advanced towards
the exhibition halls.
On seeing the statue of a man sculpting itself, Bill Clinton was
amazed. He said, "Amazing, incredible idea... so powerful.
If you make models of this, you can start an international business
of inspiration... Individuals all over the world will be inspired!"
On seeing the caves that depicted Nilkanth Varni's travels and
His austerities at Mansarovar the former president expressed,
"Because your religion has the virtue of renunciation
you are able to work with so much power and energy."
On seeing the presentation showing hands uplifting the downtrodden
people by Bhagwan Swaminarayan and His paramhansas he commented,
"The reason why your organisation is at the top is because
you are lifting the smallest segment of society."
On glimpsing the multimedia show the former president was impressed
and said, "This is a place where there is a synthesis
of science, technology and religion."
When he was informed about the details of the 'Hall of Harmony'
Mr Clinton said, "If there were more places like this
which respect all religions and people, there would be more harmony."
On meeting some BAPS volunteers who had offered their services
during the earthquake relief activity Mr Clinton said, "These
are the real heroes."
Finally the tour concluded at the
Akshardham foyer where a photo exhibition described the BAPS relief
work in Kutch. Mr Clinton also met some survivors of the earthquake
disaster who had been provided relief aid by the BAPS. On hearing
the story of a Muslim, Sidikbhai of Soyla village, who said that
despite the fact that there is not a single Hindu in their two
villages, Pramukh Swami Maharaj had provided aid and relief materials
for the last 1½ to 2 months. Mr Clinton was all praises
for the services and commented, "In his heart, Pramukh
Swami has no distinction!"
A display on the BAPS earthquake rehabilitation project was shown.
And finally Swamishri presented the former president with mementos
of etched pictures of Akshardham and Shree Swaminarayan Mandir
in London, a model of a man sculpting himself and Indian sweets
In the visitors' book Mr Clinton wrote:
|Thank you -
||for making me
feel at home.
out to all God's children.
||for helping the
people hurt by the earthquake.
||for working for
peace and reconciliation.
- Bill Clinton
Instead of the scheduled 15 minutes
Bill Clinton spent nearly an hour at Akshardham. While leaving,
Swamishri thanked the president, "I thank you for believing
Gujarat to be yours and for coming all the way from America."
Mr Clinton expressed his appreciations saying, "On meeting
you I feel and believe that I am fortunate. It is a great thing
for me to be blessed by you here today."
The former president shook hands with Swamishri and departed.
On leaving the foyer the guide told Mr Clinton that because of
the heat he must have experienced a lot of discomfort.
"No, no, actually I feel cool! Very calm from inside!
Tell Swami that I feel blessed by coming here. And tell me what
is the statue in the centre of the monument called?"
"Bhagwan Swaminarayan" he was answered.
"It is made of gold, right?" Mr Clinton asked.
"Then tell Swami, like the statue he has a heart of gold."
And with this vivid experience Bill Clinton departed.
During that time Swamishri was meeting the poor Muslim Sidikbhai,
Jadavji Thakkar, Satish Bharatwala and Dipak Makwana - survivors
of the earthquake catastrophe - with the same love and respect
that he had met the former president.
(1) Swamishri's dialogues were translated into English
(2) All conversations in this article have been produced
from an audio recording during the tour of Akshardham.
Akshardham, the most powerful
experience of Indian Culture
Maharaj meets President Bill Clinton at Miami, Oct 2, 2000
BAPS Earthquake Relief
and Rehabilitation Work