WASHINGTON, D.C., June 16, 2007: The Swadhyay Pariwar held a parade of 8,000 devotees down Constitution Avenue to the Washington Monument as part of their weekend gathering here in the nation's capital. Following the mile-long parade in early afternoon, a total of 20,000 nearly filled the Verizon Center sports arena for their seventh North American "Divine Gathering," or Vayastha Sanchalan, on June 16. Attended by members of the Hinduism Today staff, the evening event was a combination preaching session and pep rally. It began with short series of speeches from guests including the reading out of a proclamation from the mayor of Washington, DC. The present leader of Swadhyay Pariwar, Mrs. Dhanashree Talwalkar, affectionally known as Didiji, then spoke to the audience in Hindi, encouraging them in their religious life and work. Her talk was followed by a spectacular video of the 80th birthday celebrations in India of their founder, Sri Pandurang Shastri Athavale, known as Dada, which was attended by nearly one million members. Dada passed away in 2003, leaving the organization's leadership to his adopted daughter, Didiji.
Following the video, the youth performed a series of dances on the immense floor of this sports center, culminating with a show of torches in the darkened arena. They couldn't use real torches, so had battery lit ones for the youth and the audience. It was quite a spectacular finale.
"Swadhyay" means "study of the self," and "Parivar" means family. They consider themselves a family more than an organization or movement. There is no formal membership other than being counted if you are a regular participant. Members attend a weekly gathering called a "kendra" in which they watch videos of Dada explaining various religious concepts, often based on the Bhagavad Gita. During this time children and youth have classes in separate rooms. One of their main activities or "work" is called "bhaktiferi," or devotional visits. In this home visitation ministry to Hindus, their main message is to encourage every one to discover the "indwelling God." The goal is to encourage others to uplift themselves and others. Their personal observances include thrice-daily prayer. The Swadhyay Pariwar is rooted in personal spiritual transformation, building moral character, spiritual self-esteem and selfless service.