Christian author, M.C. Parekh has observed, 'Few teachers of religion
in the history of the world have been able to inspire in their
own lifetime in their followers such loyalty and faithfulness
as Swami Sahajanand.'1
Ruthless looters surrendered to Him.
Warring tribes renounced their predatory living for a God-centred
Low caste members excelled brahmins in character.
Women disciples equalled the gopis, Shri Krishna's female bhaktas,
in their devotional fervour (premlakshana bhakti).
Renunciates, spiritual stalwarts themselves, bowed at His feet;
many accepting His Guruship.
Joban Pagi of Vadtal, a notorious bandit had once terrorised Gujarat.
Maharaj transformed him into an ardent and ideal disciple. Someone
once taunted Joban, "Has Swaminarayan really converted a donkey
into a cow?" Only a month earlier, such a slight would have incited
Joban to behead the man without the slightest remorse. Joban calmly
affirmed that God had graced him. People regarded this phenomenal
transformation as miraculous.
The Vagharis, a low caste community, lived mostly by stealing.
Sagram, a Vaghari of Limli, became a disciple. In 1813, a horrendous
famine devastated Kathiawad. Its grisly effects compelled men
to sell even their wives and children to buy grain. Captain James
Carnac, Resident at the Gaekwad's court, witnessed a gruesome
sight during the famine: a marauding dog, driven by hunger, dragged
a living child - on the verge of death from starvation - away,
from his helpless mother.2 Such harsh conditions, compelled
Sagram and his wife to migrate south, to Surat, in search of food.
On the way, Sagram's foot struck a lost silver anklet. Thinking
that his wife, following some way behind, would be tempted to
pocket it, and so violate Bhagwan Swaminarayan's command of not taking
anything that belonged to another without the owner's permission,
Sagram covered it with earth. Later, his wife questioned him about
the incident. On revealing his thoughts, she replied that he had,
'merely covered dust with dust!' To her, other people's possessions
were like dust.
Non-Hindus also joined the sect and offered devotion to the Lord.
Dosatai of Ahmedabad, adopted the Swaminarayan Faith. When his
relatives opposed, he remained unmoved. Hauling him to the outskirts
of the city they buried him. When they returned home, they discovered
him sitting in a room chanting the Swaminarayan mantra! After
this episode, nobody bothered him.
But another disciple was not so fortunate. In Jagamedi, a village
near Jamnagar, an atheist father threatened his young son - who
even today remains nameless in the Satsang annals - with death,
if he did not forsake devotion to Bhagwan Swaminarayan. His faith
resolute, the boy refused. The cruel father then hanged his son.
Unlike Dosatai or the child bhakta Prahlad of the Bhagvatam, the
Lord did not physically rescue the boy. Yet his faith sustained
him to the end, confident of his ultimate sanctuary in Akshardham.
At a time when society looked upon women as inferior to men, women
could not choose to observe brahmacharya, to offer lifelong devotion
to God. But just such a group of women disciples arose, offering
singular devotion to Bhagwan Swaminarayan. Jaya and Lalita, sisters
of Dada Khachar - the Kathi chief of Gadhada, Jamkuba - the queen
of Udaipur - who forsook her husband and kingdom in Rajasthan,
Rajbai and several others, all lived at Dada's court.
Rajbai's devotion peaked to such purity and excellence that after
her death, the corpse and wooden logs on the cremation pyre would
not kindle. When Rajbai's perplexed relatives informed the elderly
sadhus, Gopalanand Swami, a Paramhansa endowed with awesome spiritual
powers, instructed them to inform Agni, the God of Fire, that
since the Sati's (Rajbai) soul had departed, he would not be violating
Rajbai's brahmacharya in touching the dead body. When the relatives
repeated this message in front of the pyre, the wood lighted instantly!
Jaya and Lalita's devotion is equally laudable. Once, the Lord
was leaving Gadhada to celebrate Ramnavmi in Vadtal. The sisters
dearly wished that He celebrate the festival in Gadhada. Therefore
they planned to prevent Him from leaving.
When He mounted His mare, Manki, she would not budge. Surprised
at her odd behaviour, Maharaj spoke to her softly. Still, she
stayed put. The two sisters and others watched from a distance.
Maharaj then deduced that the two sisters were holding the chit
- consciousness of Manki. He dismounted and approached them. He
explained that He had forgotten to obtain the two's permission
and that now, they should grant it happily. Thousands would be
arriving in Vadtal; it would be unfair to them for Him to celebrate
the festival here for the benefit of a few. Not wishing to displease
Him, they granted permission, rescinding their devotional 'spell'
on Manki. She then obeyed Maharaj. Premanand Swami composed an
evocative kirtan portraying this episode, extolling the sisters'
Several women disciples such as Meenbai of Kariyana, Karnibai
of Adhoi, Laduma of Piplana and Raima of Kundal were graced with
niravarana sight. This mystical vision pierces the barrier of
distance and solid matter. By meditating they could tele-witnessed
live the Lord's daily activities since His birth in Chhapaiya.
They had also witnessed His seven year forest sojourns. By this
mystical ability their proximity and devotion to Him increased.
Male disciples, farmers such as Parvatbhai and merchants such
as Gordhanbhai, through spiritual endeavour attained the highest
consciousness possible by a Jiva, wherein they experienced an
unbroken vision of God. This is known as Jivan-Mukti - release
from the bondage of Maya, with a realisation of God during one's
physical life on earth, rather than after death. Therefore society
also referred to Bhagwan Swaminarayan as Jivan Mukta - one who redeems
souls during life itself.
At the other, higher end of the social spectrum, of those in temporal
powers then, Maharajah Sayajirao II, of Baroda,3 Maharajah
Dewaji of Gondal State4 and Kushal Kunverba the queen
mother of Dharampur State5 became disciples and invited
Bhagwan Swaminarayan to their courts with great pomp. Others, who
revered Him as a divine personage also welcomed Him to their courts,
including: Hamid Khan, the Nawab of Junagadh States and Maharajah
Wajesinh of Bhavnagar.
to Eighteen Disciples
An integral aspect of bhakti involves obeying the commands of
the Lord implicitly.
The unquestioning obedience Bhagwan Swaminarayan won from His followers
He once wrote a common letter to eighteen married devotees in
Kathiawad. All of them ranked eminently in society; Kathi chiefs,
landlords and businessmen. He commanded that, the moment they
read the letter they leave for Jetalpur to be initiated as Paramhansas
by Bhai Ramdas Swami, and then proceed to Benares to study the
scriptures. Wherever they happened to be, whether in the fields
or in their shops, when they received the letter they were to
leave without informing their families.
And thus it happened. As the letter circulated to the eighteen,
they walked away from family, friends, wealth and property. On
their way to Jetalpur they passed the village of Kadu. Here they
met Kalyanbhai, a young devotee, who had just completed his marriage
ceremony. He enquired about the latest commands from the Lord.
They showed him the letter. After reading it, he joyfully informed
them that he would also accompany them since his name was mentioned.
Surprised, the devotees re-read the letter. His name was clearly
not on the list. But he pointed out the word, 'etcetera', at the
end. This meant that he qualified as well! His mother and the
bride's relatives tried to dissuade him, but to Kalyanbhai, the
Lord's command superseded everything. Without any qualms he calmly
In Jetalpur, Bhai Ramdas Swami initiated the devotees and told
them to go to Kutch to receive Maharaj's blessings. As they reached
the outskirts of Bhuj Maharaj rode out to welcome them. At a distance
He dismounted and prostrated to the group. On seeing this, the
devotees rushed to curtail Him.
Maharaj hugged them for their unflinching devotion. He then glanced
questioningly at Kalyanbhai. The devotees informed Him of his
unique sacrifice. Pleased with the whole group, He kept them with
Him for a few days and then commanded them to return home to resume
a normal life. Kalyanbhai declined. He had firmly resolved to
remain a renunciate. Maharaj gladly accepted his decision, naming
him Adbhutanand Swami.
The peninsula of Kathiawad derives its name from the Kathis, a
tribe renowned for its pugnacity, chivalry, fighting prowess and
fine horse breeding. A fiercely proud clan, it had long been a
source of discord in the land.
Apart from the overall political chaos that reigned in the region,
Kathiawad also owed its destitution to the Kathis. Famed for their
ruthlessness, the Kathis held life cheaply; frequently feuding
with each other, plundering, pillaging crops and stealing cattle
from villages inimical to them.
A British officer, Captain Grant, kidnapped by a Kathi outlaw,
observed their ways:
'The young Kattees used to boast how many men they had killed,
and one day I heard the old fellows questioning them rather particularly
whether or not they were sure they had killed their victims. 'Yes,'
they said; they had seen their spears through them, and were certain
they were dead. 'Ah,' remarked an old Kattee, 'a human being is
worse to kill than any other animal; never be sure they are dead
till you see the body on one side of the road, and the head on
Of the three clans of Kathis, namely: Khachar, Khuman and Wala,
Bhagwan Swaminarayan spent a major part of His life with the first;
the chiefs and citizens of Gadhada, Sarangpur, Kariyani and Loya.
Bhagwan Swaminarayan, Himself an accomplished horseman, rode and
raced with them. He dressed like them, became one of them. He
allowed them to accompany Him, serving as guards during His preaching
tours,7 for travelling alone in the countryside invariably
posed dangers from thugs,8 looters and wild animals.
With love and laughter He transformed their hearts. The Satsang
soon envied their spirited devotion.
A typical transformation can be observed of a young Kathi chief
named Sura Khachar of Loya. Thieves once stole two of his oxen.
The next morning, when he arrived late in the scriptural discourse,
Bhagwan Swaminarayan questioned him. He informed Him of the theft
and his reason for being delayed. In retribution, he had scoured
the whole village, house by house, pilfering four oxen from others!
The same young chief later imbibed Satsang ideals and moulded
a virtuous character. On one occasion, the chief of Jasdan invited
him to a party. Afterwards, the chief out of spite for Swaminarayan
followers and to mar Sura's brahamcharya, sent a prostitute to
his room. On opening the door, Sura realised the woman's intentions.
Drawing his sword, he threatened to behead her if she entered.
He then rode away to Gadhada. As he entered Dada's court, Maharaj
addressed the assembly, 'Here comes Our perfect brahmachari.'
This was the highest tribute a devotee could receive, especially
coming from the Lord Himself.
Reaching an exalted status in the Satsang, many Kathis excelled
in devotion, and are glorified in the Satsang literature.
When Bhagwan Swaminarayan first arrived in Gadhada, in 1805, Dada
Khachar was only four years old. On the death of his father, king
Abhel Khachar, Bhagwan Swaminarayan assumed a role as Dada's father.
He lovingly taught the young prince horsemanship, weaponry, diplomacy
and the technicalities of managing his state. The singular reason
for the Lord's loving grace on him centred on his unalloyed devotion
at such a young age. His inseparable association with the Lord
excelled to such height that whenever He left Gadhada to visit
other parts of Gujarat, Dada and his sisters, unable to bear the
separation, would either resort to self-abnegation in the form
of fasts until His return or would have to accompany Him to escape
Bhagwan Swaminarayan's words contained formidable spiritual prowess;
able to eradicate the militant nature of people. Once in Samarkha,
a village near Anand, He instructed the chivalrous Kathis and
Rajputs to imbibe humility; to forgive those who maligned them
and never to lift their swords. He said that by cultivating forgiveness
and forbearance they would attain a greater victory - over the
baser instincts. Just then, a few devotees arrived from Anand.
They requested Him to grace their homes. Aware of the outcome,
He replied that dissenters in town would foment trouble. When
the devotees beseeched Him, He relented.
The next day, He rode to Anand, accompanied by sadhus, the Kathis,
Joban Pagi - the ex-dacoit, and other devotees. The heads of the
local Vallabhi mandir saw them. Out of spite they incited the
townsfolk to insult them. Within minutes a furore erupted. They
hurled a barrage of stones, mud, cow dung and obscenities. The
sadhus gladly, while continuing to sing kirtans, bore the abuse.
But the Kathi chiefs and Joban Pagi - warriors by blood seethed
with anger; unable to bear the objects hurled on Maharaj, their
Lord. Reflexly, they reached for their weapons. Maharaj reminded
them not to retaliate. They obeyed instantly, albeit bitterly.
He then calmly led them out of town.
After cleansing themselves, they returned to Vadtal. Here He revealed,
'The fact that we forgave was in itself our victory. Therefore
we are all now sitting here so peacefully. Fighting would have
created further enmity. The townsfolk will later realise, repent,
invite us and many will become good disciples.'9 Within
weeks His prophecy proved true.
Bhagwan Swaminarayan's influence on unruly Kathis outside the Satsang,
was equally remarkable.
Between 1820 and 1829, the state of Bhavnagar, to which the Gadhada
district belonged, had intermittently witnessed plundering raids
by Khuman Kathis. They had developed a grievance with Wajesinh,
the king. To avenge his unfair policies, they turned into Baharwuttias
- literally, 'out on the road' - a form of outlawry.10
Under Jogidas Khuman, a formidable Baharwuttio famed for his chivalry,
the Khumans periodically pillaged villages belonging to Wajesinh,
razing them and pilfering the cattle. Then they escaped into the
nearby Gir forest, thus evading pursuit by Wajesinh's troops.
In 1824, instigated by the British, another group of Kathis captured
Jogidas, handing him over to Captain Barnewell, then Political
Agent in Rajkot. After he failed to devise a practicable agreement
conducive to both the Khumans and Wajesinh, he had no choice but
to release Jogidas, who resumed his outlaw activities.11
By 1829, his unremitting forays had all but exasperated Wajesinh,
who was now desperate for a truce. At this critical period, Wajesinh
came to know that Jogidas had recently visited Gadhada, in mourning
Jiva Khachar's (Dada's uncle) demise, and had also met Bhagwan Swaminarayan.
Wajesinh took heart. He summoned twenty-eight-year-old Dada Khachar
and requested him to mediate on his behalf, to convince Jogidas
for a permanent peace settlement. Bhagwan Swaminarayan blessed Dada
Khachar, assuring him success on such a precarious mission. Dada
Khachar then sought out Jogidas and negotiated successfully. D.A.
Blane, then Political Agent in Rajkot, ratified the truce and
sent it to the Bombay Presidency, which approved it.12
Where even the British had failed in 1824, Jogidas' surprising
co-operation and compliance to Dada Khachar's terms on this occasion,
clearly reflected Bhagwan Swaminarayan's calming influence on the
outlaws, in addition to the young chief's diplomacy. Reports of
such transformations and the remarkably edifying effects of Bhagwan Swaminarayan all over Gujarat without use of weapons, had been
intermittently reaching the British officials at the Bombay Presidency.13
Therefore, on his visit to Gujarat and Kutch in 1830, then Governor,
Sir John Malcolm eagerly wished to meet Bhagwan Swaminarayan. Through
Williamson and Blane, his agents,14 he had two letters
sent to Gadhada, inviting Bhagwan Swaminarayan to a meeting in Rajkot.
But a reply informed him of Bhagwan Swaminarayan's grave illness,
extreme weakness and inability to travel. Sir Malcolm then had
a third letter written. Before it reached Gadhada, Bhagwan Swaminarayan
out of grace for the Governor's heartfelt requests, and aware
of the impending third letter, forsook His illness. He left Gadhada
with a retinue of senior Paramhansas and Kathi chiefs. On the
way to Rajkot, He received the third letter.
The historic meeting took place at the Political Agent's bungalow,
on 26th February 1830. Sir Malcolm sent out a military band to
welcome Bhagwan Swaminarayan to the bungalow.15
After a conversation lasting an hour, Sir John Malcolm asked for
blessings and a written form of His teachings. Bhagwan Swaminarayan
presented him with the Shikshapatri which today remains well preserved
in the Indian Institute Library of the Bodlean Library in Oxford,
In 1849, nineteen years after Bhagwan Swaminarayan's demise, Henry
George Briggs visited Vadtal, one of the mandirs built by Him.
About the disciples, Briggs observed:
'Sahajanand was loved beyond belief by his discples - comprising
men of talent, of station and of wealth, the poor, the ignorant,
the rude - and who would have sacrificed life itself for their
1 Parekh, Manilal
C. Sri Swami Narayan. Rajkot: Sri Bhagwat Dharma Mission House,
Dave, op.cit.,Vol.III.,Transformation of Joban Pagi,pp.73,74.
2 Parekh, Hiralal T. Arvachin Gujaratnu Rekhadarshan. Khand
1. (1801-1857). Amdavad:
Somalal Mangaldas, 1935, Famine of 1813, Capt. Carnac's observation,
pp. 87, 88.
Commissariat. M.S. History of Gujarat. The Maratha Period. Amdavad:
Sabha, 1980, Famine of 1813-Capt. Carnac's observation, p. 994.
3 Dave, op.cit.,Vol.V., Maharajah Sayajirao II welcomes
Bhagwan Swaminarayan, pp.177-182.
4 Harililamrutam.op.cit.,Maharajah Dewaji of Gondal State
welcomes Bhagwan Swaminarayan,1/6.
5 Anon. History & Administration of Dharampur State.
From 1262 to 1937. Dharampur:
D.V. Saraiya, 'visit of the great founder of the Swaminarayan
Harililamrutam. op.cit.,Letter to eighteen disciples, 6/21.
6 Jacob, Sir George Le Grand.Western India.Before and during
the Mutinies. London:
Henry S. King & Co.,1872, rpt. Edition:New Delhi:Mayur Publications,1985,p.110.
7 Shastri, op.cit.,Kathi chiefs' devotion as guards,p.466.
8 Anon.History & Practices of the Thugs.London: W.H.
Allen & Co.,1837.
9 Harililamrutam. op.cit., insult in Anand,7/70.
10 Rajyagor, S.B. History of Gujarat.New Delhi:S.Chand
& Co. Ltd.,1982,Wajesinh &
Khuman Kathis, p.403.
11 Wilberforce Bell, op.cit., Wajesinh & Khuman Kathis,
12 Dave, op.cit.,Vol.V.,Rift between Wajesinh & Khuman
Kathis,Dada Khachar's diplomacy
with Jogidas Khuman,pp.362, 363.
13 Parekh, Hiralal T. op.cit.,Reports of Bhagwan Swaminarayan's
edifying effects in Kathiawad
reaching the British, p. 90.
14 Parekh, M.C.Shri Swami Narayan.Bombay:Bharatiya Vidya
Bhavan,3rd. ed.,1980, letters
written by Blane (& Williamson, secretary) to Bhagwan Swaminarayan,
15 Dave, op.cit.,Vol. V. Letter sent by Sir John Malcolm,p.455,meeting
16 Williams, Raymond B. Presentation of Shikshapatri to
Sir John Malcolm, in New
Dimensions in Vedanta Philosophy Vol. I., Amdavad: B.A.P.S. 1981,
Ch. 43, p.114.
17 Briggs, Henry George. Cities of Gujarashtra. Bombay:
The Times Press, 1849, p.242.