AHMEDABAD: Spiritual head of BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha, Pramukh Swami, passed away this evening at Saragpur in Botad district.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi paid rich tributes to the 95-year-old spiritual leader saying that "he was a mentor to me".
Pramukh Swami, who was ailing for some time, due to old age related problems and was under treatment at Sarangpur temple of the sect, breathed his last at 6 PM this evening.
"His Holiness Pramukh Swami Maharaj, spiritual head and president of the BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha, inspirer of countless and a great servant of society, passed away today, at 6 pm in Sarangpur. We deeply mourn the departure of our revered guruji," an official statement of BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha said. He is credited to have overseen construction of over 1,000 temples including some grand ones like Akshardham in Gandhinagar and Delhi and had initiated over 800 youths to monk-hood during his life time.
Modi tweeted that he was a stalwart among humans who embodied compassion and humility.
"HH (his Highness) Pramukh Swami Maharaj, a stalwart among humans, who embodied compassion and humility. His service to the society will always be remembered," Modi said in a tweet.
"HH Prmukh Swami Maharaj was a mentor to me. I will never forget my interactions with him. Will miss his presence," the Prime Minister said in another tweet.
He is also known for his social concerns, having actively participated in rescue and relief operations during the times of floods and famines, earthquakes and other natural disasters.
Thousand of his devotees, started thronging to temples of his sect in various cities and town and women were seeing crying at those temples, mourning his death.
Born at Chansad village in Vadodara district on December 7, 1921, Shantilal, as he was named by his parents, showed religious streaks since his childhood.
The youngest of nine siblings, Shantilal was selected by Shastriji Maharaj, the then head of the Swaminarayan BAPS sect, to become a sadhu, a religious mendicant of the sect.
In a letter to his father Motilal Patel, a devotee, Shastriji Maharaj had instructed that Shantilal be sent to him to lead a religious life.
At the age of eighteen, he was initiated into Swaminarayan sect under the guidance of Shastriji Maharaj, and given a name of Narayanswarupdas.
He was recognised for his sharp intellect and management skills and was given the duty to take care of temples run by the sect.
When he was 28, he was appointed the President, or Pramukh, of BAPS replacing Shastriji Maharaj at a ritual performed at Amli Vali Pol in Ahmedabad on May 21, 1950.
He travelled extensively, both in India and abroad, in the process holding 'satsang' and creating a large base of devotees.
He travelled in over 45 countries, including UK, USA, Canada, Kenya, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, Dubai, Japan, France, Germany, Egypt and others.
He also oversaw construction of over 1,000 temples belonging to the sect across India and abroad including England, USA, Canada, East Africa, South Africa and other countries.
Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani, Deputy Chief Minister Nitin Patel and former Chief Minister Anandiben Patel too expressed grief over Swami's demise.
Congress leaders Shaktisinh Gohil also expressed shock and said, "he had a special place in my life and had guided me on many occasions. The loss and void created by his departure can never be filled."