By Rithika Siddhartha
MORE than 20,000 devotees are expected to attend religious discourses by one of India’s leading and most revered spiritual leaders in Manchester next month.
Pujya Rameshbhai Oza, known affectionately as Pujya Bhaishree, will lead the soul-inspiring sermons for eight days starting on August 14.
The Bhagwat Katha is being sponsored by two of country’s leading Asian entrepreneurs – brothers Sanjay and Vipul Vadera of the Perscent perfume business empire, who run the Fragrance Shop, the country’s largest perfume retailer. Their sister Mina is helping to organise the event in memory of their father, Jayantilal Harji Vadera, who passed away in 2017, aged 81.
“It will be a celebration of his life,” said Sanjay and his sister Mina, adding that it was also a nod to their mother’s 80th birthday this year.
“One of the traditions within the Hindu culture that we have done previously is to celebrate the lives of our lost ones. We call it saptah, which is basically praying, in a sense. You do it for seven days. You recite the Bhagwad Gita,” they said.
“The key thing is for our pitrus, for the souls of our lost ones to rest in peace, to have all the things that would probably not be accomplished in their mind completed in a sense; for them not to have any worry about those things.”
The Vaderas’ Fragrance Shop is a wholesale and retail group, which distributes skincare products, cosmetics and perfumes to more than 5,000 retailers, among them Asda and Superdrug. With an estimated wealth of £300 million, Sanjay and Vipul Vadera were ranked 40th in this year’s Asian Rich List, published by Eastern Eye.
Along with their parents, the siblings arrived in Britain in the 1970s when Ugandan dictator Idi Amin expelled the Asian community from the country. Their father, a businessman, worked with the Madhvani family, who run Uganda’s biggest industrial group.
As new migrants to the UK and with no savings to their name, the Vaderas dug in and started working, initially in Bolton and later in Lincoln, in order to pay the bills and provide a home for their young family.
“Mum has always been spiritual,” said Mina, while Sanjay recalled their house being open for guests at any time of the day, and growing up with a strong sense of community.
“It’s a first for Manchester and surrounding areas. (We hope) that Hindus and other communities will benefit greatly from these readings and discourses during these eight days at Event City.”
The family said an estimated 20,000 devotees from the UK and abroad, will attend the Katha over the eight days.
Mina said: “We want the youth to be involved in this as much as possible. Enlighten them, give them a bit more depth of knowledge of our culture and spirituality. We are trying to do some classes as well, bhajans in the afternoon.”
Sanjay’s wife Rita added that the discourse will be inclusive and aimed at people of all faiths.
“It has an Indian theme, but we do want people from different beliefs to come to the Katha. We want to give people that platform in Manchester,” she explained.
Sanjay said: “Our view of spirituality is the values we were taught by our parents. They instilled in us to be kind, welcoming, generous in the way of your kindness, your affection, how you share your food. Being kind, humble and thankful for everything.
“I think the hard work that our parents did and the fact that they were selfless. Selflessness is the value you pick up, and the unconditional love given to you, which is what Pujya Bhaishree talks about.
Loving is the one of the most important things, and kindness, and respect. We find these values resonate with what Pujya Bhaishree talks about in his kathas.”
Pujya Bhaishree is renowned for his discourses that are drawn from the Bhagwad Gita. His folksy delivery, impassioned singing and incisive interpretation of the holy scriptures draws tens of thousands of people all over India and around the world.
He is one of the world’s leading scholars and exponents of the Hindu scripture.
“It’s a modern way of how he does his storytelling and it’s engaging. He is obviously an artist in the way he talks about his teachings. There’s a lesson in the way he tells the stories,” said Sanjay.
Sanjay watched his parents start from scratch in a new country, while striving to provide a comfortable home for him and his siblings.
His father initially worked in the textiles industry, while his mother sold miscellaneous items while also running the house.
“They were doing manual labour at the beginning before they made it to maybe a supervisor level. They were working in shifts. It was a struggle. My mum, who had never worked before, had to do morning and afternoon shifts. We all looked after each other,” said Mina.
It proved to be an invaluable lesson for her, and her brothers.
“Their hard work, the value system they created for us, is something I have adopted. I think it reflects a lot on how we are as siblings,” said Sanjay.
Indeed, it was his parents who inspired him, aged 20, to launch his business venture, with a loan from his father.
“In Uganda, my father had built a business which allowed us to be comfortable as a family and meant we had a fairly good lifestyle,” Sanjay recalled.
“To suddenly then lose everything, having to move to the UK as a child and seeing my parents struggle to rebuild our lives here, gave me a strong perspective to take destiny into my own hands, and to look for the right opportunity to build something that would allow my parents to retire. It allowed me to be fearless in my pursuit of success.”
Sanjay watched his mother buy things from wholesalers and sell them on, keep track of the accounts without formal book-keeping training while building and maintaining customer relationships.
“Just her sheer ability to run this little business that became quite massive later (inspired me),” Sanjay said.
“It allowed her to put down a deposit for a new house; she was motivated to make sure our family had a better house and that she could provide for them in a better way, with travel, holiday destinations, get her children through school, college and university.
“She wanted the happiness of her family and nothing would be a problem for her; 50 people could turn up and she cooked for all of them. She wasn’t fazed by anything. Growing up as teenagers, we would have people coming home, staying over, it was pretty much an open house. She was very welcoming to everyone.”
Today the siblings all live close to each other in Manchester and enjoy spending time as a family.
Sanjay revealed his daily routine. “I usually pray in the morning before I leave home, thank God for everything and go to the office and listen to the Hanuman Chalisa.
“It is about respecting everybody, being kind, being fair. Of course, in business, you can be tough, but it is about fairness too, being strong and decisive about things that are right. It is important to show the people who work for you the vision you have; in the way that you want to take the business forward. To let them be a part of the change.
“Having those shared values is quite important.”