Born : Ghanshyam Pande - 3 April 1781
Location : Chhapaiya (present-day Uttar Pradesh, India)
Maha Samadhi : 1 June 1830 (aged 49), Gadhada (present-day Gujarat, India)
Titles/honours : Venerated as an Avatar of Narayana, from the Nara Narayana deity pair or an avatar of Purushottama Narayana - the Supreme Being, in the Swaminarayan Hinduism
Founder of : Swaminarayan Sampraday
Sect associated : Vaishnavism
Guru : Ramanand Swami
Swaminarayan Bhagwan Ji
Swaminarayan Ji Bhagwan (3 April 1781 – 1 June 1830), also known as Sahajanand Swami, is the central figure in a modern sect of Hinduism known as the Swaminarayan Hinduism, a form of Vaishnavism.
Swaminarayan Ji was born Ghanshyam Pande in Chhapaiya, Uttar Pradesh, India in 1781. In 1792, he began a seven year pilgrimage across India, adopting the name Nilkanth Varni. He settled in the state of Gujarat around 1799. In 1800, he was initiated into the Uddhav Sampraday by his guru, Ramanand Swami, and was given the name Sahajanand Swami.
In 1802, his guru handed over the leadership of the Uddhav Sampraday to him before his death. Sahajanand Swami held a gathering and taught the Swaminarayan mantra. From this point onwards, he was known as Swaminarayan and within the sect.
He is regarded as an incarnation of God, Purushottama, or is venerated as an incarnation of Narayana from the Nara-Narayana deity pair by his followers. The Uddhav Sampraday became known as the Swaminarayan Sampraday.
Swaminarayan developed a good relationship with the British Imperial Government. He had followers not only from Hindu denominations, but also from Islam and Zoroastrianism. He built six temples in his lifetime and appointed 500 paramhansas to spread his philosophy. In 1826, Swaminarayan wrote the Shikshapatri, a book of social principles.
Lord Swaminarayan died on 1 June 1830 and was cremated according to Hindu rites in Gadhada, Gujarat. Before his death, Swaminarayan appointed his adopted nephews as acharyas to head the two dioceses of Swaminarayan Sampraday.
Swaminarayan is also remembered within the sect for undertaking reforms for women and the poor, performing yagnas or fire sacrifices on a large scale as well as performing miracles.
Swaminarayan Sect had an estimated 1.8 million followers when he died. By 2007, he had an estimated of 20 million followers.
In 1830, Swaminarayan gathered his followers and announced his departure. He later died on 1 June 1830 (Jeth sud 10, Samvat 1886), and it is believed by followers that, at the time of his death, Swaminarayan left Earth for Akshardham, his abode. He was cremated according to Hindu rites at Lakshmi Wadi in Gadhada.
Prior to his death, Swaminarayan decided to establish a line of acharyas or preceptors, as his successors.He established two gadis (seats of leadership). One seat was established at Ahmedabad (Nar Narayan Dev Gadi) and the other one at Vadtal (Laxmi Narayan Dev Gadi) on November 21, 1825.
Swaminarayan appointed an acharya to each of these gadis to pass on his message to others and to preserve his fellowship, the Swaminarayan Sampraday. These acharyas came from his immediate family after sending representatives to search them out in Uttar Pradesh.
He formally adopted a son from his brothers and appointed them to the office of acharya. Ayodhyaprasad, the son of Swaminarayan's elder brother Rampratap and Raghuvira, the son of his younger brother Ichcharam, were appointed acharyas of the Ahmedabad Gadi and the Vadtal Gadi respectively.
Swaminarayan decreed that the office should be hereditary so that acharyas would maintain a direct line of blood descent from his family.The administrative division of his followers into two territorial dioceses is set forth in minute detail in a document written by Swaminarayan called Desh Vibhaag Lekh.
The current acharyas of the Swaminarayan Sampraday are Acharya Shree Koshalendraprasad Pande, of the Ahmedabad Gadi, and Acharya Shree Ajendraprasadji Pande, of the Vadtal Gadi.
Decades after his death, several divisions occurred with different understandings of succession. This included the establishment of Bochasanwasi Shri Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha (BAPS), the founder of which left the Vadtal Gadi in 1905, and Maninagar Swaminarayan Gadi Sansthan, the founder of which left the Ahmedabad Gadi in the 1940s.
The followers of BAPS hold Gunatitanand Swami as the spiritual successor to Swaminarayan, asserting that on several occasions Swaminarayan revealed to devotees that Gunatitanand Swami was Aksharbrahm manifest. Followers of BAPS believe that the acharyas were given administrative leadership of the sect while Gunatitanand Swami was given spiritual leadership by Swaminarayan.
The current leader of BAPS is Shastri Narayanswarupdas, who addresses the spiritual and administrative needs within the sect. The followers of the Maninagar Swaminarayan Gadi Sansthan hold Gopalanand Swami as the successor to Swaminarayan. The current leader of this sect is Purushottampriyadasji Maharaj, and he shares the dual roles of spiritual and administrative duties.
According to the biographer Raymond Williams, when Swaminarayan died, he had a following of 1.8 million people. In 2001, Swaminarayan centres existed on four continents, and the congregation was recorded to be five million, the majority in the homeland of Gujarat.The newspaper Indian Express estimated members of the Swaminarayan sect of Hinduism to number over 20 million (2 crore) worldwide in 2007.
In his discourses recorded in the Vachanamrut, Swaminarayan mentions that humans would not be able to withstand meeting god in his divine form, hence God takes human form (simultaneously living in his abode) so people can approach, understand and love him in the form of an Avatar.While no detailed statistical information is available, most of the followers of Swaminarayan share a belief that Swaminarayan is the complete manifestation of Narayana or Purushottam Narayana - the Supreme Being and superior to other avatars. A Swaminarayan sectarian legend tells how Narayana from the Nara Narayana pair, was cursed by sage Durvasa to incarnate on the earth as Swaminarayan.
Some of Swaminarayan's followers believe he was an incarnation of Lord Krishna. The images and stories of Swaminarayan and Krishna have coincided in the liturgy of the sect. The story of the birth of Swaminarayan parallels that of Krishna's birth from the scripture Bhagavata Purana.Swaminarayan himself is said to have intimated that he was a manifestation of God in a meeting with Reginald Heber, the Lord Bishop of Calcutta, in 1825.
Bhagwan Swaminarayan Leaving for Akshardham
By 49, Bhagwan Swaminarayan completed His mission on earth and returned to His divine abode. Over 2 million devotees had experienced His divinity and hailed His purity. Six magnificent mandirs enshrined His spirituality and several scriptures encapsulated His knowledge. Yet His personality, in all its totality was preserved by His spiritual successor Gunatitanand Swami.
On 1 June 1830 CE (Jeth sud 10, 1886 VS), Bhagwan Swaminarayan left His mortal body which was cremated in Gadhada.
But long before that He had begun to reveal that He would continue to be present on this earth through a succession of spiritual Gurus. The Lord's eternal words spoken on 8 February 1826 CE (Maha sud 2, 1882 VS) are recorded in Vachanamrut Vadtal 19: "When the Jiva gets a birth as a human being, God or God's enlightened Sadhu are always manifest on this earth. When the Jiva knows and understands them, he becomes a Bhakta - God's devotee."
Keeping to this timeless promise, Bhagwan Swaminarayan entrusted Gunatitanand Swami, His Enlightened Sadhu, with the oars of the Sampraday.
"Gunatitanand and I are no different."
"Just as people follow me, millions shall follow Gunatitanand." Such revelations and predictions of the Lord, were truly and fully realized as Gunatitanand Swami led the mission. Since then, the spiritual succession has continued in all its divinity through Bhagatji Maharaj, Shastriji Maharaj, Yogiji Maharaj and, at present, Pramukh Swami Maharaj.
Akshar Purushottam Maharaj
Philosophy of Succession:
Philosophically, Bhagwan Swaminarayan is Purushottam - the God Supreme. And Gunatitanand Swami is Aksharbrahman - His divine abode, also called Akshardham. The Lord in His fullest glory, eternally resides in Gunatitanand Swami. They are ever together, inseparable - The Lord as the Master and Gunatitanand Swami as the ideal devotee, the disciple. On earth, every spiritual Guru in Bhagwan Swaminarayan's succession is the incarnation of Aksharbrahman in whom the Lord resides fully and eternally. As every Guru is the same Aksharbrahman entity, the devotees feel no spiritual change, except the physical change of another successor. It is clear that the Guru is not God, but is God's ideal devotee in whom God resides eternally.
Gunatitanand Swami – The First Successor:
Bhagwan Swaminarayan's sole successor was Gunatitanand Swami who was the incarnation of Aksharbrahman, the Lord's divine abode. Bhagwan Swaminarayan had brought him on earth to establish the worship of Bhakta-Bhagwan and continue the mission He had begun. For administrative purpose, He divided His mandirs into two regions and appointed two Acharyas, Raghuvirji Maharaj and Ayodhyaprasadji Maharaj to guide the progress. However, to the whole of Satsang in general, to all His followers, He revealed,
"Gunatitanand is Aksharbrahman, My divine abode.... I am the Lord supreme and Gunatitanand is my ideal devotee."
He lovingly commanded everyone, "One month, every year come to Junagadh and stay here," since it was in Junagadh that Gunatitanand Swami resided as the Mahant - Head Sadhu. And only by associating with him, would devotees ultimately realize the true glory of the Lord and attain eternal salvation.
What is left with a person who has given his all? Nothing. Nothing but himself. And that himself is everything. It is an ocean of goodness, of purity and humility, a summary of spirituality. And that is enough to inspire millions. In Swamiji’s presence, doubts dissolve, confusions clear, hurts heal and the mind finds peace. People find answers to life's toughest questions.
Pujya Pramukh Swami Maharaj is the fifth spiritual successor of Bhagwan Swaminarayan and the present leader of Bochasanwasi Shri Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha. He leads an austere life of lifetime celibacy, without personal wealth or comfort. Representing the essence of Hinduism,his compassion for humanity, universal wisdom and striking simplicity have touched many world religious and national leaders. But most important is his quiet, undisturbed love for God which rises beyond all borders of nation, race and religion.
Even after creating an international spiritual empire of hundreds of mandirs, thousands of centres and over a million followers, you’ll always find Swamiji engrossed in prayer. Sometimes at 2.30 in the morning, for his life is the living proof that prayers work and divine love succeeds.