When evil dominated over good when adharma ruled prominent over dharma, when "Might is Right" was the order or the day, when eat, drink and be merry had become the rule of life, when the pious people, without rhyme or reason were harassed by the impious ones and when darkness and disorder prevailed in all walks or tire - social, political and religious - in India, Lord Shri Swaminarayan manifested Himself at Chhapaiya, a small village, 20 kms. north of Ayodhya in U.P., on Monday, the ninth day of bright half or Chaitra of Samvat year 1837, 2nd April, 1781 at 10 Hrs. 10 Minutes. night.
Alt Shastras and all Sampradayas, usually enjoin upon their followers not to censure other Sampradayas, Shastras, Deities, Sadhus and places or pilgrimage. But in practice, they do not follow these directions sincerely. Today, a cultured Hindu, a nice Jain, a good Muslim and a fine Christian, directly or indirectly indulges indiscriminately in censuring and denouncing other Sampradayas, Shastras, deities, Sadhus and places or Pilgrimage. He does this in the name of Dharma and Ishwar and believes that by doing so, he earns great merits. Lord Swaminarayan declared in unambiguous terms that He has come not to destroy, but to harmonize all. He said that a wise and sensible man should always seek and experience unity in diversity. He, therefore, asked all Satsangis to see and pick up only good things always, i.e. merits from others. One should never see and pick up bad things from others. The governing principle to become happy and prosperous In life should be "all that is good is mine" and not "all that is mine is good." He, therefore, directed all the followers who could read and write, to study other Shastras, like Vedas, Vyas Sutra, Bhagwadgita, Bhagavat etc., over and above the Shastras of the Sampraday like Shikshapatri, Vachanamrut, Satsangi Jivan, Haridigvijay etc.
He directed all the Satsangis that if they come across a temple of Shiv, Shakti, Surya, Ganpati and other deities, enroute, they should visit the temple and have Darshan of the deity with full respect. He also asked the followers to visit places of pilgrimage like Dwarka etc. if they have sufficient means to do so. He said that a Satsangi should never rind faults with others but should find faults with himself. He said that the followers should usually follow the decision regarding celebration of Vratas, Utsavas (festivals) as adopted by Shri Vithalnathji, son of Shri Vallabhacharyaji. To illustrate the principle of all that is good is mine enunciated by Lord Swaminarayan, two instances are presented here. Eastern and Western Pandits today treat the Sankhya Shastra of Kapil Muni as an atheist Shastra (Nirishwar Shastra). But Lord Swaminarayan has, by His novel, but very happy, interpretation, showed that it is a theist Shastra (Seshwar Shastra). All Vaishnav Acharyas have denounced Shri Shankaracharya as an atheist in cognito. But Lord Swaminarayan has compared him to a man sailing in mid-ocean who would naturally exclaim that "Water only exists nothing but water is true." Evidently, these words are true for a man sailing in mid-ocean but they are not true for a man standing ashore. Lord Swaminarayan has shown to all the followers, as how to pick up Good things from others, and then form one's own independent doctrine thereupon.
His father Devsharma alias Hariprasad Pande was a very pious Saryupari Brahmin and belonged to Kautham branch or Samveda. He was a highly learned man and was respected even by the pandits of Varanasi (Kashi). He behaved in life, like Dharma-in-carnate and was, therefore, known as Dharmadev, his mother, Baladevi alias Premvatidevi was Bhakti-in-carnate. She was, therefore, called Bhaktidevi. Birth name or Lord Shri Swaminarayan was Had alias Krishna alias Harikrishna. His pet name in the family was Ghanshyam.
Social reforms are usually introduced through penal laws. But that is not the right way. Ways and habits of living, acquired by men during decades cannot be changed overnight under threat of penalty. When social reforms are introduced by enacting laws, they reform men only superficially. When they are introduced in the name of Dharma and Ishwarand by love and persuasion, they transform the lives of men immediately and permanently. At that time, scores of social evils had taken deep roots in the minds of men and society. Lord Swaminarayan devised the five vows (Panch Vratman) in such a way as to strike at the root of these evils. He simply asked all His followers to strictly observe, in spirit the five vows. He also enjoined upon all the followers not to kill a male or female even for the sake of an empire. He said that a man should not commit suicide for the sake of obtaining even Moksha.
People wanted to please Lord Swaminarayan at any cost. They would do or die upon His word. They, therefore, immediately gave up the evil custom of strangling in a pot of milk their newborn babies. They also gave up the evil custom of burning a widow together with the dead body of her husband. He said that nobody should steal or loot others' property even for the sake of performing religious duties. Thousands of persons, who had resorted to stealing and looting others' property as means of their livelihood, immediately gave up their bad habits. He said that a Satsangi should never drink wine, liquor or any intoxicating drug nor eat flash in any form. Hundreds of persons immediately gave up drinking intoxicating drugs and meat-eating. He said that a Satsangi should never use abusing language under any pretext. In those days, many people used to sing Indecent songs (Fatana) during marriage and to speak abusive languages during Holi festivals. All Satsangis, as soon as they heard the dictates of Lord Swaminarayan in this respect, not only gave up these bad habits but also began to sing good religious songs. Lord Swaminarayan said that no Satsangi should ever indulge in debauchery. Followers of the Sampraday immediately changed their attitude towards females. They began to treat them as equal partners in the voyage to Moksha. If social reforms are thus introduced in the name of Dharma and Ishwar and by love and persuasion, desired changes can be brought about within a short time. Thus, Lord Swaminarayan was a social reformer. But he introduced the reforms in the name of religious reforms.
Wicked persons always harass the pious ones. Every now and then, Dharmadev was, harassed by the wicked persons, residing in Chhapaiya and round about villages. When this harassment became unbearable, Dharmadev, one day, left Chhapaiya for good and settled in Ayodhya. Ghanshyam at that time was only 3 years old. At the age of 5, Ghanshyam started taking oral lessons from his learned father. As soon as He was Invested with the sacred thread at the age of 8, He started studying the Vedas and within less than two years, mastered all the four Vedas with all their branches. At the age of 10, He prepared a short summary book, comprising two Skandas, fifth and tenth, from Shri Bhagavat, Shri Bhagwadgita, Vidurniti and Vishnusahasranam from the Mahabharat, Vasudevmahatmya from Skand Puran and Yajnavalkya Smruti with Mitakshara commentary from the Dharmashastras. From the childhood, Ghanshyam was inclined towards a life of Tap, Tyag, and Atmasanyam i.e. severe austerities, self-sacrifice and self-control. He, therefore, wanted to leave home when the sacred thread ceremony was over. But in view of old age of His parents, He deferred this decision for some time. He served His parents, with deep love and high respect. When He was 10 years and 7 months old, His mother Bhaktidevi left this world, in the month of Kartik of Samvat year 1848, followed by His father Dharmadev, seven months later.
All those, who have reached great heights in life, have achieved them by climbing step by step. They never forget or ignore the steps afterwards. Today, many persons who have attained high position in Dharma, Jnan, Yoga and Bhakti not infrequently think themselves exempt from the observance of rules of Dharma. Many ignore or connive at the rules. Many consider themselves as fire (Agni) into which no evil can ever penetrate or live. Lord Swaminarayan ordered a halt for all such persons. He said it is by strict adherence to the rules of Dharma only, that men can rise to divine heights and it is also by observance of rules of Dharrna that a man can maintain the high position he has achieved. A man treading on the divine path, should always be alert against evil things. Non-observance of rules of Dharma or conniving at them by good people reflects adversely on the minds of common man. They would feel that the learned persons do not practice what they preach. These feelings result in creating and nourishing hypocrisy in life. Lord Swaminarayan, therefore, ordered all His followers, those highly placed in life and those standing low in the ladder of the Sampraday always to follow with love and caution all the dictates of Dharma. Only those who were physically incapable to attend to daily functions of their body themselves were allowed to act as best as they could. But for others, He did not make any exemption. Lord Swaminarayan explained that by the word Dharma, He meant Swadharma and Sadharma both. All, therefore, should follow the rules of Swadharma and Sadharma in life.
As soon as the post-death rituals or Dharmadev were over, Ghanshyam left home on the early morning or 10th of bright half of Ashadh or Samvat year 1849 and went straight to Pulhashram, an ancient place of pilgrimage, in north-west Nepal. During His sojourn of penance and pilgrimage in India, Ghanshyam assumed the name of Nilkanth-Surjudas. At Pulhashram, He practiced severe penance and soon attained highest degree of proficiency in Nishkamvrat i.e. vow of celibacy, self-control and non-attachment to worldly objects. From Pulhashram, He came down to Butvel, a Jagir town, south of Pulhashram in Nepal, Highly attracted towards Nilkanth, the ruler of the Jagir named Mahadatt, offered Nilkanth his throne as well as his daughter in marriage and requested Him to stay with them. Nilkanth smilingly rejected this offer and left the place. While moving through deep forests in Central Nepal, He met Gopal Yogi. Gopal Yogi was adept in Nirbij Yoga while Nilkanth was the master of Sabij Yoga*. Under the guidance of Gopal Yogi, He soon mastered Nirbij Yoga and in turn, He taught Gopal Yogi, Sabij Yoga. Thereafter, He started His tour of pilgrimage and visited Jagannathpuri in the east, Rameshwaram in the south and Girnar and Mangrol in the west.
Just imagine a boy, less than fifteen years of age, with only a loin cloth on His body and a rosary of Tulsi wood in His right hand and a bowl (Bhikshapatra) in His left hand, moving fast, alt atone, from one place to another, whose body was so frail and emaciated that one can see and count all bones, ribs and veins, whose face was sublime and beaming with divine luster, whose eyes were full of love and compassion for one and all. During His sojourn of places of pilgrimage ., He met various types of Sadhus and Sanyasis, visited several Mandirs and Mathas and saw critically, of course, from a distance, their ways of life and had varied types of experiences.
After the death of Gopal Yogi, He came down, via Adivarah, an ancient place of pilgrimage, on the eastern border of Nepal, to a village near Kamakshidevi in Assam. Here a Mantracharya named Pibaik, tried his utmost to intimidate and subdue Him by means of various kinds of Abhicharprayoga i.e. invoking evil spirits with a view to kill Nilkanth. But Nilkanth stood firm like a rock against this Mantrik. When the evil spirits Invoked by Pibaik dared not go near Nilkanth, they reacted sharply like boomerang on the invoke Pibaik and wanted to kill him. But Nilkanth intervened and saved Pibaik from their hands. Pibaik who was originally a Brahmin and a devotee of Goddess Mahakali then turned under the guidance of Nilkanth to his original life of Dharma and devotion to God.
At Jagannathpuri, He met an army of strong Sadhus, about fifteen thousand all equipped with all types of deadly weapons and addicted to women, wealth and intoxicating drugs and all sorts of vices. Under the guise of Sadhus, they were all leading a life of non-sadhus. Dr. Bhandarker has described them as "PapMurtis", i.e. sin-incarnate and burden on society. Nilkanth was deeply grieved at seeing their bad ways of life. When they saw Nilkanth and when they saw that people of their own, gathered around Him with folded hand good offerings, they were all enraged. They considered Him as their rival and enemy number one. But those thought who were more clever and cunning among them, that it would serve their purpose better, if He can be persuaded to become their mahant. They therefore, began to win over Nilkanth to their side but others, who were more Impatient and wanted that Nilkanth should leave the place as early as possible harass Him. They asked Nilkanth to fetch water, fuels etc. for them. But the more clever among them objected to these tactics. This led to bitter factions among themselves which ultimately resulted in a long internal warfare. Several thousands of sadhus were killed in this warfare by other sadhus. Verily the wicked acts of the wicked react fatally upon themselves.
While Nilkanth was going to Rameshwaram from srirangam, lie saw a sadhu named Sevakram lying semiconscious by roadside in a pool of blood, urine and stool. He was suffering from an acute form of dysentery (Lohi khand pet besnu). Many pilgrims and persons passed by him, but none cared to look at him. Nilkanth took pity on him and nursed him for two months. He used to beg food-grains for this ailing sadhu and prepare rood for him and feed him, while He Himself had to remain without food for several days when He could not get Bhiksha second time, during the day. This sadhu had on his person, about one thousand gold coins. He used to ask Nilkanth to get milk, ghee, sugar, etc. from this amount for him. Nilkanth used to prepare nourishing food for him. But Sevakram did not, even for a day, offer even a mouthful to Nilkanth from this food, Sevakram had, with him a load of clothes, vessels and other things about 20 kg. in weight. After regaining full strength, he used to ask Nilkanth to carry this load for him. Nilkanth used to do all these things for him. But after some time thinking that he is an evil minded selfish (Krutaghni) person, Nilkanth left him alone. Such were the experiences Nilkanth had, during His tour of India, for 7 years, I month and 11 days. And one day on the morning of the 6th day of dark half of Shravan of Samvat year 1856, Nilkanth came to Loj, a small village about 5 km. from Mangrol.
During the days of penance and pilgrimage, Nilkanth had taught by His own example, several good things to persons, who desire to attain Moksha in this life. By practicing penance at the age of 11, He asserted that Tap, Tyag, and Brahmcharya i.e. penance, non attachment to worldly objects and vow of celibacy is a must for all Mumukshus. By rejecting the offer of the throne and princess from the ruler of Butvel, He made it clear that a man, seeking to attain Moksha should always remain away and aloof from wealth, women and power. By learning, Nirbij Yoga from Gopal Yogi and by teaching him in return Sabij Yoga Nilkanth emphatically declared that mere realization of self by Yoga or by any other means leads a man no where, Yoga sadhana i.e. practice of Yoga should be resorted to not only for realization of self but for getting darshan and union with God Supreme. By converting Mantrik Pibaik to a life of devotion to God, Nilkanth explain to all devotees that evil mantras and tantras can have no adverse effect on a person devoted to God. By begging food for ailing Sadhu Sevakram and by nursing him for two months till complete recovery, Nilkanth set an example that a man should first become human, serve the ailing and the afflicted. And by personally visiting places of pilgrimage in India, He emphasized the importance and necessity of visiting with full faith and respect.
*Yoga, in which realization of self is the only goal, is known as Nirbij Yoga, whereas in Sabij Yoga, over and above the realization of self, realization and service of God Supreme is the goal.
For attaining Moksha in life, Shastras have defined four golden means: Dharma, Jnan, Vairagya and Bhakti. But various Sampradayas have taken only one of those four means i.e. either Dharma or Jnan or Vairagya or Bhakti as the only means for achieving the ultimate goal of Moksha. But they have gone a step further. They have boldly either ignored the other three means or have placed them at a very low level. A regular crusade seems to be going on among them as to which one out of the four means is the best. Lord Swaminarayan has said in clear terms that presence of all the four means is necessary. Because they are not only co-related but are co-nourishing also. Individually, Dharma, Jnan, Vairagya or Bhakti has one or the other defect which is removed only by the presence and help of other three means. A man by nature differs from another in respect of intelligence inclination and power.
Naturally, therefore, one may be more inclined to any one out of these four means. But that does not mean that it would be safe sailing for him to disregard other three means in preference to one that he likes the most. Lord Swaminarayan, therefore, introduced a novel definition of Bhagvad Dharma. Some Pandits define Bhagvad Dharma as Dharma professed by kings who were known as Bhagwat, while others define it as Dharma pronounced in "Bhagwat Puran", while others define it as Dharma followed by Bhagwat saints. Without disregarding any of these definitions. Lord Swaminarayan defined it in His own inimitable way as Dharma in which Dharma, Jnan, Vairagya and Bhakti four are combined and woven together as one whole. First preference of a follower may be any one of the above four means but yet he must also adopt the other three means in his life. Thus, Bhagwat Dharma, in the Sampraday is a beautiful combination of all the four means. He also defined it as Ekantik Dharma.
When He came to Loj, He was only 18 years and 4 months old. Here, He met Muktanand Swami, a very able, learned and trusted disciple of Shri Ramanand Swami, who at the time was moving in Bhuj, Nilkanth wrote 'a personal letter to Shri Ramanand Swami on the 5th day of dark half of Falgun of Samvat year 1856 and requested him to return to Loj as early as possible. Shri Ramanand Swami returned to Piplana, a village, 6 km. away from Loj, where on the 12th day of bright half of Jeth of Samvat year 1856, Shri Ramanand Swami and Nilkanth met for the first time. Within 5 months thereafter, Shri Ramanand Swami initiated Nilkanth with Mahabhagvati Diksha on 11th day of bright half of Kartik of Samvat year 1857. Nilkanth was named Sahajanand Swami alias Narayan Muni, and then, exactly a year later, i.e. on the 11th day of bright half of Kartik of Samvat year 1858, Shri Ramanand Swami installed Shri Sahajanand Swami in his place as Acharya and Guru of the Sampraday at Jetpur, a village in Junagadh District.
At this time, Shri Sahajanand Swami was only 20 years and 7 months old. Shri Ramanand Swami had other more able disciples, both in the Tyagi-fold as well as in Grahasthi-fold who were well versed in Yoga, knowledge (man) and Bhakti. Many persons were, therefore, surprised when Shri Ramanand Swami discarded the claims of the aged and the ablest disciples in favor of Shri Sahajanand Swami who had put in only 17 months of discipleship in the Sampraday Many persons doubted the wisdom of the Shri Ramanand Swami's action. But when, after, the installation ceremony was over, Shri Sahajanand Swami rose from His seat and with folded hands begged of Shri Ramanand Swami to grant him two requests. And when people heard and understood the meaning of these two requests, all apprehensions and doubts immediately disappeared. All appreciated and applauded Shri Ramanand Swami on his choice of the successor.
If the followers of the Sampraday are destined to experience great agonies at the time of death, which is considered much more painful than biting of innumerable scorpions, I beg, that those agonies, should befall on Me, but they should enjoy peace at that time. If the followers of the Sampraday are destined on account of their acts, to experience hardships in getting food and clothing in life, those hardships, beg, should befall on Me, but they should get food, clothes, etc. with ease and without any difficulty (Satsangi Jivan 1/59/83-84). Just imagine, a newly installed Acharya of less than 21 years, identifying His interests with the interests of His followers. This incident is unparalleled in the history of religions of the world. Shastras declare, in unequivocal terms that however great a man may be, he cannot escape from bearing fruits of his actions. What is ordained in life must be borne by a person. But here, Shri Sahajanand Swami, Acharya and Guru of all the followers of Shri Swaminarayan Sampraday pledges openly to change the course of destiny. How wonderful and how magnificent it is!
Lord Swaminarayan then introduced a very bold reform in the world or Sampradayas by declaring that the Vedas do not advocate sacrifices which involve offering of living beings. In those days many Pandits and many leaders of various Sampradayas, believed that vedic rituals of sacrifices do require offering of living beings. This belief, it seems, is based upon certain words appearing in the rituals which can be interpreted as making offering of living beings essential in sacrifices. But at the same time they also believe that the Vedas have been revealed to the Rishis by God Himself. These Rishis are, therefore, called as seers and not as authors of the Vedic Mantras. They also believed that the Vedas were the oldest books of knowledge available on Indian culture and philosophy. They also suspected that these words might be interpolations inserted by selfish persons. It may be noted, here, that the Vedas in the past were taught orally. Possibilities of interpolation here and there, therefore, cannot be ruled out. If the Vedas are words spoken and revealed by God Himself, it will be absurd to say that they advocated killing of living beings in name of Dharma and Ishwar.
Lord Swaminarayan tried to explain to the Pandits the absurdity of their beliefs. Majority of Pandit were convinced but expressed their inability to go against a custom which was in vogue for decades together. There were, at the time, many Dharmacharyas who agreed with Lord Swaminarayan but they dared not go against a custom which was going on for the past many decades in the name of the Vedas. Lord Swaminarayan. first declared eight Shastras including the Vedas as His dear Shastras and then boldly asked all the followers not to perform such sacrifices nor to partake prasad of such sacrifices. Lord Swaminarayan always first practiced what he preached. He, therefore, started performing non-violent sacrifices. This enraged many Yajnikas and Pandits. They poisoned the ears of Abba Selukar, the then Suba of the Peshvas at Ahmedabad. Suba Selukar invited very courteously Lord Swaminarayan at his palace in Bhadra and there tried to drown Him in a small well filled with boiling oil. But in this attempt, he failed miserably. After this incident this Suba was dismissed and was imprisoned. Some Pandits tried to declare the Sampradaya and the Shikshapatri written by Lord Swaminarayan Himself as non-vedic. But they in this attempt failed miserably. An assembly of Pandits known as Bharat Dharm Maha Mandal of Varansi, after long deliberations, lasting for 3 days, unanimously declared that the Sampradaya are in complete consonance with the Vedic Dharma and that they are very useful to all the followers of Vedic Dharma.
Shri Ramanand Swami moved from Jetpur to Faneni at which village he breathed his last, on the 13th day of bright half of Magshar of Samvat year 1858. Next day, after the post-death rituals of Shri Ramanand Swami were over i.e. on the 11th day of dark half of Magshar of Samvat year 1858, Shri Sahajanand Swami, held a large meeting of all the followers gathered to mourn the demise of Shri Ramanand Swami. A Bihari Pandit, named Shitaldas, was present in the meeting. He had left his home and was moving from place to place in search of a Guru, who would enable him in realization of God Supreme. Having heard that Shri Ramanand Swami was such a Guru and could help him in achieving his object, he had come to Faneni to meet Shri Ramanand Swami. But when he came, the latter had already left this world. When he explained in the meeting his object in coming to the village Faneni, Shri Sahajanand Swami with serene calmness said that he would be able to realize his object, if he chanted with love and faith the name "SWAMINARAYAN".
Shitaldas who himself was a great Pandit, had not heard this name before. He was surprised, a little bit, but without bothering about the meaning of the name, he immediately started chanting the name. Within a few minutes, he fell into trance (Samadhi). In trance, he saw Shri Ramanand Swami and under his kind direction, he had darshan of God Supreme, who he saw was none else, but Shri Swami Himself. His joy knew no bounds. As soon as he awoke from the trance, he begged Shri Sahajanand Swami to initiate him as His disciple-Sadhu.
Shri Sahajanand Swami, then initiated him in the Tyagi-fold. He was named Vyapakanand Swami. Several others in the meeting also chanted the name "Swaminarayan" and had the same experience as Shitaldas had. From that day, the name Swaminarayan became a synonym of the name of God Supreme. From that day onwards, Sampraday has come to be known as Shri Swaminarayan Sampraday It may be noted here, that the name Swaminarayan, as some try to suggest, does not indicate two names "Swami and Narayan." It is one whole full proper name of God Supreme. It means one who is omnipresent (Sarva Vyapak). In all objects, sentient (Chitt) including Aksharbrahrnn, as well as non-sentient (Achit) ones are always pervaded by Him and are internally controlled by Him. It means one who is omnipotent (Sarva Antaryami). All objects, including Aksharbrahmn are subservient to Him. It means one who is omniscient (Sarvajna Sarvatantra Sivatantra). All objects, including Aksharbrahmn, derive power of thinking (Ichha Shakti), power of knowledge (Jyan Shakti) and power of action (Kriya Shakti) from Him. It means one who is (Ek Meva dvitiya), one without a second. This meaning is explained in detail in VACHANAMRUT. (No. 64 of Godhead Chapter-I)
All Shastras and all Sampradayas of the world openly professed and preached Monotheism. But in practice, they behaved in such a way as will promote Polytheism. Every Shastra and every Sampraday advocate the theory of one God. But in the same breath they vehemently declare the God they worship as the only form of God and that other form of God worshipped by others are either non-God or are lower in status. As a result, there were as many Supreme Gods as there were Sampradayas. Lord Swaminarayan said that God Supreme k only one without a second, but to please and protect His devotees. He assumes different forms and different names. To some, He is known as RadhaKrishna, to others, He is known as Laxmi Narayan. Lord Swaminarayan, therefore, said that wise persons should never draw a line of distinction between these various forms of God. Lord Swaminarayan said that God Supreme is the only architect of the cosmos. For the work of creation, maintenance and destruction of the world, He delegates His powers to various deities, like Brahma, Vishnu, Shiv etc. respectively. One should, therefore, look upon these deities as delegates of God Supreme. It should be noted that the work of creation, maintenance and destruction is equally beneficial in the interest of promoting welfare of mankind. There should, therefore, be no quarrel for supremacy between these divinities. They are all delegate forms of God Supreme. Thus, the followers of Shri Swaminarayan Sampraday assert that there is no other God Supreme except Lord Swaminarayan. But at the same time, they never despise nor disregard other forms of God Supreme. They bow and worship them also with full respect.
During a short span of 28 years and 6 months, i.e. from Magshar to Jeth of Samvat year 1858, Lord Swaminarayan moved from village to village, between Dwarka in the West and Dakor in the East, between Siddhpur in the North and Dharampur in the South of Gujarat, Kathiawad and Cutch for the uplift of mankind. And what was the result of this continuous journey? According to the history of the Sampraday, there was practically no big temple, i.e. Shikharbandh or small, i.e. Harimandir in the beginning of the Samvat year 1858. But by the end of the 1886, there were six big temples at Ahmedabad, Bhuj, Vadtal, Dholera, Junagadh, and Gadhada and about 650 small ones, and by the end of the Samvat year 2036, there were in the Sampraday about 60 big temples and about 3500 small ones.
In the beginning of the Samvat year 1858, number of followers was about a thousand but by the end of 1886, it rose to "5 lacs (500,000) Gruhastha families (a family means 5 members) and about 1800 Tyagis (300 Bralimachnes, 1000 Sadhus and 500 Palas)", and by the end of Samvat year 2036, it was more than double. Bishop Heber of Calcutta who, with the Collector of Kheda, had darshan of Lord Swaminarayan at Nadiad in 1826 AD., exclaimed with great surprise, "Oh! How nice it would be if I had such a large faithful and distinguished band of followers !" Nanalal, a great Gujarati poet, in his translation of SHIKSHAPATRI writes "just as solar Luminaries move round the sun and Nakshatramal move round the moon, a bright circle in the form of Sadhus who were celibacy and non- attachment-Incarnate moved round Sahajanand Swami." (Suraj farti surajmal chhe ane Chandra farti nakshatramal chhe a vi Shri Sahajanand Swami farti brahmacharya ane vairagya ni sakshat moortio sami santpal sobhati). Justice Ranade described Lord Swaminarayan "As a great last Hindu Reformer" K. M. Munshi, Vijayray Vaidya and other reputed Gujarati writers described Him as a great Jyotirdhar of Gujarat.
Several civil and military officers of the time, noted with profound respect and high surprise in their dispatches and journals that "Regions and people who were most mischievous and turbulent and law-breakers have now, under the benign influence of Lord Swaminarayan, become most peace-loving, orderly law-abiding, God-fearing citizens." Sir John Malcolm, the then Governor of Bombay, specially came down to Rajkot in February, 1830 A.D., to have a darshan of Lord Swaminarayan, and whole-heartedly thanked Him and expressed his feelings of deep and respectful gratitude for the work of restoration of law and order and maintenance of peace, done by Lord Swaminarayan, without resorting to arms and ammunitions or without the help of ruling princes in Gujarat, Kathiawad and Cutch. History notes that there were during this century other great reformers like Keshavchandra Sen, Raja Rammohan Roy, Dayanand Saraswati, Ramkrishna Paramhans, Swami Vivekanand, Mrs. Annie Beasant. But none of them achieved such a marvelous success as did Lord Swaminarayan. One may naturally ask, what did Swaminarayan do in such a short time for affecting such a wonderful change for the better in the life of people ? To appreciate the answer to this question, one should look back to the political, social and religious conditions prevalent at that time.
In the Shikshapatri, Lord Swaminarayan has said, "I believe in Unique non-duality- "Matam Vishishta dvait me." What is the meaning of this word? To appreciate the meaning of the above question, one should look into the history of Indian Philosophy. All Sampradayas try to explain, of course, in their own way, the nature, the form and the relation which exist between Jivas, Jagat or Maya and Jagdishwar i.e. God Supreme. Of these Sampradayas in Indian Philosophy, five Schools are considered as the foremost: 1. Kewaladvait Mat (Only non-duality), 2. Vishishta-dvait Mat (Unique non-duality), 3. Dvaitadvait Mat (Duality in non-duality), 4. Shuddhadvait Mat (Pure non-duality), 5. Dvait Mat (Dualism), propagated respectively by Shri Shankaracharya, Shri Ramanujacharva, Shri Nimbarkacharya, Shri Vailabhacharya and Shri Madhavacharya. Except Shri Madhavacharya, the other four have all used the word advait (non-duality) to explain the nature, form and relations, existing between the above trio. But in order to distinguish their belief from the other, they have qualified it by prefixing different adjectives viz. Kewal, Vishishta, Dvait and Shudhha before the word Advait. In short Advait, means non-duality. Shri Shankaracharya advocates that the advait existing between Jiva, Jagat and Jagdishwar is Kewal i.e. absolute or complete.
Against this Shri Ramanujacharva contends that it is not Kewal but is qualified (Vishishta); while Shri Vailabhacharya asserts that it is neither Kewal nor Vishishta, but it is Suddha (pure); white Shri Nimbarkacharya maintains that it is Dvait (duality) and Advait (non-duality) both together. Against all these four, Shri Madhavacharya firmly says that there is no Advait of any kind between Jiva, Jagat and Jagdishwar, but there is duality (Dvait) for ever. Lord Swaminarayan said that it is not proper to use this word Advait to explain the nature, form and relations between Jiva, Jagat and Jagdishwar. He said that Jivas, lshwars, Maya Brahmn and Parbrahm, all these five are Anaditatvas i.e. objects to which no beginning can be ascribed. But God Supreme alone is Ek Meva Dwitiya i.e. one and one only without a second. All sentient beings (Satt and Chitt objects), including even the Aksharbrahmn are all pervaded, sustained and controlled by God Supreme. The word Advait, therefore, should be used only to explain the nature, form and power of God Supreme. It should not be used to explain the relation between the above trio.
Word Vishistadvait is a technical term or philosophy used by three Dharmacharya viz. Shri Ramanujacharya, Shri Kaulihaacharya and Shri Bagvaacharya. Jivas (souls) which are by nature sentient and immortal reside in the body, which is non-sentient and mortal and perform various kinds of acts and enjoy fruits thereof. Jivas are, therefore, described as Shariri of the mundane body. Similarly, all sentient beings which include all Jivas, all lshwars (divinities engaged in the work of creation etc. of the world), Maya, AksharbrahmnPurushas (i.e. Muktas) and Akshar brahmn as welt as all non-sentient objects which include Maya also. (Maya is described in the Shastras both as sentient and non-sentient objects). All are described as body of the God Supreme whereas God Supreme. who in respect of nature, form, quality power etc., is quite different and independent of all the sentient beings and non-sentient objects, is described as their Shariri. In other words, God Supreme is thus qualified (Vishisht) by two adjectives in the form of sentient beings and non-sentient objects. Thus qualified, God Supreme is only one without a second. This, in short, is the substance to the word Vishistadvait Mat.
As said above, three Dharmacharyas have preached Vishistadvait Mat in order to distinguish one from the other. They are known in the history of Indian Philosophy as Vaishnav, Shaiv-Shakti and Shaiv-Vishistadvait Mat respectively. Lord Swaminarayan no doubt accepted the Vishistadvait Mat of Shri Ramanujacharya as his own; but at the same time He has introduced a novel and independent definition of Sharir. Shri Ramanujacharya has defined the word in his commentary of the Sutra "Nu Tu Drastant Bhavat" of the Brahmasutras (2-1-9). In this translation of Shri Bhashya of Shri Ramanujacharya, Dr. George Thibau has translated it in the following words:
"Any substance, which a soul is capable of completely controlling and supporting for its own purposes and which stands to the soul entirely in subordinate relation, is the body of soul. In this sense all sentient and non-sentient beings together constitute the body of supreme person for they are completely controlled and supported by Him, for His own aims are entirely sub-ordinate to Him."
But this definition of Sharir is not proper. Even Dr. Thibau himself and other learned scholars like Dr Radhakrishnan, Dr. Das Gupta have criticized this definition. It may be noted that God Supreme has no personal aims to gain by becoming Shariri of various sentient and non-sentient beings. Again Jivas, lshwars and Brahmn are all Anaditatvas. It, therefore, can not be said that they own their existence to God Supreme. Lord Swaminarayan, therefore, has defined the words in a different way. He has said that God Supreme is the Shariri of all sentient and non-sentient bodies on account of their being, Adhin and Asamarth, whereas God Supreme alone is Vyapya, Sarva Vyapak, Sarvatantra Swatantra and Sarva Samarth. God Supreme is the only omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent person. There are some other points also, in which lie has differed from Shri Ramanujacharya. It is thus clear that Vishistadvait Mat propounded by Lord Swaminarayan differs in some major aspects from the one preferred by Shri Ramanujacharya.
Politically, at that time, there was no strong and stable Government worth the name anywhere in Gujarat, Kathiawad and Cutch. Like a prostitute, reins of political powers used to change hands, almost daily. The whole region of Gujarat, Kathiawad and Cutch was divided in hundreds of small Thakarats, each independent of the other and each veining to gain supremacy over the other, "Might is Right" had become the order of the day. People were unable to sleep well even during the day. There was no safety of life and property. Not a day passed without commitment of several cases of dacoities and murders. Everybody, then, was mad after power and pelf and when persons who were enjoined to protect and promote the welfare or public, had themselves become corrupt, degenerated, demoralized and as a necessary corollary thereof all-round chaos pervaded in all walks of life.
Social structure in India is based on four Varna system. The Vedic four Varnas i.e. the Brahmin-the teacher, the Kshatriya-the soldier, Vaishya- the tradesman and the Shudra-the workman were at the time further sub-divided in several sub-castes, each claiming supremacy over the others. Leaders of these castes and sub-castes, better known as Sarpanchas, behaved like pretty Rajas. Under one pretext or the other they extracted money from their followers. People lived under constant threat of excommunication. There were no proper arrangements for education. People had become addicted to various kinds of intoxicating drugs and bad habits. Males looked upon females as mere means of pleasure for them. Strong superstitions prevailed in almost every house. In some castes, the birth of a girl was considered to be a bad omen. They, therefore, used to strangle their new-born daughters in a pot filled with milk. People had become prey to various types of bad habits. Man had become utterly selfish. Dishonesty, at that time, was considered as a virtue.
At that time, there were as many Sampradayas as there were groups of men. But they were all merely skeletons of Dharma. Primary duty of Dharma is to unite people of diverse views under one banner. To Establish unity between diversities is the prime function of religion, i.e. Dharma. But the various Sampradayas which existed then, always tried to array men against men and Dharmaagainst Dharma. In the name of Dharma and Ishwar, these Sampradayas tried to gain supremacy over others. To gain power and wealth, they resorted to any means, fair or foul. In the name of Monotheism i.e. theory of one God, they, in practice, preached Polytheism i.e. theory of many Gods. Every Sampraday claimed that the deity they worship is the only Supreme God and deities or other Sampradayas are either lower in status or unreal in existence. There was no purity of thought, words and action. There was also no purity or rood or drink or behavior. To gain their ends and to win over people to their side, they usually resorted to base kind of Mantras and Tantras. Many Sadhus used to keep arms, over and above women and wealth. Under the threat of curse or at the point of a sword or bayonet, Sadhus used to force people to act as directed by them. Dharrna had become a marketable commodity. Being completely disgusted with the worst political, social and religious conditions, lacs of people were hankering and praying day in and day out for the arrival of a Savior.
Lord Swaminarayan was very bold and sometimes even revolutionary in His teachings We have seen before, that His directions with regards Vedic sacrifices are very bold and revolutionary So are some of his major teachings. He has no doubt accepted as dear the eight Shastras viz. Vedas, Vyassutras, Bhagvad Gita, Bhagavat, VidoorNeeti, Vishnusahasranam and Vasudevmahatmya and Yajnavalkya Smruti, and has asked the followers to study them and hear their Katha (Discourse). But at the same time He has asked the followers to accept and follow only those words of these Shastras, which promote Bhakti of Dwibhuj Divya Sada Sakaar form of God Supreme, Bhagwat Dharma and He has asked all His followers to always keep company of Satpurushas but at the same time He has cautioned them against pseudo Satpurushas. He has asked His followers not to follow them blindly. He asked the followers not to follow actions of a Satpurush if it be against the terms of Dharmacharan and if it leads away a person from Bhakti of God Supreme.
He has in very clear terms ordered His followers not to hear a word from a learned person who is Nirakarvadi i.e. who believes that God Supreme has in reality neither any form nor any quality. He has asked His followers always to speak truth but at the same time, He has asked them not to speak truth when it involves loss or one's own life or other persons life. He has asked His followers not to give money even for religious purposes, when one has insufficient means of livelihood. He has directed all the followers not to spend more than what they earn. He has asked all the followers to write themselves accounts of income and expenditure, daily. This daily writing or accounts means that he should daily scrutinize his actions and ascertain whether they are in conformity with the rules of his Dharma and dictates of Shikshapatri. He has asked His followers always to earn money for livelihood by fair means and has asked them to be fair and honest in their dealings with others. He has asked all the followers to cultivate high civic sense and not to spit or urinate at prohibited places and always to behave like good, cultured citizens. He has asked His followers always to speak truth but at the same time, He has asked them not to speak truth when it involves loss or one's own life or other persons life. He has asked His followers not to give money even for religious purposes, when one has insufficient means of livelihood. He has directed all the followers not to spend more than what they earn. He has asked all the followers to write themselves accounts of income and expenditure, daily. This daily writing or accounts means that he should daily scrutinize his actions and ascertain whether they are in conformity with the rules of his Dharma and dictates of Shikshapatri. He has asked His followers always to earn money for livelihood by fair means and has asked them to be fair and honest in their dealings with others. He has asked all the followers to cultivate high civic sense and not to spit or urinate at prohibited places and always to behave like good, cultured citizens. He has asked His followers never to incur debt; and if on account of circumstances beyond control one has to Incur debt, it should be repaid at the earliest. He has asked His followers not to enter into monetary transaction or transactions regarding immovable or movable property, even if the opposite party is their blood relatives, orally, without any proper attestation.
As soon as, Lord Swaminarayan assumed the Acharyaship of the Sampraday first thing that He did was, to provide food and drinking water for the needy. With this merciful end in view, He opened Sadavritas at several places like Manavadar, Loj, Agatrai, Shader, Meghpur, Sardhar, Methan, Dhoraji, Jamvadi, Bhuj, Jamnagar, Faneni, Sankali, Jetpur, Kotda, Gadhada, Kariyani, JetaIpur, Ahmedabad etc. He ordered His Sadhus to give food-grains (unbaked) to all needy persons, especially to the pilgrims and to the Sadhus, irrespective or their caste and creed. Under personal supervision, He got started digging wells and ponds at several places like Mangrol, Kariyani and other places, where there was scarcity of drinking water. This had a very healthy effect on the minds of the people.
During the last decade of His Dharmshasan, Lord Swaminarayan introduced 5 major reforms for the progress, protection and stability of the Sampraday. First major reform was regarding establishment of future Acharyaship in the Sampraday. It was a very difficult question as to who should be appointed and how should be appointed as Acharya in the Sampradaya. In many Sampradayas, Sanyasi and Sadhus were functioning as Acharyas, while in some, Gruhasthas were working as Acharyas. All Tyagis, Sadhus and Sanyasis generally believe that to give religious sermons and spiritual guidance to the masses is their prerogative only. History does not agree with this. Lord Swaminarayan, by the experience He had gained during the days of penance and pilgrimage and from hundreds of cases cited in the Shastras and Puranas, decided that a Tyagi or a Sadhu or a Sanyasi should always refrain from coming in contact with women and wealth tie should also avoid occasions which are likely to help increase Rasa-swad and Maan. Shastras and history say that before becoming a Tyagi or a Sadhu or a Sanyasi, a man should renounce all the above four things. He should not, therefore, again opt for them in life.
An Acharya of the Sampraday has many occasions of coming in contact with women and wealth. The post of an Acharya is also replete with occasions, which are likely to help increasing Rasa-swad and Maan. Lord Swaminarayan, therefore, decided that a Tyagi or a Sadhu or a Sanyasi is not the proper person for the post of an Acharya. Tyagi i.e. Brahmacharies, Sadhus and Parshads of the Sampraday, none of them should ever be considered for the Acharyaship. The Gruhastha was, therefore, the only choice to be considered for the post. But there were several difficulties in selecting a Gruhastha for the post. After consulting leading Tyagis and Gruhasthas of the Sampraday, Lord Swaminarayan decided to divide Bharat i.e. India into two divisions Uttar Desh (Northern diocese) and Dakshin Desh (Southern diocese) and appoint Acharyas on these two divisions two Gruhasthas persons from the family of Dharmadev, His father. He, then, adopted Pande Ayodhya Prasadji, son of His elder brother Rampratapbhai and Pande Raghuvir Prasadji, son of His younger brother, Ichharambhai, as His sons and appointed them as Acharyas of Uttar Desh (Northern Diocese) and Dakshin Desh (Southern Diocese), respectively.
Followers of the Sampraday one and all were highly pleased with this decision. But other persons who were not pleased with the marvelous progress made by the Sampraday took this opportunity or making allegations against Lord Swaminarayan. They said that after all Lord Swaminarayan has favored members or His own family by making them permanent Acharyas. But this is a gross mistake. If a Gruhastha was to be selected and appointed as Acharya of the Sampraday why should two Gruhastha members from the family of Dharmadev are selected? This question appears natural but its answer is also natural. Sadhus as a class always look upon Gruhasthas as slaves of worldly objects. They, therefore, in their hearts, do not entertain any loving feeling and respect for Gruhasthas. To this general belief, Tyagis of the Sampraday had an exception in the family of Dharmadev. They look upon the family of Dharmadev as divine because God Supreme Lord Swaminarayan had Himself manifested in that family. They, therefore, look upon every member of that family with divine love, respect, honor and worship. It was for this reason only that a Gruhastha from the family of Dharmadev was deemed fit for the post of Acharyaship of the Sampraday.
Next question was as to why two persons instead of one were selected for the post by Lord Swaminarayan? There were sufficient reasons for this decision. Sampraday had spread far and wide in Bharat. Number of followers also had crossed the limit of 25 lacs (2.5 million) and more. Income of the Sampraday had considerably increased and was increasing day by day. It was therefore physically impossible for one person to look after such a vast empire of Dharma. Shri Shankaracharya had divided Bharat into four Math's and had appointed his four dispels as Shankaracharya theory; Shri Ramanujacharya had established eight Pithas and had appointed eight persons as Acharyas. Shri Vitthal Nathji, son of Shri Vailabhacharya had also created eight Gadis i.e. Havelis and had appointed his eight sons as Acharya thereon, but Lord Swaminarayan had opted for the minimum number only-i.e. two divisions. Again, the Acharyas were not appointed with a view to bestow on them any pecuniary gains. We will discuss these aspects in details under the caption of Desh Vibhag No Lekh. It should be noted that Lord Swaminarayan has bestowed the posts of Acharyaships, not on the family of Pande Rampratapbhai or Pande Ichharambhai, but He has bestowed them on the family of Dharmadev.
At the same time, lie has made it clear that the posts shall not be deemed to be hereditary. Only the fittest member of the family member of Dharmadev is to be selected for the post by the ruling Acharya in consultation with leading Tyagis and Gruhasthas of the Sampraday. Acharya of the Sampraday is the sole Trustee of the Sampraday. Word trustee is used by Lord Swaminarayan not in the sense of owner but in the sense of administration Lord Swaminarayan has introduced a novel system of Acharyaship in the Sampraday. The Acharya of the Sampraday is prohibited from giving Diksha to female members of the Sampraday Not only this but he is also prohibited to meet females and talk with them. Functions of the Acharyas, as far as female members are concerned, are performed by the wives of Acharyas. She is required to perform this duty with the consent of her husband as Acharya. She is required to behave in such a way as no male person other than her near relatives should be able to see her face. It should also be noted that for the maintenance or the Acharya arid his family, a separate arrangement named Narn Vera is also made. It Is quite independent or Dharmadev which is the income meant for the deity. The Acharya of the Sampraday thus, only administers the income in the name of the deity and under orders of the deity and only for the pleasure of deity. One will hardly find such a type of Acharyaship in any Sampraday of the world.
Every human being has a right, rather is duty bound, to observe rules of Dharma and worship God. Observance of Dharma i.e. Sadachar usually depends upon certain things like place (Desh), time (Kal), age, pecuniary conditions (vita), male or female of four varnas (Jati) and physical and mental state or mind and body (Shakti). It may, therefore, vary according to the predominance of any of the above things, but everybody must be free to worship God in the way he thinks best. This principle is enunciated and accepted in all the Shastras. But some Sampradayas and some Dharmacharyas have deemed it proper to debar certain category of man from Initiation in their Sampradayas Lord Swaminarayan, from the very beginning, threw open the doors of His Sampradayto all Hindus and non-Hindus alike including Jains, Muslims, Parsis and Khojas. In the word Hindu, He specifically included females and Shudras of all types.
At the same time, Lord Swaminarayan stated clearly that a male or female should always act within the boundaries of his or her Dharma and worship God accordingly. He allowed all satshudras to put on twofold sandal wood necklace i.e. rosary and pundrak mark on their fore-head just as is done by followers or higher castes. This was a novel departure from the age-old practice and was, therefore, appreciated and acclaimed by one and all. As a result of these happy reforms, there were in the past and are today, in the Sampraday many non-Hindu followers, like Jams, Muslims, Parsis and Khojas. Number of female followers is also very large, perhaps, even larger than the male followers. It may be noted that the mode or living of a Satsangi Shudra today is just similar to that of a Brahmin. In the Sampraday today, one will find persons belonging to the highest castes of Brahmins as well as persons belonging the lowest castes.
Lord Swaminarayan directed all His disciples- Tyagis and Gruhasthas who were learned and were writers and poets to devote their time in writing books and composing Kirtans. He asserted that, good literature is one which prescribes in details the philosophy and customs of the Sampraday and which describes the divine life of God Supreme. This kind of literature promotes the welfare of the members of the Sampraday. But before giving these directions to the learned members, Lord Swaminarayan Himself wrote Shikshapatri in Sanskrit on the 5th day of bright half of Maha of Samvat year 1882, at Vadtal. Shikshapatri, a small book-contains only 212 verses in Anustup Chhand. Though it is addressed and written for the well-being of the members of the Sampraday, it is equally very useful and beneficial to others also. It may be definitely said that any one, whether he be a member of the Sampraday or otherwise, who follows sincerely the dictates of Shikshapatri, without doubt, becomes happy and prosperous in this life and life here-after. It describes in minute details the duties of the followers- Acharyas, Tyagis, Gruhasthas and females. But non-members can also follow them with ease and advantage.
First ten verses are introductory; then seventy verses explain duties common to all; then ten verses give the names of other Shastras which have been accepted as dearer to Lord Swaminarayan. Then fifteen verses explain philosophic terms and unique monotheism propounded In the Sampraday. The rest then describes special duties or Acharyas, Gruhasthas, Females and Tyagis i.e. Sadhus, Brahmcharies and Parshads. The last ten verses describe Falashruti or SHIKSHAPATRI.
There are only three works in the Sampraday written by Lord Swaminarayan Himself. First is the summary of six Shastras- namely Bhagvat, Bhagvad-Gita, VidoorNeeti, VishunusahastraNaam, VasudevMahatmya, YajnavalkyaSmruti, which was prepared by Him for His daily reading, when He was only ten years old. Second is a letter He wrote to Ramanand Swami on the fifth day or dark half of Falgun of Samvat year 1856 and third is His Shikshapatri.
Shikshapatri means Hit-tam Updesh. The word Hit-tam means ultimate real well-being in life here and in life here-after. It is a gross mistake to treat Shikshapalri as merely a book of Does and Don'ts for the followers of the Sampraday. Satangis even today treat Shikshapatri as direct orders from the divine mouth of Lord Swaminarayan. They look upon it as an idol of Lord Swaminarayan depicted in words. They follow the dictates as coming directly from the Divine personality of Lord Swaminarayan. For instance, Shikshapatri requires all the followers to rise before sunrise. A true Satangi always rises before sunrise, not because it would keep him healthy, but because it is an order from Lord Swaminarayan for him. While following the dictates of Shikshapatri the question of personal likes and dislikes does not arise. All their actions, major or minor, therefore, become devoid of ego and selfishness and, therefore are all Bhaktimaya and Nirgun. It is not possible here in this brief life sketch to give details of Shikshapatri but some outstanding directions are summarized:
It forbids performance of Yajnas (sacrifices) which involve offering of living beings. It forbids partaking Prasad of any Yajna or deity where living beings are offered to propitiate any deity. It asks all the followers to speak truth only, but at the same time not to speak truth if it involves loss of one's own tire or other man's life. Some persons commit an act of stealing not for themselves but for the sake of performing religious duties or good acts; Shikshapatri asks the followers not to indulge in such acts. He laid down that Bhakti of God Supreme should always be performed with Dharma. Under no circumstances, Bhakti should be divorced from Dharma. It asks the followers to accept and follow the good acts of great persons, but if they have done any act which is bad and against Dharma it should be left alone. Followers of the Sampraday have been asked to hear eight Shastra - Vedas, Vyas Sutras, etc. eventhough they are not Sampradayik Shastras with love and respect; but, should accept and follow only those words of these Shastras which support and promote Dharma, Jnan, Vairagya, and Bhakti of God Supreme.
Members of the Sampraday should not try to draw a line of superiority or inferiority between Narayan and Mahesh but should look upon them as one form or Brahmn. They should also respect the Panchaytan Devas-viz. Vishnu, Shiva Ganesh, Surya and Parvati. They should also celebrate Vritas and birthdays of Shri Pam, Shri Ganesh, Shri Shiva, Shri Krishna, Shri Hanuman and of all Avtaras of God Supreme. A male member should not hear even religious or philosophical sermons from female, nor should any male deliver any such sermon to a female. The gates of the temple should always remain open for the thirsty and the hungry. There are about 15 verses which are entirely philosophical; but each of these verses speak volumes. One will find directions only in Shikshapatri that no body should ever draw a line of distinction between the various forms and names known as Shri. Radha-Krishna, Shri Laxmi-Narayan, Shri NarNarayan and so on because they are all forms and names of God Supreme.
Shikshapatri directs that all the followers should also live and act within the limits of their Dharma and according to the rules of their Varnas and Ashramas but thereby should never look upon the other Varnas and Ashramas with a feeling of inferiority. It also directs that the followers should always take Diksha from the Acharya and should worship only those idols which are given to them by the Acharya himself. In the temples of the Sampraday only those idols of God Supreme should be worshipped which are installed by the Acharya himself. Before closing Shikshapatri. Lord Swaminarayan has clearly given a warning to all concerned that anybody, however great he may be, if he lives and acts against the dictates of Shikshapatri should be deemed to have been ex-communicated from the Sampraday. Shikshapatri tries to cover social, civil, educational, political, religious, philosophical, all aspects of life. It Is a practical encyclopedia and ready spiritual reference for all wise persons.
Hitherto, males and females used to sit together in the assembly to hear religious sermons. This was and is a practice prevalent in all the Sampradayas In support of this practice, it is said that souls (Jiva) are by nature neither males nor females. Again males and females are all equal in the eyes of Dharma and Ishwar. But these people overlook one natural instinct inherent in males and females. A male is naturally attracted towards a female and vice-versa. If under the guise or Dharma and Jnan, males and females mix with each other without discrimination, sooner or later, corruption is bound to creep in their lives. History abounds In such instances. Lord Swaminarayan, therefore, asserted, that a male, however great and wise he may be, mixes with females indiscriminately, is sure to fall from his high spiritual status.
He, therefore, ordered to have separate assembly for males and females. He ordered that in the assembly of females, no male should ever preach. He prohibited male members from hearing religious discourses from females. He also prohibited all Tyagis of the Sampraday from giving religious discourse to females. He also directed His Acharyas not to give Diksha (initiation) to female members. He directed that their wives only should give Diksha to female members. This was and is a novel reform never heard of before or read in any Sampraday. In the Sampraday, there were many great yogis both males and females, highly proficient in Jnan, Yoga and Bhakti. Some of them, of course, a very few, objected to this reform order. But Lord Swaminarayan was so firm and determined that even after persuasion. Those who did not conform with this order were excommunicated form the Sampraday. But very soon, people realized the farsightedness of this reform and without a word of protest, all males and females readily followed it. As a natural corollary of this reform, separate temples for females were also organized. It may be noted that even during the time of Darshan of the deity in the temple, males and females keep themselves aloof from each other. This practice is followed even today in all the temples of the Sampraday.
Some say that Lord Swaminarayan had a nausea against the fair sex. But this is a gross mistake. In those days, females were looked upon as means of pleasure for males. Lord Swaminarayan asked all male followers to entirely change this attitude and treat with pleasure their females as equal partners in life. He asked all the male members to see that their partners in life are equally Satsangis. He said that if husband and wife both are Satsangis, their voyage to Moksha becomes safe and fruitful.
Shikshapatri is JivanShastra i.e. code of life or the followers; whereas Desh Vibhag No Lekh is the constitution of the Sampraday. It is dictated by Lord Swaminarayan Himself, on full moon day of Magshar of Samvat year 1883. When Lord Swaminarayan established future Acharyaship in the Sampraday in the Kartik of Samvat year 1882 in Vadtal. He had explained orally the contents of the Desh Vibhag No Lekh to all, especially to the newly nominated Acharyas. He dictated them later in writing. Some describe Desh Vibhag No Lekh as deed of partition of the Sampraday between two Acharyas. But this is not correct. Judicial courts of Ahmedabad, Nadiad, Bombay, Borsad, Gonda and Delhi, all without a word of dissent have accepted and treated it as a constitution of the Sampraday and a charter for the followers. It is only a small booklet comprising only 35 paras or sections, contrary to the general belief. The first principle that it lays down is that inspite of the Lekh, the Sampraday is and will remain as one whole. Two divisions are created simply for the management or pecuniary affairs i.e. for securing certain facilities, such as taking Diksha and offering Dharmaday etc. for the followers. In all other respects such as the Shastras, the philosophical doctrines, Upasana rules of life for Tyagis as well as Gruhasthas observance of five vows, celebration of Vritas and Utsavas etc. or the Sampraday remains as one whole.
Second principle laid down by the Lekh is that the ownership of all movable and immovable properties of the Sampraday vest in deity i.e. Shri NarNarayan Dev in the Uttar Desh and Shri LaxmiNarayan Dev in the Dakshin Desh. This ownership of Dev is absolute, no Acharya, no Tyagi, no Gruhastha can ever claim any part thereof. It also lays down that ownership of NamVero (it is a tax of half a rupee per head in the family of followers paid per year) vests in the Acharya. The follower is required to register his name and then for continuing his name as a follower of the Sampraday. He is also required to pay a tax of half a rupee per head, per year. Third principle enumerated in the Lekh refers to the line of demarcation between the two divisions. A line starting from Calcutta in the West and rising to Kashi in the North and then falling down to Ujjain, Dahod, Godhara in the middle and then passing on to Bet Shankhodhhar in the East is drawn to demarcate the boundaries of Uttar Desh and Dakshin Desh. The fourth provision of the Lekh refers to the Acharya. It clearly states that the post of the Acharya in the Sampraday is neither a property nor a right not a franchise hereditary in the ruling Acharaya.
Son of a ruling Acharya and if the Acharya has more than one son, any one of them who is more meritorious, religious minded and capable of controlling all, has first right to be selected as a succeeding Acharya; but if he does not possess necessary qualifications or the Acharya has no male issue then, he, in consultation with leading Tyagis and Gruhasthas of his division. has to select such a person from the family of Dharmadev, and then adopt him as his son, and then nominate him as his successor. The fifth principle and a very important one laid down in the Lekh, is that the ruling Acharya must nominate his successor, even if he be his legal son. Nomination in writing by the ruling Acharya is thus a must for becoming an Acharya in the Sampraday. Another important provision in the Lekh is that though the Acharya is appointed as a sole trustee of the property, he should always consult leading Tyagis and Gruhasthas in the management of the property. Seventh provision or the Lekh is that as the property belongs entirely to the deity of flesh, none can claim ownership on any part thereof, nor can divert a portion thereof to others. The eighth principle laid down by the Lekh is that two persons have been selected not as sons of Lord Swaminarayan but as the administrators of the Sampraday Lekh enjoins all the followers to take Diksha only from the Acharya of his Desh; it also directs them to pay without fail NamVero and Dharmaday to Acharya of their Desh. Desh Vibhag No Lekh is, therefore, not merely a deed of apportionment of territories, but it is a code of conduct for all the members: Acharyas, Tyagis and Gruhasthas.
Above reform automatically introduced another reform which was long overdue. At that time, facilities for education among the masses were sparse. There were some schools and Pathshalas in big towns and cities, mostly run with the help of charity from the well-to-do persons. In village, there were scattered village schools run entirely by private persons. But there was no school worth the name for females. Influential and rich people used to educate their girls by private personal tutions. The above order of Lord Swaminarayan required, as a first condition, that the females should at least know the art at reading and writing. All followers, males as well as females, were very keen to follow, at any cost, verbatim the order of Lord Swaminarayan. Male members of the family, therefore made immediate arrangements to educate their females. Females also fully co-operated. And within a short time, number or females who could read Shastras and give discourses thereupon in the Sampraday reached to astonishing heights. It should be noted that even today, the number of learned and wise females who are well adept in fields of Jnan, Yoga and Bhakti, is Indeed very imposing. Lord Swaminarayan did not organize any school as such for the purpose, nor did He directly ordered females to learn the three 'R's i.e. reading, writing and recitation. But His mere word of the that only females should conduct their religious assemblies worked wonders. As far as the females of the Sampraday were concerned, Lord Swaminarayan was the pioneer of female education.
During the last decade of His DharmaShasan Lord Swaminarayan established beautiful, big temples at six places first at Ahmedabad in Samvat year 1878, then at Bhuj in Samvat year 1879, then at Vadtal in Samvat year 1881, then at Dholera in Samvat year 1882, then at Junagadh in Samvat year 1884, then at Gadhada in Samvat year 1885. In establishing the temples, Lord Swaminarayan practically demonstrated His unique theory of Ekeshwarvad i.e. Monotheism. He emphatically said that an Idol may be named and known as Shri NarNarayan, Shri Laxmi-Narayan, Shri RadhaKrishna but they are all the forms of God Supreme, Lord Shri Swaminarayan. One, therefore, should not draw a line of distinction between them. He, therefore, established the idols of NarNarayan Dev in Ahmedabad and Bhuj and of Shri LaxmiNarayan Dev in Vadtal and of Shri MadanMohan Dev in Dholera, of Shri RadhaRaman Dev in Junagadh and of Shri Gopinath Dev in Gadhada. To further illustrate His doctrine of Ekeshwarvad, He also installed the idols or Shiv and Parvati at Junagadh and at Gadhada, the idol of Sun, along with the other idols. In all other small temples i.e. Hari Mandirs, ChitraPratima i.e. paintings of Lord Swaminarayan Himself or together with that of Shri Dharmadev and Shri Bhaktidevi are installed.
Within two years from the date Lord Swaminarayan took over the charge more than 500 persons, all highly proficient in Jnan, Yoga and Bhakti and highly attracted by the divine personality of Lord Swaminarayan came over to Him from various parts of the country and became sadhus of the Sampraday. Lord Swaminarayan tested their fidelity by making them pass through severe tests better known in the Sampraday as Prakrans (i.e. mode of living for Sadhus). One such Prakaran is cited here for an example. Sadhus of the Sampraday were required to beg food from the people only once a day and that too just sufficient for one person only, then mix it up in a piece of cloth, dip that piece of cloth twice in water and then make a round of the mixed food and eat it. All the Sadhus, without any grudge, passed through all such acid tests.
These Sadhus moved from village to village and preached the tenets of the Sampraday. PeopIe naturally disregarded other pseudo Sadhus and gathered around these Sadhus. This enraged the so called Sadhus. They, then, first started abusing and insulting them. Thereafter, they openly began to beat them mercilessly. Without uttering a word or raking a finger in protest, Sadhus of the Sampraday used to suffer in silence, all sorts of insults and beatings. The so called Sadhus, then, changed their methods of persecution. They began looting their Bhiksha and some tried to even poison it. And when all these cruel measures failed, they started snatching away their idol of worship and Puja Sadhus or the Sampraday had a life-vow not to take food or drink water without first offering Puja They, therefore, had to remain without food for an indefinite period. Instances of persecutions of the Sadhus used to take place in the presence of various princes, thakors and leaders of the society. But none came forward to rescue the Sadhus. One day, Lord Swaminarayan, called all the Sadhus at a village named Kalvani, heard their stories of sufferings and then just to test their minds advised them to repel the pseudo-sadhus atleast by use of harsh words. With folded hands, Sadhus of the Sampraday then replied, "It Is not proper for us to repel them by use of harsh words. We are Sadhus. We should always forget the evils and forgive the evil-doers. Moreover, when evil-doers do not give up their evil habits, why should we Sadhus Give up our Sadhuta. Lord Swaminarayan was extremely pleased to hear these words. And, then, to protect these Sadhus, He adopted a novel, but practically very effective way of action. He asked all the Sadhus to give up, of course, temporarily, all physical signs and symbols such as wearing Tulsi rosaries, putting on Tilak and Chandla on the fore-head and such other things which would outwardly distinguish them from other sadhus. He also asked them to offer daily Puja only mentally. This period of inhuman and cruel persecution continued for about 5 years.
Lord Swaminarayan has laid down certain principles governing admission in the Sampraday. A person, who wants to embrace the Sampraday in the first instance, is required to observe five vows (i.e. abstaining from drinking wine, liquor or any intoxicating drugs, eating flesh, stealing, debauchery and taking food and drinks from improper persons or sources). Any advanced and experienced Tyagi or Gruhastha, can administer these vows. When one observes these vows satisfactorily, he is known as Ashrit of the Sampraday. He is there after given SharanMantra by the Acharya. Then, after lapse of some time, say six months, he is given Sadharan Diksha by Acharya. (In the case or females. the above three procedures are performed by the wife of the Acharya. No other person, even if he be a Brahmanistha, is authorized to give Diksha of the Sampraday to any one. He is then known as Ashrit Satsangi. Then, if the man wants to renounce the world and to become a Tyagi of the Sampraday he is first required to seek and serve a Tyagi of the Sampraday for some time and then, when that Tyagi thinks him fit to receive Maha Diksha, he requests the Acharya to initiate him as a Tyagi by giving Maha Diksha. Maha Diksha is always given on auspicious day and time and in the presence of learned persons, fire, Sun, Brahmins, and the presiding Deity. It should be noted that this Diksha and Maha Diksha (Vaishnavi Diksha) differs from one, given in other Sampradayas.
A person who is initiated as Tyagi in the Sampraday puts on sacred thread, keeps Shikha and wears dhoti like Brahmins. He is also required to chant VishnuGayatri daily. Lord Swaminarayan intentionally introduced three classes In Tyagi fold of the Sampraday - Brahmcharies, Sadhus and Parshads. A person who is Brahmin by caste before initiation, is termed as Brahmchari after initiation. One who is a twice born (dwij) person (other than a Brahmin) before initiation is termed after taking Maha Diksha as a Sadhu and those who do not want to enter the class of Brahmchari or Sadhu is allowed to remain as Parshads. An independent class of Parshad is also allowed. Rituals of giving Maha Diksha to all the above three classes differ in certain respects but Mantropdesh remains unchanged for all. The above three classes differ In dress and names and in observance of certain rules. A Brahmchari Tyagi puts on white dhoti and Bhagwa apron on his body and a turban with a red woolen cap therein. His name always ends with 'nand" (e.g. Krushnanand). A Sadhu wears all the clothes, in Bhagwa color, his name ends with "das" (e.g.Krushnadas). whereas, a Parshad wears, all white clothes. He is allowed to continue his former name but his surname (last name) is changed into Bhagwat.
It may be asked why these distinction of Brahmcharies, Sadhus and Parshads are maintained even after becoming a Tyagi? Lord Swaminarayan desired that the Seva Puja (worship) work and preparing ThaI etc. for the deity should also be done by a high-class Brahmin. The class of Brahmchari among the Tyagis appears to have been created with the above idea in view. Tyagis of the Sampraday are all required to keep themselves aloof from coming into contact or touching women and wealth. In order that these principles be observed fully the class of Parshads appears to have been maintained. The parshads of the Sampraday are allowed to touch wealth only for the purpose of management of pecuniary affairs of the Sampraday. It may also be noted that the Acharya, who gives Maha Diksha to the persons becoming Tyagis does not give him Bhagwa clothes, as he is Gruhastha. But these clothes are given by the Tyagi through whom he has taken Maha Diksha from the Acharya. He is also allowed to mention the name of this Tyagi as his Guru even though the Maha Diksha is given by the Acharya. Tyagis of all the three classes. They reside and eat, separately from each other.
Lord Swaminarayan was very simple and straight toward in His directions. He said whosoever wants to embrace His Sampraday, must, first take a vow to abstain from (1) drinking wine, liquor, or any intoxicating drug in any form, (2) eating flesh in any form under any case, (3) an act of stealing, (4) debauchery and (5) partaking food and drinks from improper persons and sources. These five vows are known in the Sampraday as Panchvartman. Observance of these five vows is a must for each and every followers of Sampraday, may be an Acharya or a Tyagi or a Gruhasth-male or female. These vows, appear simple on paper, but in practice they cover almost all items which otherwise make human life unhappy. Any one who is not even a follower of the Sampraday, observes these vows sincerely, he would be definitely happy in all respects.
Even though the mode of worship of idols in the temples resemble more or less to that adopted in Vaishnav Mandirs of Shri Vallabhacharya, Lord Swaminarayan has in certain respects made necessary changes therein. As said before, in the temples of the Sampraday there are various forms of God Supreme like NarNarayan Dev, Shri Laxmi Narayan Dev etc. are worshipped with equal love and respect. But in Vaishnav Mandir, one will never find an idol other than Shri Krishna. Even the form of Shri Krishna is in Balyavastha. In the early morning at about 5-30 a.m. or so ceremonies regarding Mangala Puja and Arti are performed and within an hour and a half and after this, ceremonies or Shrungar Puja and Arti are performed. At about 9-30 a.m. or so ceremonies or Raj Bhoga is performed. At 10-15 am. or so ceremonies or Raj Bhoga Arti are performed. At about 12-00 noon gates of the temples are closed for Vishranti.
At 3-30 p.m. or so, awakening ceremonies are performed. At the time of Sandhyakal, Sandhya Arti is performed. Again, at 8-00 p.m. Shayan Bhog is offered and about 9-00 p.m. or so ceremonies of Shayan Arti are performed. Thus, ceremonies at five times as shown above in a day are performed. All the Tyagis and Gruhasthas together offer joint prayers. During interval between the above ceremonies Katha of Shastras are read and heard. Lord Swaminarayan was very particular in performance of Seva Puja. He has, therefore, asked the followers to follow the above instructions with care, love and respects.
It is said that a man is only a creature of his habits. Usually men acquire bad habits more than good ones and then think that these bad habits have become part and parcel of their lives. But this is a gross mistake. Lord Swaminarayan asked all His followers to be the master or themselves. He said that a man should never allow habits to lord-over him. Lord Swaminarayan, never asked His followers directly to give up bad habits but He merely asked them that if they want to please Him and also to be known as members of Shri Swaminarayan Sampraday they should, rigidly observe the five vows. Their observance automatically necessitates, giving up all bad habits and all vices. Lord Swaminarayan asked all the followers to have only two habits in life. First to take pure food and wear clothes just necessary to maintain and protect the body and to earn money by fair means just sufficient to get food and clothing. And secondly, to know one's self and after knowing the self, to know and worship God Supreme who always dwells independently within the self. Thousands of people gave up their bad habits and all vices, the moment they became followers of the Sampraday Other people were highly surprised to see those life long addicts giving up bad habits and vices immediately. It was a miracle for them.
Whenever Lord Swaminarayan delivered some religious or spiritual sermons it was customary to note them down. The work of noting was done by a Tyagi who accompanied Him or by any Gruhastha who was present at that time. These notes in the Sampradayare known as Khardas. Naturally the number of such Khardas was very large but they were neither got approved nor authenticated by Lord Swaminarayan. In the beginning of Samvat year 1885, He issued an order and collected these notes-Khardas at Gadhada. He then appointed a small editorial committee of trusted and able Tyagis. This committee worked under His personal supervision and guidance and reduced as per His personal instruction the number of His talks to a sizable volume and published it under the name of VACHANAMRUT, by the middle of Samvat year 1886. Though the VACHANAMRUT is edited by this small committee of Tyagis, the editors have taken particular care to keep the words spoken by Lord Swaminarayan as they were. In each VACHANAMRUT, they have added only the first paragraph in which the place, year, time, etc. or the VACHANAMRUT is given. It should be noted that VACHANAMRUT is the fifth literary work of Lord Swaminarayan.
The first literary work is the summary book of Six Shastras, the second is the letter written by Lord Swaminarayan to Shri Ramanand Swami, third is Shikshapatri, fourth is Desh Vibhag No Lekh. The other two great literary works namely Satsangi Jivan by Shatanand Muni and Hari Digvijay by Nityanand Muni were read over Chapter by Chapter to and got approved by Lord Swaminarayan Himself. Before the end of Samvat year 1886, Bhakta Chintamani of Nishkulanand Swami, which was completed four months after the departure of Lord Swaminarayan, appears also to be got approved by Lord Swaminarayan. These literary works are directly associated with Lord Swaminarayan.
But there were a very large number of Sanskrit and Prakrit literate writers and poets. They during their lifetime have compiled many Sanskrit and Prakrit works. Shatanand Muni has written a commentary Aarth Dipika by name, on Shikshapatri and has got it approved by Lord Swaminarayan Himself. He has written some other works like Sarva Mangal Stotra (some of 1000 names of God Supreme), Jan Mangal Stotra, Dharmadev Stotra, Bhaktidevi Stotra, Vasudev Stotra (all describing 108 names of Gods) and Uddhav Siddhant. Gopalanand Swami has written several books in Sanskrit and in Gujarati, outstanding among them is his commentaries on Prasthantray i.e. Ten Upnishadas, Brahmsutras and the Bhagavad Gita and commentaries on the second, fifth, tenth and eleventh Skandhas of Bhagavat. Muktanand Swami has also compiled a number of works in Sanskrit and Gujarati. He has written a commentary on Brahmsutra and about 27 works in Gujarati and about 500 Kirtanas. Nityanand Swami has also written many books in Sanskrit, commentary on Shandilya Sutras (This is one of the best Bhakti Shastras.) and on Bhagwat Gita. His HariDigvijay is a Great scholarly work on the philosophy of Lord Swaminarayan. Vasudevanand Brahmchari has written Satsangi Bhushan in 5 Chapters.
Over and above these Sanskrit writers the names of Ayodhya Prasadji Maharaj, Raghuvirj Maharaj, Shuka Muni should be mentioned. They have compiled commentaries on Satsangi Jivan and other works. Shuka Muni who is known in the Sampradayas a personal secretary of Lord Swaminarayan has written about eleven works. So also Yoganand Muni who has written three independent works. Names of Bhagavat Prasadji Maharaj, Dinanath Bhatt and Achintyanand Brahmchari also deserve mention. There are more than 12 renowned Gujarati poets in the Sampraday. Many books of Kirtanas have been published but there are about 2000 Kirtanas, which are still unpublished. Number of Kirtans composed by these writers are more than 16000.
VACHANAMRUT, though in Gujarati is a concise but very lucid book on the philosophy of Lord Swaminarayan. Though a book of philosophy it is so simple that it can be understood even by an illiterate person. In the Upanishad a question is asked, "Which is the object knowing of which everything else becomes known to the person?" We can say on the analogy of this question that if a person knows VACHANAMRUT thoroughly well, everything else becomes known to him. Vachanamrut as it suggests, is the nectar which sustains and protects the interest and lives of the followers against all odds.
There was, at the time, abundance of book-learning. People used to talk fluently and freely about Dharma and philosophy but very few used to put it In practice. Many learned people, who were adept in Jnan, Yoga and Bhakti, considered themselves exempt from observance of the rules of Dharma. Lord Swaminarayan laid full stress on Good moral character. He said that observance of good moral conduct only results in bringing real happiness in life. Mere learning does not make a man perfect. Good character, alone, leads a man to a life of perfection. Good moral character and full trust in God-these are the two factors which drive away the beasts from the man, makes him a real man and ultimately transforms him into a Mukta.
Lord Swaminarayan emphatically said that observance of Dharma is the fountainhead of knowledge (Jnan), non-attachment (Vairagya) and Bhakti. Without the key stone of Dharma, all these cannot stand on their own. A learned man and a good orator may, perhaps, attract people for the time being, but will never be able to help them in achieving the ultimate goal of Moksha i.e. divine life of real happiness. Observance of Dharma in life is just like a pure pearl full of divine luster, while mere talks of Dharma, Jnan, Yoga and Bhakti are like artificial pearls which are devoid of real luster. It was because of insistence on good moral character above all other things, that people immediately flocked together with pleasure under the banner of Lord Swaminarayan.
One day i.e. on the 10th day of bright half of Jeth of Samvat year 1886 (Jeth is the last i.e. 12th month of the year 1886) Lord Swaminarayan gathered all the leading Tyagis and Gruhasthas before Him at Gadhada and with a very calm and serene tone said to them, "I have fully realized My mission i.e. Avatar Karya and have established a royal path by following which one can easily reach Akshar Dham, the abode of God supreme. I, now with to depart from this world. I promise you all that henceforward I will meet you all through My idols established In the temples and through My Shikshapatri." So saying He closed His eyes.