accepting the reins of the Fellowship, to aid His work, Bhagwan Swaminarayan
began to initiate the highest order of ascetics known as Paramhansas
- the supreme swans. At the age of only 23, He initiated
five hundred Paramhansas in one day. His divinity attracted laymen
and sannyasins throughout the land. Some sannyasins were themselves
heads of monasteries and religious orders outside Gujarat.
Arriving in Kathiawad, they sought the incarnation, the avatar,
whose fame they had heard of, whose vision some had perceived
and whose divinity from afar, many had experienced.
In their hundreds they converged.
This attraction to Bhagwan Swaminarayan proved quite phenomenal,
since many belonged to the Advaita (non-dualistic) school, believing
themselves as Brahman, having no concept of worshipping a higher
In contrast, Bhagwan Swaminarayan accepted Ramanuja's Vishishtadvaita
philosophy (qualified non-dualism), propounding worship of God
with form and of murti puja, entailing the observation of all
the bhakti rituals. In total, from the beginning of His ministry
at the age of twenty-one to the age of forty-nine, He initiated
over two thousand men as sadhus and Paramhansas.
From these renunciates, He demanded strict spiritual discipline
and the highest principles of asceticism, hitherto unknown in
Hinduism. To effect this, He gave them five vows, the Panch Vartamans:
nishkam - eight fold brahmacharya, nirlobh - non-greed, nirman
- to rid ego, pride and anger, to become humble, niswad - to overcome
the sense of taste and nissneh - to remain detached from relatives
and material possessions.
The vow of brahmacharya prohibited looking at or touching women.
In exigencies, Bhagwan Swaminarayan allowed the sadhus to rescue
a female by helping her physically.
Non-avariciousness meant that a sadhu could not touch money or
even ask a person to keep some on his behalf.
The vow of nirman and nissneh also meant cultivating indifference
to the body, in not pampering it. Therefore they could shave the
head and face only once a month. In addition, the ascetics had
to wear coarse saffron robes.
The saffron colour symbolises fire, whose characteristic feature
is to convert to its own colour anything thrown into it. Similarly,
it behoves a sadhu to imbibe such virtues that he remains untainted
by materialistic desires.
Bhagwan Swaminarayan also prescribed short term vows lasting from
a few months to a year or more. Of a total of 114, known as Prakranas,
one of them advocated forsaking a place where people honoured
and welcomed ascetics with food and shelter. They had to keep
moving and live in the fields, without shelter of trees or straw
During one severe winter, a farmer came across an unconscious
Paramhansa in a field, near the village of Bhadra, in Kathiawad.
He informed Mulji Sharma (later initiated as a Paramhansa named
Gunatitanand Swami). Mulji carried home the Paramhansa, who luckily
was only suffering from hypothermia. He recovered after six hours
of warming. After accepting a little food, he left, remaining
sincere to the Lord's injunction, of leaving a place where people
Often, the Paramhansas received no alms for days on end. When
they did, the raw flour and grain, and any cooked items were to
be mixed and bound in a piece of cloth and doused in water a few
times to remove any flavour. From this tasteless and soggy mush,
they could only have the amount fillable in a small coconut shell
once a day. Any extra they had to give away!
In the role of the Guru, Bhagwan Swaminarayan's personal care and
spiritual grooming to elevate the Paramhansas was unique. Hitherto,
renunciates in India usually preferred to seclude themselves in
mountains, forests or monasteries for their own spiritual endeavours.
This is known as Nivrutti Marg - path of non-action. For His Paramhansas,
Bhagwan Swaminarayan prescribed the tougher Pravrutti Marg - path
of action, to move within society, remove samsara from the hearts
of people, while still remaining totally detached. If Nivrutti
Marg was a serene bed of roses, Pravrutti Marg struggled through
the storms of a thorny samsara. During the invariable trials and
tribulations of the latter, He inspired them by writing dynamic
letters, elaborating and glorifying the vows and detailing eternal
truths. These letters were later compiled and known as Vedras
- the nectar of the Vedas. The sadhus upheld each word as sacred,
to be obeyed zealously, thus elevating them spiritually.
Not surprisingly, the emergence of these sadhus, embodiments of
saintliness in society, filled the existing vairagis and bawas
with jealousy and fury. As people increasingly began to respect
and follow the Swaminarayan ascetics, these renunciates feared
their doom; in losing their daily bread.
Infuriated, they mercilessly sought, beat and tortured the sadhus.
In these persecutions some five hundred succumbed to their swords
On one occasion, a sadhu named Hiradas arrived in a village for
the night and sat on the village square, chanting the Swaminarayan
mantra. Bawas already occupied most of the square. When they heard
'Swaminarayan', they raged. They ordered Hiradas to stop chanting
or else they would beat him. He stopped oral chanting and continued
mentally. But a while later, when they saw his lips moving, one
of them poked an iron pincer in a nearby fire. He then mercilessly
impaled and branded Hiradas with the heated pincer. Pieces of
burnt flesh hung hideously from his body. Thankfully, he passed
During the night he awoke; excruciating pain and burns searing
his body. Despite the wounds, he somehow staggered out of the
village and headed for Gadhada.
In the morning, he arrived at Dada Khachar's court. Painfully,
he shuffled through the assembly towards Maharaj and collapsed
at His feet. As his upper garment slid off, a wave of horror swept
through the assembly. Maharaj knelt down. Hiradas painfully related
the story. Tears welled up in Maharaj's eyes. He ordered the sadhus
to shift Hiradas to His personal quarters, in Akshar Ordi. He
would personally nurse him to health, since chanting His name
had invited the torturing. By His blessings and personal care,
Hiradas' wounds healed rapidly. He then zealously resumed his
Some of the sadhus came from the Kshatriya - martial caste. If
set upon, Maharaj had ordered them to wish good fortune to those
who insulted them or inflicted physical pain.
None were allowed to retaliate. The willingness of the sadhus
to implicitly obey the rigorous vows, to undergo self-abnegation,
to bravely tolerate the pain and insults flung by antagonists,
even to die for the Lord, is aptly described by Parekh as a unique
'romance of discipleship'.
The sadhus were all aware that their Lord Himself had undergone
greater sufferings and harsher austerities during His seven-year
forest sojourns. Even now, as Head of the rapidly spreading Fellowship,
He too remained a target for antagonists who persistently hounded
Him, hoping to kill Him. Their impetus and sole reason centred
on their murderous contempt of Him being worshipped as God!
Many tried to dispose of Him, Ministers such as: Jagjivan Mehta
- the Diwan of Kutch, Vithalrav Balaji - the Suba of Ahmedabad,
Laldas - the Suba of Visnagar, North Gujarat, Vithalrav Devaji
- the Gaekwad's Diwan of Vadodara, in addition to bawas such as:
Lolangar of Gomtipur in Ahmedabad and Magniram - the powerful
tantric of Mangrol in Kathiawad, and a group of six bawas who
came to Dada Khachar's court. Not only did they fail, but some
- such as Laldas became disciples, a subdued Magniram became a
sadhu named Advaitanand, as did the six bawas. They came to kill
but remained to serve.
A farsighted visionary and a superb organiser, Bhagwan Swaminarayan
foresaw the need for Satsang literature for the consolidation,
perpetuation and universal acceptance of the Sampradaya. He appointed
those Paramhansas, Sanskrit scholars prior to their joining the
Fellowship, such as Gopalanand, Muktanand, Nityanand, Shatanand
and poets such as Brahmanand, Premanand and Nishkulanand, to compose
this literature. Others, He sent to Benares, Baroda and Surat
to study Sanskrit, music and poetry.
This momentous decision helped to meet the challenges in the form
of debates, thrown by antagonists amongst scholars and pundits
in society. Contemptuous of the rapid success of the Sampradaya,
they slandered it as non-Vedic, refuting its claim of Bhagwan Swaminarayan
as an incarnation during the age of Kali.
Of many such debates, Muktanand Swami won a graceful victory at
the court of Maharajah Sayajirao Gaekwad of Baroda and Nityanand
Swami defeated a group of pundits in Ahmedabad. With scriptural
references, both Paramhansas successfully established the Vedic
soundness of the Sampradaya and Bhagwan Swaminarayan as God. Bhagwan Swaminarayan Himself routed two Vedantin pundits; Khaya Khatri
in Kutch and another in Vadtal.
In the field of music and poetry, there were the eight poet Paramhansas
of Bhagwan Swaminarayan, namely: Muktanand, Brahmanand, Premanand,
Nishkulanand, Devanand, Bhumanand, Manjukeshanand and Dayanand.
They composed thousands of lyrics - kirtans, lauding devotion,
festivals, the glory of Bhagwan Swaminarayan, in addition to advocating
a spiritual life, to overcome the fleeting and miserable nature
of material existence.
The variety and voluminous compositions depict the exuberant devotion
the poets developed for the Lord, thus enriching Gujarati literature.1
The Bruhad Gujaratni Asmita notes that, 'In addition to the Vaishnav
Dharma, the Sampradaya which boosted the cultured music of Gujarat,
was the Swaminarayan Sampradaya ... the thousands of kirtans of
Premanand and Brahmanand in Gujarati and Vraj dialects, are Gujarat's
Brahmanand Swami alone composed over eight thousand kirtans. Hurtling
through a glittering career, prior to becoming a sadhu, in the
prime of his youth, as a royal bard extraordinaire, he revelled
in the glamour; entertaining and enthralling Maharajahs and Nawabs
at the royal courts in Jamnagar, Junagadh and Bhavnagar. With
his sharp wit, suave eloquence, and adeptness at composing instant
poetry, he won their heartfelt accolades and approbations. They
literally decorated him with gold, jewels and gems.
But at thirty-two, he met Bhagwan Swaminarayan. The glitter and the
glamour, the gold and the glory, ground to dust. Then, on the
verge of renouncing in Gadhada, he received his richest, most
tempting offer; a lifelong invitation from the Gaekwad of Vadodara,
as the royal bard, to reside in his palace with all its luxuries,
opulence and grandeur. Brahmanand declined.3
Nishkulanand Swami, being a carpenter prior to renunciation, lacked
a formal education. Therefore it was remarkable that he composed
over twenty-three volumes, in verse, during his life - Bhaktachintamani
and Nishkulanand Kavya being the most notable.4
Premanand Swami, though Hindu by birth, was brought up by Muslim
step parents. Yet, his intense devotion to Bhagwan Swaminarayan,
reflected in his kirtans, parallels that of Mirabai's towards
Lord Krishna. He composed about ten thousand kirtans of which
four thousand are available.5 Even the Nawab of Junagadh,
a connoiseur of music, rebuked the maestros at his court, 'First
listen to the kirtans of Swaminarayan's fakir Premanand, then
sing before me; for his music comes from the soul.'
A group of Premanand Swami's kirtans, known as Nitya Cheshta,
describes in loving detail, the physical persona of Bhagwan Swaminarayan
and His daily routine. Included are moles, birth marks, the sixteen
signs of Godship on His soles, the shape of: lips, eyebrows, forehead,
chest, stomach, waist, hands and feet; His unique walking style,
and sitting posture whilst taking prasad; spending the day with
sadhus and devotees - His manner of talking, counselling, serving
them food, swimming and riding with them; every act, whether -
a suppressed laugh, a soft sneeze, a meaningful glance - was meticulously
noted with divine regard.
To this day, devotees sing and visualise these sublime reminiscences
devoutly every night before retiring. This visualization, they
reveal, relaxes them physically and mentally, inducing a blissful
tranquility at heart.
In addition to his kirtans, Devanand Swami's notable contribution
was the nurturing of Dalpatram, the renowned poet of mid-nineteenth
Devotional kirtans of Nishkulanand, Muktanand and Brahmanand were
included by Gandhiji in his Ashrambhajanavali - a compilation
of kirtans sung at his Sabarmati ashram.
Amongst all the Paramhansas, Bhagwan Swaminarayan regarded Gunatitanand
Swami as the foremost.
In His teachings, Bhagwan Swaminarayan mentions that when the Lord
incarnates on earth, He does so with His abode - Akshardham, released
souls and divine powers.7 During His life, He revealed
that Gunatitanand Swami was His abode, Akshardham (Aksharbrahman)
incarnate, His ideal Devotee. Before His physical demise, He revealed
to the Satsang of His continued manifestation on earth through
Gunatitanand Swami.8 Therefore, He enjoined all the
ascetics to visit the Junagadh mandir for one month annually,
to avail of Gunatitanand Swami's redemptive sermons.9
These teachings were later compiled, as Swamini Vato - Swami's
The absolute surrender of sannyasins who had been heads of monasteries
with hundreds of renunciate followers of their own, coupled with
the unalloyed love and sacrifice by other sadhus for Bhagwan Swaminarayan,
reflected His spiritual prowess. Many possessed great yogic powers
and as such, could themselves have been worshipped and deified.
He once asked them, 'I have not performed miraculous feats such
as constructing a bridge across the ocean, nor have I killed the
ten-headed Ravana. Neither have I held aloft the Mandrachal mountain,
nor vanquished demons such as Kansa and Shishupal. Why then do
you worship Me as God?'
The Paramhansas replied, 'O Lord! Rama killed Ravana but his evil
instincts of lust and ego were not destroyed. Vaman subdued Bali,
but he had already been subdued by greed. Krishna killed Kansa
and others, but they had already succumbed to ego and greed. These
inner enemies, of lust, anger, greed and the countless others,
you have eradicated from our hearts.
'You may not have built a bridge across the ocean, but you have
certainly created one between the ocean of samsara and Akshardham.
'You may not have held aloft Mandrachal or Govardhan, but You
have instantaneously pulverized our mountains of sins and purified
That is why we worship You as God.'10
And so laymen and ascetics who had thronged to Him from all over
the land, to live an existence commanded by Him, surrendering
their will to His, be granted a privileged discipleship, to gain
His divine grace, sacrificed their lives at His lotus feet. Their
unalloyed love for Him elevated them to scintillate eternally
in the Satsang firmament.
Majmudar, op.cit., persecution by priesthood, p.221.
Plots to kill Bhagwan Swaminarayan:
Dave, op.cit., Vol. III., Jagjivan Mehta, pp. 27, 28.
Dave, op.cit., Vol. II., Balaji in Fort Bhadra, pp. 529-532.
Harililamrutam, op. cit., Balaji in Fort Bhadra, 7/4.
Dave, op.cit., Vol. III., Laldas, pp. 145-149.
Dave, op.cit., Vol. V., Devaji, pp. 185, 193-196, 202-209.
Bhaktachintamani, op.cit., Lolangar, verse 57.
Dave, op.cit., Vol. II., Lolangar, pp. 560-571.
Harililamrutam, op.cit., Magniram, 5/8, 9.
Dave, op.cit., Vol. IV., Muktanand Swami's victory at Gaekwad's
Harililamrutam, op.cit., with Khaiya Khatri, 6/22,23.
Dave, op.cit., Vol. III., with Vedantin in Vadtal, pp.612, 613.
Bhagat, Shastri Anupam. Satsang Vanchanmala II. Amdavad: Swaminarayan
1992, Nityanand Swami, Premanand Swami.
Mazumdar, op.cit., enriching Gujarati literature, pp.221, 340.
1 Shastri, op.cit., p.359, enriching Gujarati literature,
2 Shukla,Harkant. Gujaratma Shisht Sangeetno Udbhav ane
Vikas in Bruhad Gujaratni
Asmita. Nandlal K. Devluk, ed. Bhavnagar: Yogesh Advertising Service,
3 Ratnu,Mavadan Bhimji. Brahma Samhita. Kalawad, Jamnagar:
Mavadan Bhimji Ratnu,
2nd. ed., 1966, life of Brahmanand Swami.
4 Ishwarcharandas, Shastri.Satsang Vanchanmala III.Bombay:B.A.P.S.,1975,
5 Vashi, Bhavana P. Premsakhi nu kavan in Swaminarayan
Sant Sahitya. Compiler:
Raghuvir Chaudhary. Amdavad: Swaminarayan Aksharpith, 1981, pp.
6 Kavi, Nhanalal Dalpatram. Kavishwar Dalpatram. Vol.I.
Amdavad: Anand Nhanalal
7 Vachanamritam, op.cit., Gadhada I-71.
8 Dave, op.cit., Vol. V., p.552.
9 Nishkulanand Swami. Purushottam Prakash, 32/13-14 in
10 Bhaktachintamani, op.cit., verse 105