Ahmedabad: The head of the Bochasanvasi Akshar Purushottam Sansthan (BAPS) of the Swaminarayan sect, Pramukh Swami, died on Saturday at his ashram located at Sarangpur village in Botad district of Gujarat. He was aged 95.

Pramukh Swami Maharaj is believed by the followers of BAPS to be the fifth spiritual successor in Bhagwan Swaminarayan’s succession of Gunatit gurus.

“For more than seven decades he had been travelling tirelessly, visiting over 17,000 towns and villages in India and abroad. However, for the last two years, because of old age and frail health, he had been residing at the BAPS Swaminarayan Mandir in Sarangpur under the able care of expert doctors," BAPS said in a statement.

Pramukh Swami Maharaj was born on 7 December 1921 to a farmer’s family in Chansad village near Vadodara in Gujarat. Born Shantilal Patel, he was ordained as Shastri Narayanswarupdas. He was initiated as a swami in 1940 by Shastriji Maharaj, the founder of BAPS, and took over as the guru of BAPS followers in 1971.

When he was 28, Pramukh Swami Maharaj was appointed the pramukh, or the president, of the BAPS replacing Shastriji Maharaj at a ritual performed at Amli Vali Pol in Ahmedabad on 21 May 1950.

The BAPS, under him, grew from an organization whose presence was earlier confined mainly to Gujarat, to become one of the most widely spread Hindu institutions with presence across the globe.

He travelled extensively, both in India and abroad, in the process holding satsang and creating a large base of devotees. As the head of the BAPS, Pramukh Swami Maharaj has overseen the growth of the BAPS as a global behemoth after modest beginnings in Gujarat. He is credited to have overseen the construction of more than 1,000 temples, including some grand ones such as the Akshardham temples in Gandhinagar and Delhi.

Expressing condolences, Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his tweet called Pramukh Swami “a stalwart among humans who embodied compassion and humility". The prime minister paid tribute to him by saying that “he was a mentor to me". Gujarat chief minister Vijay Rupani said in a statement that the lifetime of Pramukh Swami Maharaj was like advent of virtues, righteousness, noble thoughts and deeds, free from addictions, in the service of religion and culture as they would continue to guide the people for ever.

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