An exciting, inspiring true story of adventure, austerity, leadership and redemption. At ten years of age he had mastered all the Hindu shastras and won a debate against renowned pundits in Kashi. At eleven years of age he renounced home and traveled fearlessly throughout the length and breath of India for seven years. At 21 years he was appointed as the spiritual head of the fellowship. At 26 years he initiated 500 paramhansas in one night.
Throughout his 49 years of existence he ushered in a moral and spiritual renaissance by abolishing the evils of sati, dudhpeeti, violent yagnas and superstitions prevalent in Gujarat. With a following of two million devotees he was revered as God even in his lifetime and hailed as a torchbearer of the pristine traditions of Indian culture. He was popularly known as Bhagwan Swaminarayan.
Yada yada hi dharmasya glanir bhavati Bharat, Abhyutthanam adharmasya tada atmanam srujamy aham.
O Bharat (Arjun), whenever there is a decline in dharma and a rise in adharma, then do I manifest.
Bhagvad Gita: 4.8.
Ever since the dawn of civilization, the human experience of life has been defined by fluctuations between good and evil, happiness and misery, and pleasure and pain. The cause lies with man’s ego and base nature, so deeply entrenched in his soul. Sometimes the consequences of turmoil and unrighteousness, due to this ignorance, are so perilous that man cannot resolve them. It is during these periods of grave crises and conflicts that God, out of his supreme compassion and grace, descends on earth to set things right. The very fact that Bhagwan Ram, Krishna and other avatars were successful in re-establishing dharma reflects that they were no mere humans, but divine beings. Therefore, we need God to liberate us from our personal miseries and the global problems that finally affect us as individuals and the nations.
Bhagwan Swaminarayan took birth during one such dark period of 18th century India, to rectify the evils that beset society. His mission was to establish Ekantik Dharma – dharma, gnan, vairagya and bhakti – and grant final liberation to countless souls. To fulfill this objective he left home at the age of eleven, traveled the length and breath of India for seven years and spent the remaining thirty years of his life reforming and serving society in Gujarat.
His inspiring life and work is succinctly captured in this book, Bhagwan Swaminarayan, Life and Work, through the blessings of HDH Pramukh Swami Maharaj. Each painting and script, thirty-nine in all, describes the salient features of his extraordinary life and message. Every story unfolds the different facets of his divine personality.
We express our deep appreciations to Sadhu Ishwarcharandas and Sadhu Aksharvatsaldas for selecting the stories, Vasudeo Kamath for the wonderful paintings, Sadhu Vivekjuvandas for the script, Sadhu Shrijiswarupdas for the layout and the efforts of Sadhu Amrutvijaydas and Shri Varansi Rama Murthy for reviewing the scrip, and to all who have helped in making this publication possible.
He was a spiritual colossus who traveled barefooted across the length and breadth of India in seven years. Hailed as an unremitting champion of peace and purity, he crusaded against the crippling evils of society. Thousands admired him, obeyed him, and above all, held him in high esteem and revered him.
His name was Bhagwan Swaminarayan. He was born on 2 April 1781 in the village of Chhapaiya, near Ayodhya. He was called Ghanshyam in his childhood years. His birth was blessed light that had dawned on earth. At the age of eight, Ghanshyam was given the sacred thread. Extraordinarily brilliant and intelligent, he completed the study of Sanskrit Grammar, the Vedas, Upanishads, Bhagvad Gita, Dharmashastras. Puranas, and Shad – Darshanas within three years. He felt home at the tender age of 11 to redeem mankind.
His spiritual travels took him from Kailas – Mansarovar in the Himalayas in the north to Rameshwar in the south; and Somnath in the west to the Kamakshi mandir and Ganga Sagar in the east. At the time of Nilkanth’s spiritual travels Sanatan Dharma was facing assaults from many imposters posing as spiritual leaders. He was thoroughly dissatisfied with the ignorance and malpractices of some priests who he came across in the course of his journey. Nilkanth encountered these masters of black magic at several places. At Kamakshi in Assam, Pibek evoked all his tantric powers to destroy Nilkanth; but he failed and was transformed. At Jagannath Puri the chief of the fake sadhus very nearly killed him. Nilkanth’s intention was to inspire people lead virtuous and purposeful lives according to the tenets of dharma by freeing them from the clutches of these charlatans.
But what were the resource the young Brahmachari had at his command? His chief asset was his pure, supreme divinity that reflected his resplendent personality and serene face to the wide range of people he met during his pilgrimage.
Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the doughty Sikh ruler who carved a niche for himself in the annals of Punjab history, was impressed with Nilkanth and sought his refuge on meeting him at Badrinath and Haridwar. The king and queen of Butolnagar in Nepal offered their daughters and their kingdom. The mahant of Shripur mandir was greatly impressed by Nilkanth’s feat when he tamed a ferocious lion, and proposed that he become the head of the mandir and manages its hefty annual income. The young Brahmachari declined all offers with a smile. His mission was not to rule kingdoms, ashrams or be honoured with fame and riches.
Wherever he traveled, Nilkanth asked five questions regarding the nature of jiva, ishwar, maya, Brahma and Parabrahma. He did not get satisfactory replies to these questions till he reached Ramanand Swami’s ashram at Loj in Saurashtra (Gujarat). With Ramanand Swami away on tour in the Kutch region, Muktanand Swami satisfactorily answered his questions. Nilkanth was pleased and decided to stay there.
In the ashram, Varni disliked the free mixing of the sexes and arranged separate discourses form en and women. Once he saw a window in the wall through which the neighbour’s wife was passing on fire to a sadhu. Nilkanth saw this as a breach of dharma. He had the opening closed. Ramanand Swami knew of Nilkanth’s divinity and told his followers that he himself was merely a drum – beater and the chief player was Varni. He gave diksha to Nilkanth and named him as Sahajanand Swami and Narayan Muni. A year later he handed over the reins of the fellowship to Sahajanand Swami, who was only 21 years old. After Ramanand Swami passed away Sahajanand Swami gave the Swaminarayan mahamantra to the congregation. Thereafter he became popularly known as Bhagwan Swaminarayan.
From the age of 21 to 49, he introduced a moral, social and spiritual renaissance with the help of 3,000 paramhansas and sadhus that he had initiated. He exhorted people to lead a life of character and faith in God. He asked them not to kill animals, even in yagnas, and to abstain from illicit sex, eating meat, drinking alcohol and addictions.
He was against the prevailing rigidity in the caste system and opposed untouchability. He championed the welfare of women and abolished evil practices like sati and female infanticide. He succeeded in transforming lawless people like Joban Pagi, Sagram Vaghri and others into great devotees. He had a following of two million devotees, and was hailed as a torch – bearer of Indian culture.
Bhagwan Swaminarayan wrote the Shikshapatri in Sanskrit, which is a code of conduct for renunciants and householders. The Vachanamrut is a compilation of his spiritual discourses by four paramhansas.
The worship of Bhagwan Swaminarayan and Akshrbrahma Gunatitanand Swami, his ideal disciple and first successor, is the lynchpin of the Swaminarayan philosophy. Subsequently, the gurus who have followed in the Swaminarayan Samprady have continued the work of Bhagwan Swaminarayan. The first guru was Aksharbrahma Gunatitanand Swami. He was succeeded by Bhagatji Maharaj, Shastriju Maharaj, Yogiji Maharaj, and the present guru is Pramukh Swami Maharaj.
In 1907, in according with the Vedic preaching’s of Bhagwan Swaminarayan, Brahmaswarup Shastriji Maharaj established the Bochasanwasi Shri Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha (BAPS).
As the Sampraday believes in Ekantik Bhakti and God with a form, several mandirs were built to spread bhakti and upasana. Bhagwan Swaminarayan had himself built six mandirs. Shastriji Maharaj built five mandirs and consecrated the murtis of Bhagwan Swaminarayan and Aksharbrahma Gunatitanand Swami (Akshar Purushottam Maharaj), has made the BAPS into a worldwide socio-spiritual organization, personally inspiring and consecrating over 700 mandirs. The Akshardham monuments at New Delhi and in Gandhirnager, Gujarat, epitomize the glory of Indian culture, values and principles for the uplift of mankind. The traditional shikharbaddh mandirs in London, Chicaga and Houston have evoked worldwide attention.
To pay tribute to Nilkanth’s epic travels, Pramukh Swami Maharaj has inspired a wonderful Imax film on Nilkanth’s pilgrimage at the Swaminarayan Akshardham in New Delhi. The entire complex pays obeisance to over 10,000 years of India’s glorious, art, architecture and wisdom.
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