Known as Dharmapita, Hariprasad Pande or Devsharma was born on Kartik sud 11, Samvat 1796, in Itar to the pious Sarvariya Brahmin family of Balsharma and Bhagyavati. Known as Bhaktimata, Premvati or Baladevi was born on Kartik sud 15, Samvat 1798, in Chhapaiya to Krishnasharma and Bhavani. Chhapaiya is a small town near Ayodhya, in the northern part of India, famed as the birthplace of Lord Rama. At the time of their marriage, upon Krishnasharma's request, Dharmapita and Bhaktimata stayed at Chhapaiya. In Samvat 1818, a bright son named Rampratapbhai was born to the couple.
Due to increasing harassment by irreligious people, the family soon moved to Ayodhya. While visiting Prayag (or Allahbhad, located in U.P. where the Yamuna, Ganga, and Saraswati Rivers meet), Dharmadev and Bhaktimata met a powerful saint named Ramanand Swami. Ramanand Swami blessed the couple who accepted him as their guru. The family moved back to Chhapaiya (with the help of Bhaktimata's brother, Vishram Tiwari), where their devotional life was an example for all. Hanuman, who had protected the couple, asked them to travel to holy Vrindavan. There, God appeared from the yagna and said He would take birth in the family. Lord Swaminarayan was born in Chhapaiya to Dharmapita and Bhaktimata on the auspicious occasion of Ramanavmi on Monday (per Bhaktachintamani), April 2, 1781 (Chaitra sud 9, AS 1837) at 10:10 pm. A third son, Icharambhai, was born in Samvat 1842.
When Lord Swaminarayan was 3 months and 12 days old, Markandey Rishi came as an astrologer to Dharmadev's home and asked for bhikshaa (alms). Markandey Rishi sang the glory of the baby and named Him "Hari" and "Ghanshyam." Once, Dharmadev and Bhaktimata tested Ghanshyam by placing a Bhagavad Gita, a gold coin, and a knife, in front of Him. Ghanshyam chose the Bhagavad Gita foreshadowing His divine destiny. After choosing the Gita, Ghanshyam opened it and pointed to the famous verse, "Yadaa yadaa hi dharmashya ... sambhavaami yuge yuge" which means "Whenever negative elements pervade the earth, I [God] will come to protect My devotees" (Gita 4/7-8).
Soon, Rampratapbhai got married to Suvasini (known as "Suvasinibhabhi"). Suvasinibhabhi showered Ghanshyam with motherly affection and devotion. Ghanshyam regularly played with His friends Veni, Madhav, and Prag. The family cow, Gomti, also eagerly served Ghanshyam.
On June 19, 1783 (Jeth sud 5), Ghanshyam's mundan (hair-cutting) ceremony was held at the sacred place of Makhoda, which is on the banks of the Manvar River, four miles south of Chhapaiya. A barber named Amai was performing the ceremony while Ghanshyam sat on Bhaktimata's lap. With half His head shaven, Ghanshyam became invisible to Amai. Upon Bhaktimata's insistence, Ghanshyam finally reappeared. Ghanshyam then went to play with the village children. (Earlier, when Ghanshyam was only six days old, the evil Kalidatta had summoned a group of demonesses to kill Ghanshyam. Hanuman rescued Ghanshyam and brought Him back to Dharmadev and Bhaktimata.) This time, Kalidatta personally came to capture Ghanshyam. He covered the sky with black clouds and made the trees shake, terrifying the children. Ghanshyam remained calm until Kalidatta finally hit into a tree and collapsed. When Dharmadev and the family found Ghanshyam, He was sitting next to the tree where Kalidatta had died.
DEVOTION IN AYODHYA
The family now moved to Ayodhya. By the time Ghanshyam was 5 years old, Dharmadev began teaching Him the Vedas and Hindu scriptures. Ghanshyam also studied under a teacher named Hrudayrama. Ghanshyam bathed in the Saryu River early in the morning and regularly visited the temples in Ayodhya, especially the Hanuman Gadhi temple. Once, Bhaktimata asked Rampratapbhai to call Ghanshyam home. Rampratapbhai went to the Hanuman temple first, where Ghanshyam was engrossed in listening to discourses on Lord Rama. Ghanshyam asked Rampratapbhai to visit the other temples while the discourse finished. To his surprise, Rampratapbhai found Ghanshyam at Kanakbhavan listening to discourses on the Shrimad Bhagavat, at Kopbhuvan meditating on discourses on Lord Rama, and similarly in every temple he visited! Dharmadev and Bhaktimata also often witnessed the oneness of the family statue of Lord Krishna and Ghanshyam.
Once, while Suvasinibhabhi was cooking, Ghanshyam took her ring. He then made a deal with a shopkeeper that he would give the ring in exchange for Him and His three friends being allowed to eat as much sweets as they desired. When Suvasinibhabhi realized that Ghanshyam took her ring, Ghanshyam confessed what He had done. When Dharmadev and Rampratapbhai met the shopkeeper, he complained that Ghanshyam ate all the sweets. Ghanshyam however insisted that all the sweets were still there. When everyone saw that the shop was still full, the shopkeeper returned the ring and bowed down to Ghanshyam.
DIVINITY IN THE TOWN OF TARGAAV
At the request of Suvasinibhabhi's brother, Baldev Dubey, Ghanshyam accompanied Rampratapbhai and Suvasinibhabhi to Targaav. At Baldev's cucumber farm, workers were removing weed from the field. Ghanshyam with other children started cutting the cucumbers instead. When the workers complained, Rampratapbhai got angry at Ghanshyam. Ghanshyam however insisted that he did not do anything wrong. To the surprise of everyone, all the cucumbers were intact.
In the nearby village of Pirojpur, Ghanshyam climbed a tree in the Upvan Garden and gazed West. In this way, Ghanshyam explained that His manifest Abode and many liberated souls awaited for Him in Gujarat. Another time, when Ghanshyam climbed a tree on the banks of Talaiya Lake, He was struck on His right thigh, leaving a scar [ref. Vachanamrut Gadhada First 37].
After staying in Targaav for six months, Rampratapbhai, Suvasinibhabhi and Ghanshyam went to Chhapaiya. Once when Ghanshyam went to Lake Meen to play with His friends, He saw a fisherman that had captured some fish. Ghanshyam tried explaining to the fisherman that it was sinful to hurt other animals in this way. Ghanshyam then sent the fisherman into samaadhi to help him see the consequences of his violent ways. When the fisherman awoke, He promised to change his ways. When Ghanshyam glanced at the captured fish, they came back to life and jumped into the lake.
Dharmadev and Bhaktimata now came to Chhapaiya to help cut the crops in the farm to take back to Ayodhya. Ghanshyam was given a stick and instructed to make sure that birds do not ruin the crops. Ghanshyam however played with His friends Raghuvir and Buxram in the nearby field that belonged to Madhavram Shukla. In the meantime, birds that came to the farm fell to the ground as they experienced samaadhi. In the evening, Ghanshyam awoke all of the birds and they flew away.
Back in Ayodhya, on March 7, 1789 (Fagun sud 10) Ghanshyam accepted a sacred thread at the upavita sanskaara celebrated by Dharmadev and Bhaktimata.
Ghanshyam would often rest at a Shiva Mandir in the Barahattapur Gardens during the afternoon time. There, a Shiva devotee named Devibaksha would daily pray to Lord Shiva and ask that he become a donkey in his next life [ref. Vachanamrut Gadhada Last 14]. Ghanshyam decided to impart the knowledge of God and Devibaksha saw Lord Shiva in Ghanshyam.
GLORY IN KASHI
By the age of 11, Ghanshyam had mastered the sacred Hindu texts and joined Dharmadev on a trip to Kashi (Benaras or Varanasi). On the occasion of a lunar eclipse, the King of Kashi had invited Brahmins throughout India and served them at his place. At the Gomath Ashram by the Ganga River, Dharmadev was asked to head a spiritual debate. The debate dealt with varying vaadas (philosophies) of dvaita (dual), advaita (non-dual), and other schools of thought that describe worship to God. An elderly scholar defending the non-duality principle always won the debate by way of convincing arguments. This time Ghanshyam asked His father if He could speak, and explained to everyone the principle of vishishtha-advaita (special non-dual). The whole assembly was amazed and even the old scholar jubilantly accepted his defeat. Finally, Ghanshyam showed His divine form to the assembled scholars. As news of the incident spread, Dharmadev and Ghanshyam returned to Ayodhya on a chariot.
In the dvaita philosophy, a devotee worships God while remaining separate from Him, while in advaita the devotee feels a oneness with God. In the vishishtha-advaita philosophy, God resides within the devotee, and the devotee has swami-sevaka-bhaava (a master-servant relationship) with God.
BLISS TO DHARMADEV AND BHAKTIMATA
On Kartik sud 8 in 1792, Bhaktimata fell ill. Ghanshyam remained at her side, imparting the knowledge and bliss of His form and His Akshardham. On Kartik sud 10, Bhaktimata's soul returned to Akshardham.
On June 7, 1792 (Jeth vad 3), Dharmadev fell ill. Ghanshyam revealed His form to His father and on Jeth vad 4, Dharmadev's soul returned to Akshardham.
On the rainy night of June 29, 1792 (Ashadh sud 10), while all of Ayodhya was sleeping, Ghanshyam renounced His home. Known as Neelkanth Varni during His sojourns, He traveled throughout India. His hair was tied in a knot on His head; His forehead had a tilak-chandalo; on His neck was a two-stringed kanthi and a batwo (cloth bag tied at the neck) holding a shaligram (known as Bal Mukund); across His chest was a janoi; He was covered only in a loincloth, with a mekhala (jute-like string tied at the waist); and He carried a rosary, a water gourd with a filter-cloth, a wooden dand (stick), a wooden bowl for alms, and a gutko (diary) He wrote containing the essence of Vedic scriptures [ref. Haricharitramrut Sagar 2/1]. After traveling for 7 years, 1 month, and 11 days, and walking over 7,500 miles, Neelkanth Varni concluded His journey in the village of Loj in the Junagadh District of Gujarat.
NEELKANTH VARNI'S JOURNEY ACROSS INDIA FROM AYODHYA TO LOJ1. Neelkanth began His journey on June 29, 1792 (Ashadh sud 10, AS 1849) from Ayodhya. When Neelkanth reached the Saryu River, an evil man picked Him up and threw Him into the river. Neelkanth swam across and reached the opposite bank.
2. Neelkanth stayed at Naimisharanya, which is in today's Uttar Pradesh, for 4 days. This is the place where Suta Goswami retold Shukdevji's Shrimad Bhagavat to sage Saunak and the assembled saints.
3. Neelkanth then came to the Himalayan area of Haridwar, which is in today's Uttar Anchal.
In Shripur, Neelkanth declined the offer to be the head of a wealthy aashrama. The head told Neelkanth not to stay outside overnight because a ferocious lion terrorized the townspeople. To the surprise of all, the lion was put into samaadhi and Neelkanth lovingly put His hands on the now humble lion.
4. Neelkanth left Rishikesh for Kedarnath on September 16, 1792 (Bhadarvo vad 15), and then went from Kedarnath to Badrinath. Neelkanth took a meal with the priest there on Diwali in 1792. After going back down to Joshimath (or Jyotirmath) with the priest in mid-October, Neelkanth went up to Badrikashram (or Badrivan), reaching on November 7, 1792 (Kartik vad 8). Neelkanth stayed at the spiritual abode of Lord Nara-Narayan for 3 months.
5. Neelkanth then headed deep into the Himalayas into today's Tibet to the Manasarovar Lake (the source of the Saryu River; near Mt. Kailash, the abode of Lord Shiva). Neelkanth stayed there for 5 days in February 1793, bathing in the freezing waters, and returned to Badrinath on May 13, 1793 (Vaishakh sud 3). He had fasted for the six-month duration.
In Badrinath, Neelkanth met King Ranjitsinh of Punjab; after going to Gangotri/Gaumukh (the source of the Ganga River), Neelkanth met the king again in Haridwar. Neelkanth retraced back to Ayodhya via Haridwar and then headed North, again through the Himalayas toward today's Nepal.
6. In Vanshipur, Neelkanth declined the king's offer to marry his two daughters and be the heir of the kingdom.
Traversing the dangerous Kali Gandki River, Neelkanth headed to Muktinath (Nepal). Closeby is the sacred place where Bharatji, son of Rushabdevji, meditated (called Bharatkund). At Pulhashram (named after Brahma's son, Pulha) Neelkanth underwent strict penance (standing on one leg with hands raised). He ended His 2 1/2 month penance on November 14, 1793 (Kartik sud 11).
7. After Muktinath, Neelkanth met Mohandas who was attached to Neelkanth's water-pot. Neelkanth shattered the attachment and told him to meet him in Gujarat (where he was later initiated as Vrajanand Swami).
Neelkanth then went to Butolnagar, where King Mahadutt and his sister, Queen Maya insisted that Neelkanth stay with them. When Neelkanth left the first time, the king's soldiers brought Neelkanth back to the kingdom. Neelkanth stayed for several months, leaving after celebrating Janmasthami on August 18, 1794.
In October 1794, in the forests of Nepal, Neelkanth met Gopal Yogi, whom He stayed with for about a year. Neelkanth mastered ashtaanga (eight-fold) yoga, and left after performing Gopal Yogi's cremation rites.
In Kathmandu (capital of Nepal), Neelkanth cured King Ranbahadur of his stomach ailment, thus freeing the saints that the king had imprisoned. After 1 month, Neelkanth continued his journey, crossing into Tibet, and then back through Nepal.
8. Neelkanth then traveled across East Bengal (today's Bangladesh). In Sirpur, Neelkanth met King Siddhavallabh (and was served by Gopaldas), revealing to the king the nature of negative ascetics. Neelkanth left there after Diwali in 1796.
In Assam, Neelkanth arrived at the Kamakshi Devi temple. Here, Neelkanth was confronted by Pibek, who terrorized the townspeople. (Pibek was once a pious Brahmin but was misled into a life of evil practices and black magic.) Pibek's own evil powers turned agasint him, and he finally surrendered to Neelkanth. After 1 month, Neelkanth headed south towards the spiritual Navlakh Mountain.
Neelkanth reached the Navlakh Mountain on January 13, 1797 (Poshi Poonam). At the Navlakh Mountain, Neelkanth satisfied yogis waiting for liberation (navalakha literally means nine hundred thousand, referring to the large number of yogis performing penance).
Neelkanth also stopped at Gangasagar and then stayed at Kapil Muni's aashrama at Sundarvan for 1 month.
9. On the way to Jagannath Puri (in today's Orissa), Neelkanth stayed at Jairamdas's residence. When Neelkanth left, Jairam found Neelkanth again in Jagannath Puri.
In Jagannath Puri, Neelkanth accepted the devotion of King Rajaram Mukunddev Pundit, the Governor of Orissa. Jagannath Puri is famous for the Rath Yatra festival where the moortis of Lord Krishna (Jagannath), Balaram (Baldev), and Subhadra are paraded on chariots. On June 26, 1797 (Ashadh sud 2), the king had Neelkanth sit on a chariot as well.
In Janakpur, Neelkanth displayed His compassionate nature and would not pluck vegetables at the behest of negative ascetics who destroyed themselves [ref. Vachanamrut Gadhada Middle 60]. After over half a year at Jagannath Puri, Neelkanth traveled through Tilang (Andhra Pradesh).
At Manaspur, Neelkanth warded off negative ascetics from King Satradharma's kingdom. After this, Jairam returned home - after an illness in Purushottam Puri, Jairam met Neelkanth in Loj and was later initiated as Jignasanand Swami.
Neelkanth graced Venkatachal (or Tirupati, the home of Lord Vanketeshwar) and continued South.
10. Neelkanth then met Sevakram [ref. Vachanamrut Gadhada First 10], stopped at Srirangakshetra for 2 months, and finally reached Setubandh Rameshwar, staying there for another 2 months. Lord Rama rested here while the bridge to Lanka was built to defeat the demon Ravan and rescue Sitaji.
11. Neelkanth then went up to Bhutpuri (or Sriperumbudur, birthplace of Ramanujacharya) and back down to Totadri (advising Jeer Swami, head of the seat of the Ramanujacharya Sampraday).
After reaching the southern tip of India at Kanyakumari (named in honor of Parvatiji) on around October 1798 (during Navratri), Neelkanth headed back North.
12. After crossing Melukote (sanctified by Ramanujacharya), Neelkanth entered Maharashtra.
Neelkanth stayed 2 months at Pandharpur at the bank of the Bhim River where the abode of Lord Vithala or Pandurang (a form of Lord Krishna) resides. He then spent 1 month in Pune, where Neelkanth stayed at the garden of the devoted Peshwa Diwan, Bapu Gokhale. After going through Burhanpur (in today's Madhya Pradesh) and Nasikpur (bathing in the Godavari River), Neelkanth entered today's Gujarat.
13. In Gujarat, Neelkanth traversed through Dharampur, Surat, towns near the Narmada River, Vadodara (meeting Amichand Sheth), Dakor, Vadtal (meeting Joban Pagi), Bochasan (meeting Kashidas Patel), Dholera, Bhavnagar, Mahuva (birthplace of Bhagatji Maharaj), Guptaprayag (revealing to Bhana Pathak His future name, Sahajanand Swami), Lodhva (staying at Lakhu Charan's place - a disciple of Ramanand Swami's guru, Atmanand Swami), Prabhas Patan (where Lord Krishna renounced his body, at Bhalka Pond), Junagadh (climbing Girnar Mountain), Piplana (revealing His identity to Narsinh Mehta), Madhada (gracing celibate Jetha Mer and his wife), Mangrol (meeting Govardhan Sheth) and finally to Lojpur. Neelkanth blessed many people before reaching His final stop.
14. On August 21, 1799 (Shravan vad 6), at Loj (near the port town of Mangrol in the Junagadh District) Neelkanth Varni meets Sukhanand Swami, a saint belonging to Ramanand Swami's group and ends His amazing travels.
Sukhanand Swami saw Neelkanth Varni meditating, and was immediately attracted by His brilliance. He asked Neelkanth Varni to meet Muktanand Swami, who was heading Ramanand Swami's group of about 50 saints in Loj. Everywhere Lord Swaminarayan had traveled, He had asked for the definition of the five eternal entities. Lord Swaminarayan was satisfied by Muktanand Swami's wisdom, and accepted Ramanand Swami as His guru.
Ramanand Swami was the family guru of Lord Swaminarayan. He is considered the incarnation of Uddhavji, who inherited divine knowledge from Lord Krishna (related in the Shrimad Bhagavat, chapter 11). Ramanand Swami was born as Ramasharma to Ajay and Sumati Trivedi in Ayodhya on Shravan vad 8, Samvat 1795 (or August 7, 1738). From a young age he desired to become a saint. He left his family, and met a saint named Atmanand Swami in Gopnath (near Tadaja village in Saurashtra). (Atmanand Swami was born in a Brahmin family on Aso sud 10, Samvat 1739, as Vishvambhar Bhatt. He renounced his family and was initiated by a saint named Gopalanand Swami or Govindanand Swami.) Atmanand Swami initiated Ramanand Swami and taught him the first five steps of ashtaanga-yoga. Ramanand Swami began practicing and started seeing great light, but not the image of God. At the time, Atmanand Swami believed in the niraakaara philosophy (belief that God has no form), and thus explained that the light was a vision of God. Ramanand Swami however believed that God was saakaara (belief that God has a form), and thus left for Srirangakshetra. Ramanuja Acharya visited Ramanand Swami in a dream, and exclaiming that he was pleased with Ramanand Swami's devotion, gave him dikshaa. When Ramanand Swami awoke, he found a tilaka (devotional mark) on his head and a kanthi around his neck. He then headed towards Vrundavan. As he chanted, Lord Krishna appeared in front of him, and regularly ate his thaala (food offering). When Ramanand Swami came to the Sorath region in Saurashthra, he again met Atmanand Swami in the village of Chhatrasa. Atmanand realized Ramanand Swami's greatness and asked all of his disciples to remain under Ramanand Swami. In Gujarat, Ramanand Swami led many saints and devotees, who would later accept Lord Swaminarayan as God.
SAHAJANAND SWAMI AND RAMANAND SWAMI
When Neelkanth Varni arrived in Loj, Ramanand Swami was in the Kutch area (Northwest Gujarat). Neelkanth Varni thus stayed at the aashrama under Muktanand Swami, humbly serving all of the saints, collecting dung, and begging for alms. Muktanand Swami had given Neelkanth Varni an alfi (long-sleeved, one-piece garment reaching just below the knees), calling Him Sarjudas (since Neelkanth Varni was from the region of the Saryu River). Sarjudas also taught the saints yoga. Seeing that the contact of men and women deviated the saints' observance of brahmachaarya (absolute celibacy), Sarjudas called for separate discourses and plugged a hole in a kitchen wall that was used to pass ember between the saints and womenfolk of the adjacent home [ref. Swami Ni Vato 10/129]. Muktanand Swami, although close to 23 years senior to Sarjudas, remained delighted at His spirit to help the group.
Anandji Sanghedia came to Loj from Mangrol to meet Muktanand Swami. Since he was going to go to Bhuj to see Ramanand Swami, Muktanand Swami gave Sarjudas permission to join Anandji. On the way, Jetha Mer and Raja Mer accompanied them as well. But in the village of Mesvan, Sarjudas decided to go back to Loj. Thus Mayaram Bhatt from Manavadar joined the three to Bhuj. When Mayaram Bhatt returned to Loj from Bhuj with a message, Sarjudas displayed His sincerity towards His guru by literally embracing a pillar, and then bowing down to Muktanand Swami.
On March 15, 1800 (Fagun vad 5), Muktanand Swami wrote a letter to Ramanand Swami, who was at Gangaram Mal's place in Bhuj. Per Muktanand Swami's request, Sarjudas also addressed Ramanand Swami (poetically rendered by Nishkulanand Swami in the book Bhaktachintamani). Ramanand Swami told his devotees that he was only a "bugle-player" or "drum-beater" heralding the coming of the supreme God. Through Mayaram Bhatt, Ramanand Swami replied to the message - and asked Mayaram Bhatt to tell all the devotees on the way to Loj that they should go straight to Loj for Sarjudas's darshana. Finally, on June 16, 1800 (Jeth vad 10), Ramanand Swami sent a message through Kurji Dave, calling everyone to Piplana. Along with Sarjudas, Muktanand Swami, Parvatbhai, saints and devotees reached Narsinh Mehta's place in Piplana on June 18.
After spending the four months of monsoon in Piplana, on October 28, 1800 (Kartik sud 11), Sarjudas was initiated into sainthood and given the names Sahajanand Swami and Narayan Muni. Sahajanand Swami's garb was now white upper and lower garments, a loincloth, a two-stringed kanthi and janoi, with a tilak-chandalo on the forehead and tilaks on the chest and upper arms. Mulji Sharma (Gunatitanand Swami) had come from Bhadra, and Lalji Suthar (Nishkulanand Swami) had come from Shekhpat. Mukund Brahmachari (Mulji of Macchiyav) and Ramdas Swami, who were initiated by Ramanand Swami, also began realizing Sahajanand Swami as God.
Sahajanand Swami accompanied Ramanand Swami as he visited Akha (Brahmin Gangadhar's place), Agatrai (Bhimabhai and Parvatbhai's place), Madhada (Jetha Mer's place), Kalvani, Mangrol (Govardhanbhai Sheth's place), Loj, Manavadar (Mayaram Bhatt's place and Nawab Gajefar Khan's place), Meghpur (Rambhai's place), Doraji (Hathsinh's, cousin of the king of Gondal's place), Faneni, Gondal, Jetpur, and back around through Mangrol, Loj, Panchala (Thakor Manubha's place), Manavadar, Piplana, Meghpur, Dhoraji, and finally, Jetpur. Many began experiencing that Sahajanand Swami was God.
In Jetpur, Ramanand Swami called all of his senior saints and devotees to discuss his desire to appoint Sahajanand Swami to head the fellowship. While Ramdas Swami, Muktanand Swami, Bhimabhai, Parvatbhai, Mayaram Bhatt, Narsinh Mehta, Govardhan Sheth, and all of the senior saints and devotees were saddened thinking of Ramanand Swami's premonition of renouncing his body, they were happy thinking about the divine appointment.
One year after His initiation, on November 16, 1801 (Kartik sud 11) at Unnad Bapu's (the chief of the village) place in Jetpur, a grand yagnya was held where Sahajanand Swami, just 21 years old, was appointed to head the group. Ramanand Swami adorned Sahajanand Swami with silk garments (and asked Him to wear rich clothes gifted by devotees). At the time, Sahajanand Swami asked Ramanand Swami for two unique boons.
"I have asked of Ramanand Swami, 'If your devotee is destined to suffer the sting of one scorpion, may the distress of the stings of millions and millions of scorpions befall on each and every pore of My body, but no pain should afflict your devotee. Further, if a begging bowl is written in your devotee's fate, may that begging bowl come to me, but on no account should your devotee suffer from lack of food or clothing. Please grant Me these two boons.' I asked this of Ramanand Swami, and he happily granted it to Me."
On the ocassion, Mulji (Gunatitanand Swami) and his brother Sundarji (Shivanand Swami) presented a cow; Lalji (Nishkulanand Swami) gifted a wooden stand; Hathibhai gifted a horse on behalf of the king of Gondal; Gajefar Khan, Nawab of Manavadar, gifted land; Varjudin, Nawab of Mangrol, gifted a chariot; Mayaram Bhatt and his brother Govindram Bhatt gifted shawls; Indraji Vyas of Mevasa (Krishnaji Ada's father) gifted flowers; etc. Sahajanand Swami and Ramanand Swami then went to Faneni (staying at Soni Ramji's place). There, Ramanand Swami passed away on December 17, 1801 (Maghshar sud 13), just one month after appointing Sahajanand Swami. Sahajanand Swami, Muktanand Swami, Ramdas Swami, and Mayaram Bhatt carried the palanquin to the Bhadraa River and performed the cremation rites of Ramanand Swami. Sahajanand Swami asked Muktanand Swami to console devotees in Kutch.
THE BEGINNING OF SWAMINARAYAN
After the thirteenth day, on December 31, 1801 (Maghshar vad 11), on the banks of the Bhadraa River, Sahajanand Swami introduced a common mahaamantra to the group: "SwamiNarayan." Saints and devotees such as Shitaldas immediately entered samaadhi simply by chanting the mantra [ref. Swami Ni Vato 7/3]. In the divine trance, devotees witnessed Lord Swaminarayan along with the incarnations in which they had faith. From Ghanshyam to Neelkanth Varni to Sahajanand Swami, He was now known as Lord Swaminarayan.
Lord Swaminarayan continued by gracing samaadhi to anyone who saw Him or merely heard the click of His wooden sandals. He later gave saints like Muktanand Swami the power to confer samaadhi also, and even animals entered the samaadhi state. The bodies of devotees enjoying samaadhi were literally being piled like logs. Two farmers, who were afraid of falling unconscious, stuck their head in a cart of cotton while Lord Swaminarayan passed by, so that they would not see or hear Him. Lord Swaminarayan however pulled the two out of the bushel and rid them of their ignorance. When they came back out of samaadhi, they prayed to Lord Swaminarayan to place them back into the peaceful and blissful state. Yet, the samaadhi chapter and the many miracles that accompanied the divine fellowship were given least importance. The real miracle was the revolution that occurred in devotees.
At the same time, Lord Swaminarayan initiated positive changes in society such as the building of alms houses, the preservation of wells and ponds to satisfy the basic needs of people, stopping the systems of doodha-piti (a common practice of the time in which parents drowned their newborn girls in milk because of the inability to support them) and sati (a practice in which wives were forced to enter the cremation pyre of their husbands), and working to stop discrimination against women and low-caste persons.
Lord Swaminarayan also rapidly countered the religious defamation in the country by voicing against superstitions and immorality, instructing the celebration of festivals in a pure and devotional manner, and conducting large-scale ahinsaa-yagnas (non-violent offerings).
* In October 1807, Lord Swaminarayan walked out of a yagna held by Jagjivan Mehta (ruler of Bhuj, Kutch) because of the use of animal slaughter. From December 25, 1808 (Posh sud 5), Lord Swaminarayan held a very large week-long ahinsaa-yagna in Jetalpur. From January 2, 1810, Lord Swaminarayan held an 18-day yagna in Dabhan. (After which, on Poshi Poonam, Lord Swaminarayan initiated Gunatitanand Swami.) In the face of opposition, Lord Swaminarayan invited thousands of Brahmins to establish proper Vedic devotional rites.
Truth-seekers from throughout the country flocked to Lord Swaminarayan. Many became dedicated saints whom Lord Swaminarayan instructed to travel the countryside and instill purity and spirituality into the lives of individuals. People began dropping addictions and vices, negative practices, and immoral beliefs, and started living positively. This however infuriated the irreligious and much opposition presented itself - however, Lord Swaminarayan's over 3000 saints remained positive and devoted.
While only in his mid-20s, in a single night in the town of Kalavani, Lord Swaminarayan initiated 500 saints as paramhansas. Normally saints follow uniform guidelines. The paramhansas had no restrictions that would make them identifiable, but were always in tune with God. The paramhansas exemplified the unique relationship between Lord Swaminarayan and devotees. Lord Swaminarayan imposed 114 chapters or processes on them, such as continual fasting and strict celibacy. Lord Swaminarayan commanded all to abide by the principles of forbearance and love, and cultivate the highest virtues. Reciprocally, the paramhansas presented an unmatched devotion to Lord Swaminarayan.
"And saadhus and naishtika brahmachaaris should tolerate the verbal and physical abuses of wicked opposition, but never retaliate against such abuses verbally or physically. They should only entertain thoughts and wishes in the benefit of such people, but never wish that such people are harmed."
* When Kripanand Swami could not see Lord Swaminarayan, he would fall unconscious. Sachchidanand Swami's pores used to explode and bleed when away from Lord Swaminarayan [ref. Swami Ni Vato 11/111].
Panchavartamaana (five vows):
In a short span of 28 years, Lord Swaminarayan led an unparalleled movement. At the heart was the permanent spiritual transformation of all that came in touch with the divine fellowship. From regular householders to detached ascetics, from widows to prostitutes, from poor farmers to wealthy kings, from kaathis (people known for their abrasive, yet brave nature) to erudite scholars, from saints to dacoits, there was no bar for the graced. Lord Swaminarayan looked after the personal care, happiness, and progress of each devotee.
* Joban Pagi of Vadtal was an infamous outlaw who was feared for the violent terror he struck on the townspeople. He became devoted to Lord Swaminarayan from the time he came to Dabhan, during the grand yagna, with the intention of stealing Lord Swaminarayan's horse. He instead became a devotee, yearned to become a saint, and in the place of weapons, only carried a maalaa (rosary).
LORD SWAMINARAYAN'S SUCCESSION
Lord Swaminarayan passed away at the age of 49 on June 1, 1830 (Jeth sud 10) in the town of Gadhada. About 10 years prior to His passing away, Lord Swaminarayan assumed a sickness in Panchala. Muktanand Swami was at His care. While applying a cold sponge to Lord Swaminarayan's forehead, the saint's warm tears fell upon His cheek. Lord Swaminarayan opened His eyes and asked Muktanand Swami the reason he was lamenting. Muktanand Swami replied that he was saddened that the supreme God was very sick and might depart from the earth without leaving anything behind for His devotees. Lord Swaminarayan affirmed that He was not leaving, and made a sankalpa (wish) to keep four things as a legacy on this earth: (1) temples/moortis to spread upaasanaa, (2) parama-ekaantika satpurushas or gunaateeta saints - an eternal succession of saints that have identified with Anaadi Mool Akshar Moorti Gunatitanand Swami, (3) scriptures, and (4) two aachaaryas [ref. Swami Ni Vato 8/12].
Unique boon: Lord Swaminarayan promised devotees that at the time of their death, He would come to take them to Akshardham, the highest Abode where He resides. [Bhaktachintamani 68/9: "Maaraa janne antakaale jarur tedavaa aavavu; birud maaru na badale te sarve janne janaavavu" or "At their time of death, I will come to get my devotees; this is My eternal promise."] There are innumerable occasions in which devotees have testified that Lord Swaminarayan comes along with Gunatitanand Swami and other saints to make one's passing away a blissful occasion.
Lord Swaminarayan established geographic divisions for the convenience of His devotees: Nara-Narayan in Ahmedabad and Lakshmi-Narayan in Vadtal, and appointed his older and younger brother's sons, Ayodhyaprasadji Maharaj (second son of Ramapratapji and Suvasanibai, born in Chhapaiya on Jeth sud 11, VS 1865, or May 25, 1809) and Raghuvirji Maharaj (fourth son of Iccharamji, born in Amliya on Fagun vad 4, VS 1868, or March 21, 1812), as the aachaaryas or heads. Established on November 21, 1825 (Kartik sud 11), the divine lineage exists today.
Devotees accept a kanthi (double-threaded with tulsi beads) signifying initiation or entry into the fellowship. They promise to follow the panchavartamaana, repeating the mantra, "kaala, maayaa, paapa, karma, yama-duta, bhayaata, ahama, Swaminarayan sharanama prapannosmi" (Lord Swaminarayan, I have come to Your shelter, please save me from the forces of bad time, illusion, past deeds, death, fear, and ego), while sipping some holy water. If a devotee decides to enter a life of dedicated sainthood, he is first conferred paarshada dikshaa (white robes, representing purity) and focuses on devotion. After some time, the saint is conferred with saadhu/bhagavada dikshaa (saffron robes, signifying fire) with an elevated focus to become brahmaroopa and remain in the service of God. Dedicated aspirants that work in society wear a blue shirt and beige pants (signifying the sky and earth).
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