Maharashtra spiritual leader’s sect spreading wings in Haryana, slowly and silently

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Swadhyay Parivar – a sect formed by Maharashtra spiritual leader Pandurang Shastri Athavale in 1954 and a “self-study” process based on Bhagavad Gita — is slowly spreading wings in Haryana villages.

Athavale’s followers claim theirs is a “devotional sect” and it already has units in nearly 300 villages in Haryana, particularly in Karnal, Kaithal, Kurukshetra and Yamunanagar where its regular activities take place.

Athavale’s daughter Jayshree Talvalkar — whom the followers call Didiji — spent the last two days in Karnal to encourage the followers and spread the “family” of the sect further. On Tuesday, she addressed an impressive gathering of her followers who were mainly from villages while on Wednesday, she held a meeting with active followers on expansion plans.

The entire functioning of the sect revolves around the teachings of Bhagavad Gita, the 700-verse Hindu scripture that is part of the epic Mahabharata. There are minimal organisational structures but there is a mechanism for discipline among the followers. Photography or recordings was not allowed in its Karnal event, except by its own team of professionals. The event had no presence even on social media.

The sect has been functional in Karnal villages for the past several years but it has been almost invisible to the mainstream media. Advocate Naresh Barana, a leading follower from Karnal, said: “Nearly 30 years ago, a team had come to our village, Barana, for preaching. At that time, I was a school student. Slowly, we came into contact with them and became active in the sect. Now, we regularly organise an hour-long session at a public place, which we call a swadhyay kendra, aimed at self-study. Here, we broadcast recorded video lectures of the late Pandurang Shastri Athavale apart from related bhajans.”

Another follower Babita, 40, who had come from a village Ujhana (Kaithal), said that she joined the practices of the sect after her marriage as her in-laws were already following the teaching of Gita. “We have come to Karnal in two buses. In our village, nearly 700-800 persons are associated with the sect now. Nobody asks for donations in any form here. There are separate groups for men and women. We just listen to good views and teachings of Gita here.”

When asked how such big events were being organised without donations, a functionary said, “We remain here like a family. The events are organised like those held in a family, with the cooperation of followers who voluntarily perform their roles or duties.”

Devender Kamboj, who is the principal of a Bed college at Indri (Karnal), recalls: “I went to the villages of Rohtak for 17 years to spread the teachings of the organisation. We follow the concept of ‘time, tiffin and ticket’, which means we have arranged everything ourselves.”

The organisers say the sect stays from politics and is just engaged in spreading goodness on the principles of Gita.

Meanwhile, addressing the followers gathered on the occasion of Swadhyay Parivar’s Gita Jayanti elocution competition in Karnal Tuesday, Jayshree Talvalkar said: “Geeta is not the Bible of Hinduism, it’s the Bible of humanity. Gita is not for only one sect or religion, it is for all humans… Gita makes one experience the companionship and proximity of omnipotent God as Gita talks about indwelling God.”

In a statement, the sect said: “Didiji is a global thinker on key topics associated with human development and she is the flag-bearer of Swadhyay Parivar –a global family connected with each other on the concept of universal brotherhood under the fatherhood of God. The Swadhyay Parivar is spread across over 45 countries and is estimated to have millions of followers.”

According to the sect, this year is celebrating the 100th birth anniversary of Shashtri Athavle (Dadaji), a recipient of the Ramon Magsaysay Award for community leadership, to express its gratitude towards him.



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