Source: Los Angeles Times
On September 11, 2000, the Los Angeles Times reported that "thousands of Indian devotees from San Diego to Seattle, from Orange County to Oregon" recently flocked to the Swaminarayan Hindu temple "for the rare chance to see their spiritual leader, Pramukh Swami Maharaj...The 78-year-old Hindu guru is head of the Swaminarayan sect, one of the fastest-growing Hindu denominations in the country. Pramukh Swami, also known as Swamishri, arrived in Los Angeles on Thursday evening for a weeklong visit with his followers in Southern California." One devotee commented that "he is everything. For us, he's like a god. It's overwhelming to even talk about him without becoming emotional. For me personally, he's like a dad. My dad passed away, so right now, I feel like he's come back to me."
"The Swaminarayan faith was founded in 1781 in the Gujarat region of India. In 1907, a splinter group--known as Bochasanwasi Akshar Purushottam Sanstha, or BAPS--broke away from the Swaminarayan movement. Of the four breakaway groups, the BAPS sect is the one that has experienced the most phenomenal growth worldwide and is the sect to which the Whittier temple belongs. The group claims about 500,000 followers in the United States and millions worldwide...Last month, in a testament to the sect's growing following, Pramukh Swami addressed the United Nations at the Millennium World Peace Summit. His remarks on religious unity were made in Gujarati. The address marked the first time a speech in Gujarati was delivered at the United Nations and translated into international languages."