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The Swadhyay Parivar is a socio-religious movement based in Maharashtra, India. It claims to have over 50,000 study centers and 60,00,000 followers in India, USA, UK, Canada, and the Middle East who carry out various activities of self-development, social welfare activities and socio-economic development in the areas of water management and agriculture.
Swadhyaya means study of self for a spiritual quest.
Pandurang Shastri Athavale was the originator of this movement that promotes a particular interpretation and reading of the Vedic scriptures like Bhagavad Gita, Vedas and the Upanishads. His followers are still active with missionary work. For his efforts he was awarded the Templeton Prize in 1997, the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership and India's second highest civilian honour, the Padma Vibhushan in 1999.
In his early twenties, Athavale began to deliver discourses on the Bhagavad Gita in Mumbai, India. He argued that both liberal welfare centric approach and socialism were incapable of bridging gap between rich and needy. Even every form of charity results in eradication of human dignity and sense of self-worth. The differences between human beings can be eliminated only by taking principles of Bhagavad Gita to grassroots levels. So he started Swadhyay Movement, in 1954.
Swadhyay literally means the study, knowledge, and discovery of the self. According to proponents, it is a "journey to work out a unity in a multiverse of cultures and world views, of harmonizing the self with a network of relationships, of creating and maintaining vital connections between self, society, and God, of knowing and enriching human action with sacredness."[page needed] The understanding of an in-dwelling God imbibed into Swadhyayees (practitioners of Swadhyay) by Athavale is claimed to motivate them towards true expression of devotion (Bhakti).[page needed] The concept of devotion has two important aspects in Swadhyay: one of self-exploration, with a view to becoming closer to God (Bhav Bhakti), and an active and creative principle of devotion to promote communal good (kruti bhakti). Athavale taught that a series of practical steps and programs facilitates the awareness that God is in-dwelling.
Athavale introduced educational institutions, developed wealth redistribution measures and social welfare projects.[page needed] Athavale has shown that individual transformation eventually can lead to wider social change. Devotion, he says, can be turned into a social force. "Since God is with us and within us, he is a partner in all our transactions. Naturally, he has his share..." God's part of our wealth, Athavale suggests, can be redistributed among the poor and needy.[page needed]
Athavale also presented the idea of Yogeshwar Krishi (divine farming) to the farming community. In this social experiment, a Swadhyayee gives a piece of land for use for a season as God's farm. Thereafter each person subsequently, one day a month, works on cultivating that particular plot of land.[page needed] Seen as God's plot, the income thus generated is called "impersonal wealth" and belongs to no one but God. The wealth is consecrated in the local temple (called Amritalayam) and later disbursed to those in need as prasad or divinely blessed food. Swadhyay emphasizes "graceful giving" where "the help to the needy family's house is taken in the middle of the night so that others may not know that the family concerned has received help from the community."
In the year of 2010, in Khargar, Mumbai, about 3 million Swadhyayees gathered to celebrate the 90th birthday of Pandurang Shashtri Athavale in the presence of his daughter Jayshree Talwalkar. This program is commonly known as Namasthubyam. In the year of 2011, 25,000 Swadhyayees gathered for the same reason in Rutherford, New Jersey for the celebration of Aaptavandam.
Swadhyay says its activities differ from social development projects due to the incorporation of bhakti, or devotion to God, in its work. Swadhyay teaches that no human being is superior or inferior to any other.[page needed] As each individual make a progress in integration of self, he/she strives to create universal brother hood under the divine Father hood.
Athavale has also set up a range of educational institutions. In the Bal Sanskar Kendras, children are taught Indian culture and values through stories and tales, and in the Tatvadnyana Vidyapeeth (philosophical university) at Thane students are taught Indian and western philosophy, comparative religion, logic, Sanskrit, Vedic rites and rituals. Athavale has also taught Sanskrit in the form of verses to illiterate villagers and trained many people of all castes in the Vedic thoughts.[page needed]
Swadhyay Parivar also attracted controversy when Dadaji named his adopted daughter (respectfully called as Didiji) as his successor, which was not acceptable to several Swadhyayees who had served the organization since long.
There were brutal assaults on dissenters, including the murder of a staunch critic Pankaj Trivedi on June 15, 2006, which led to 10 arrests. Trivedi exposed the group for collecting millions of dollars as charity, especially while Gujarat earthquake, but not distributing it to intended victims. Trivedi was reported to have feared for his life and experience harassment from fanatical followers.
A UN report suggested that only about 10 per cent of the money collected by the group after the disaster had actually been spent on aid. A non-resident of India, Trivedi wrote to US Secret Service in Dayton, Ohio seeking protection for himself and his family from "the leader and fanatic followers of 'Devotional Association of Yogeshwar' also known as 'Swadhyay', whose unethical and illegal activities I have exposed". Later he was reported being threatened at Newark airport in New Jersey by four individuals to stop further exposing the group's unethical activities.
Trivedi found that after the 2001 Gujarat earthquake, about 4.2 million dollars was collected in US but only about 10 per cent of collected money was actually spent. In UK, the organization collected about £310,097 pounds, but again only about 10 per cent of it was transferred to India. Parivar forcibly closed the ‘‘Bhav Nirzar Temple’’ in Ahmedabad claiming it was a property of the trust. On March 8, 2006, the High Court of Gujarat rejected many cases started by the group against him and instructed the followers to stop harassing him.
Ramdas Gandhi, a member of Swadhyay Parivar since 1951, in his book Safar Solicitor Ni mentioned that after 1995, Pandurang Shastri Athavale (Dada) started side-lining critics like him from regular activities, and even the task of weekly "kendra" activity was reassigned to other members. He further mentions that the process of selection of successor was deceptive as it was done with the presence of Jayshree Talwalkar (Didi) in every meeting.
In 2002, Swadhyay Parivar trusts is estimated to hold wealth of Rs. 700 Cr, out of which Rs. 200 Cr in cash and rest in real estate. Major sources of income are donations and sale of material like books and CDs. As Athawale's philosophy was that it is the responsibility of government and not religious organization, to run projects like schools and hospitals, this money lie unused. Citing misuse of this funds, B.J.Divan, chief justice of Gujarat high court and swadhyayee since 1959, resigned from all Swadhyay posts in June 2002. In his resignation letter he mentions: Athawale always said this property belongs to God, now he is saying it belongs to him. He also stressed that Parivar is becoming cult and Athawale is being portrayed as God.