Lord Swaminarayan

 
DHARMAKUL

Lord Swaminarayan was born to a pious Brahmin family 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.  Chhapaiya is a small town near Ayodhya, in the northern part of India, famed as the birthplace of Lord Rama.

Named Ghanshyam as a small child, He displayed many signs of divinity from a young age.  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).

 

After a few years, the family moved to Ayodhya. By the time Ghanshyam was 5 years old, Dharmadev began teaching Him the Vedas and Hindu scriptures.  Those around Him continued to witness displays of His divinity.  As He got older,

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. 

NEELKANTH VARNI'S JOURNEY ACROSS INDIA FROM AYODHYA TO LOJ
 

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.

 

 

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
 

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). In Gujarat, Ramanand Swami led many saints and devotees, who would later accept Lord Swaminarayan as God.

When Neelkanth Varni arrived in Loj, Ramanand Swami was in the Kutch area (Northwest Gujarat). On hearing of Neelkanth Varni’s arrival, Ramanand Swami told his devotees that he was only a "drum-beater" heralding the coming of the supreme God.  Neelkanth Varni was renamed as Sarjudas Swami, and waited at the aashrama under Muktanand Swami, humbly serving all of the saints, collecting dung, and begging for alms.  On June 18, Ramanand Swami and Sarjudas Swami met for the first time.

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.  

 

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. 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."
- Vachanamrut, Gadhada First 70

THE BEGINNING OF 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.
* When a great famine struck Kathiawad in 1812-1813 (Samvat 1869) [ref. Vachanamrut Gadhada First 68], Lord Swaminarayan personally carried grains on horseback across villages for devotees.
* Lord Swaminarayan instructed Premanand Swami and saints to create pious songs for occasions such as weddings and festivals to replace the explicit songs that were normally sung.
* While traveling across India, Lord Swaminarayan witnessed that priests and heads of temples were involved in many unscrupulous things. So Lord Swaminarayan started a culture amongst His own saints, instructing them to follow eight-fold celibacy. This fostered the protection and respect for women.
* John Andrews Dunlop (the first Collector of Ahmedabad, he asked his assistant A.K. Heron to invite Lord Swaminarayan to the city, and donated land for the first Swaminarayan temple), Bishop Reginald Heber (who met Lord Swaminarayan in Nadiad on March 26, 1825, after hearing about Him from officers such as Mr. Williamson, the Collector of Baroda), Acting Political Agent David Anderson Blane (at whose bungalow in Rajkot the meeting between Governor Malcolm and Lord Swaminarayan took place), and Sir John Malcolm (Governor of Bombay who met Lord Swaminarayan on February 26, 1830), amongst other Englishmen admired the humanitarian and moral work of Lord Swaminarayan in diaries and correspondence.

THE PARAMHANSAS
 

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.

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Panchavartamaana (five vows):
1. Nirmaanee (without ego) - to have full respect for God.
2. Nishkaamee (celibacy) - to have the desire for only God.
3. Nirsvaadee (without taste) - to have the taste for only prasaad or food offered to God.
4. Nirlobhee (without greed or possessiveness) - to only want the service and grace of God.
5. Nihsnehee or Nihspruhee (without attachment for one's family) - to be attached only to God and devotees.
All devotees strive to attain these saintly qualities, beyond the regular five vows: abstinence from eating meat, drinking alcohol, committing adultery, stealing, and forceful conversion.

REVOLUTIONARY CHANGES
 

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).
* When Lord Swaminarayan distributed wheat to be ground in preparation for the grand yagnya at Jetalpur, Lakshmibai, a prostitute, volunteered to take a share of the service. She stayed awake all night doing the work herself, and the next morning offered it to Lord Swaminarayan with her blistered hands. Lord Swaminarayan revealed to the doubtful, that her liberation would be similar to that of the great saint Muktanand Swami.
* Parvatbhai was a poor householder with 7 children. His understanding and devotion gave him the constant vision of Lord Swaminarayan.
* For over 25 years, Lord Swaminarayan made Dada Khachar's home in Gadhada His central place of stay. There, Lord Swaminarayan participated in the personal lives of Dada Khachar, his sisters Jivuba and Laduba, and the kaathis of the region. Dada Khachar remained as a servant to the saints and devotees that lived in His darbaara (court).

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 d

 

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.epart 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].

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