BAPS Centenary Celebration
Brief Into of Guru Parampara
Bhagwan Swaminarayan (1781-1830 CE) lived for only 49 years, but left an enduring legacy that has enabled countless people to experience the bliss of God. Called Ghanshyam, he was a pious, studious and virtuous child; his divine aura brought peace and joy to all. At the age of 11, he embarked on a 7-year, 12,000 km barefoot spiritual journey around India. Now known as Nilkanth, he braved extremes of heat and cold, visiting many sacred sites. He assessed the spiritual pulse of the people and realized that complacency had corrupted their spiritual values. Nilkanth settled in the ashram of guru Ramanand Swami, accepting initiation into the sadhu-fold. Renamed Sahajanand Swami, his life of discipline, devotion and dedicated service touched all. Before passing away, Ramanand Swami appointed the 21-year-old Sahajanand Swami in his place. Sahajanand Swami initiated many spiritual and social projects to revive society’s fading spirituality. Among other activities, he operated almshouses, built and recharged wells, and initiated education for women. He revealed the ‘Swaminarayan’ mantra for his devotees to chant and thus came to be known as Bhagwan Swaminarayan. Bhagwan Swaminarayan wrote the Shikshapatri, a code of ethics, inspiring his disciples to abstain from alcohol, meat-eating, dishonesty, adultery and improper habits of manner and diet. He revealed the Vedic doctrine of Akshar-Purushottam, teaching that all have to become aksharrup, like Akshar, and worship Purushottam to attain Akshardham, the divine abode of God. His spiritual discourses were compiled by four of his senior sadhus into the Vachanamrut, the most authoritative shastra of the Swaminarayan Sampraday. Bhagwan Swaminarayan’s practical spirituality appealed to people from all strata of society, helping them to regain their lost piety. Such was his divine magnetism that over 3,000 youths accepted initiation from him into the sadhu-fold to lead a life of devotion and service to society. So effective was Bhagwan Swaminarayan’s influence on society that Bishop Reginald Heber, Bishop of Calcutta; Sir John Malcolm, Governor-General of Bombay and other leading British officials sought an audience with him. Bhagwan Swaminarayan built five magnificent mandirs to serve as centres of spirituality and service. But of all the various aspects of Bhagwan Swaminarayan’s legacy, the most important is his promise to remain ever-present on earth through the manifest form of Akshar, the God-realized Sadhu. It is this lineage that has sustained the original ideals of Bhagwan Swaminarayan in their pristine form. In his own lifetime, countless revered him as God, or Purushottam. His humility, desire to serve, and exemplary life still serves as an inspiration for all.
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The first in Bhagwan Swaminarayan’s spiritual lineage of God-realized sadhus was Aksharbrahman Gunatitanand Swami (1785-1867), the manifest form of Akshar. Known as Mulji in childhood, his mature outlook, hard-working nature and devout lifestyle reflected his unique spiritual personality. Even as a youth, his insightful observations and pragmatic talks revealed his deep understanding of the human psyche and mystical-spiritual concepts. In 1810 CE, Bhagwan Swaminarayan initiated Mulji into the sadhu-fold and named him Gunatitanand Swami. Gunatitanand Swami’s discipline, devotion and service were exemplary, inspiring all who came into his contact. On numerous occasions, Bhagwan Swaminarayan identified Gunatitanand Swami as the manifest form of Akshar (also called Aksharbrahman), his divine abode – Akshardham. Thus, many understood his true glory. In 1829, Bhagwan Swaminarayan appointed Gunatitanand Swami as the Mahant of the Junagadh Mandir. Using this as his base, Gunatitanand Swami relentlessly visited the surrounding villages, teaching the philosophy of Bhagwan Swaminarayan and encouraging a moral and spiritual way of life. Gunatitanand Swami’s profound, perceptive and practical spiritual talks reflected the depth of his scriptural knowledge and spiritual experience. So appealing were his penetrative discourses that devotees eagerly sought every opportunity to listen. His senior sadhu and householder disciples compiled these spiritual talks into the shastra, Gunatitanand Swami ni Vato. Through their association with Gunatitanand Swami, many sadhus and householders attained the highest state of spiritual consciousness, brahmarup, and experienced the bliss of God. In his talks, he explained the true form of Bhagwan Swaminarayan as supreme God, Purushottam. Gunatitanand Swami served as Mahant of the Jungadh mandir for over 40 years, and before retiring to the divine abode, he identified Bhagatji Maharaj as his successor.
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Bhagatji Maharaj (1829-1897 CE) was the second spiritual successor to Bhagwan Swaminarayan in his lineage of Gunatit Gurus. His childhood name was Pragji, but because of his devout nature, people fondly called him ‘Bhagatji’. From childhood, his devotion and spirituality were evident. He often gathered other children and narrated stories from the shastras, thus teaching them moral values and spiritual ideals. He was a tailor by profession and had very little formal education, yet, through his association with Gunatitanand Swami, he grasped the deep philosophical truths revealed by Bhagwan Swaminarayan Bhagatji Maharaj served Gunatitanand Swami with tireless enthusiasm, regardless of physical hardships. His spirit of service was exemplary and he eagerly completed tasks which others avoided. Bhagatji Maharaj also discoursed about the Akshar-Purushottam doctrine, clarifying to devotees that Bhagwan Swaminarayan was Purushottam and Gunatitanand Swami was the manifest form of Akshar. His saintly virtues and spiritual wisdom drew many to seek his company. Even though, as instructed by Gunatitanand Swami, he remained as a householder, sadhus and other householder devotees, revered him as their guru. Despite restrictions imposed by those in administrative power, Bhagatji Maharaj’s loyal following grew. He was pure at heart and had genuine concern for the spiritual welfare of all. Foremost among his disciples was Shastriji Maharaj, whom he revealed as his successor in Bhagwan Swaminarayan’s lineage of spiritually perfect, God-realized Sadhus.
Shastriji Maharaj (1865-1951 CE) was the third spiritual successor of Bhagwan Swaminarayan and he founded the Bochasanwasi Shri AksharPurushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha (BAPS) in 1907. He was named Dungar, and even as a young child, his inherent spirituality was evident in all his actions. At the age of one, Dungar was blessed by Gunatitanand Swami, who envisioned, “He will become a sadhu and spread the supreme philosophy of Shriji Maharaj. His discourses will inspire the Sampraday.” While other children played games, he would build mandirs out of sand, place murtis within and perform arti. Dungar’s devotion, discipline, aesthetic sense, creativity and sharp intellect were widely respected. When aged 17, he was initiated into the sadhu-fold and named Yagnapurushdas Swami. From the beginning, he stayed in Vartal, where his saintly virtues and dynamic leadership qualities earned him great respect. He also excelled in his study of Sanskrit and the shastras, gaining a reputation as a renowned scholar. Thus, he was respectfully called ‘Shastriji’. From Bhagatji Maharaj he learnt the Akshar-Purushottam philosophy as revealed by Bhagwan Swaminarayan in the Vachanamrut. Realizing that wayward elements within the Swaminarayan Sampraday had distorted Bhagwan Swaminarayan’s original teachings, he attempted to correct the misunderstandings through his discourses. However, there was vehement opposition and despite his peaceful, tolerant approach, his efforts were stifled, often aggressively. Yet Shastriji Maharaj continued fearlessly. Eventually, he was left with no choice but to leave Vartal to enable him to revive the true doctrine revealed by Bhagwan Swaminarayan. Thus, in November 1905 he separated from the Vartal mandir, with only five sadhus and a few devotees. In 1907 he built a mandir in Bochasan and consecrated the murtis of Akshar-Purushottam in the central shrine. This marked the beginning of BAPS. He continued to preach the Akshar-Purushottam philosophy in his extensive travels through all terrains and climes. He also built mandirs in Sarangpur, Gondal, Atladra and Gadhada. Through his efforts, Satsang spread to East Africa where a hari mandir was inaugurated in Nairobi. Shastriji Maharaj also began the monthly periodical Swaminarayan Prakash in 1938, which is still published today. Shastriji Maharaj persisted through many hardships, living sincerely by the commands of Bhagwan Swaminarayan. His pious, virtuous and selfless life attracted many. They, too, realized the true philosophical principle and practised the pure spirituality of Bhagwan Swaminarayan. In 1950, Shastriji Maharaj appointed Pramukh Swami Maharaj as the administrative President of the BAPS, instructing him to serve under Yogiji Maharaj, whom he identified as his successor in Bhagwan Swaminarayan’s spiritual lineage of God-realized Sadhus.
Yogiji Maharaj (1892-1971 CE) was the fourth spiritual successor to Bhagwan Swaminarayan. Known as Jinabhai, even as a child his life centred around devotion and service to God, the mandir and sadhus. In school he ranked first, and his honest and diligent nature made him popular among the teachers and other pupils. His heart, however, was set on a life of spirituality. So, in 1911, at the age of 19, he accepted initiation into the sadhu-fold and was named Gnanjivandas Swami. At first he stayed in Junagadh, performing devotional service from early morning till late night. His devotion, service and austerities were like those of a yogi and he was affectionately called ‘Yogiji’. On joining Shastriji Maharaj, he assisted in various ways in the building of mandirs. He helped in the construction work, toured the villages to gather alms and undertook preaching tours to consolidate the Akshar-Purushottam philosophy. In 1934, Shastriji Maharaj appointed him as the Mahant of the newly built BAPS Mandir in Gondal. From here, he travelled to the villages, encouraging all to pursue a moral and spiritual life. He had a tolerant, saintly and helpful nature, and a child-like innocence that attracted many. He established separate weekly satsang assemblies for children, youths and elders, enabling them to receive spiritual guidance appropriate for their level. He especially focused on youths and developed such a bond with them that many renounced and became sadhus. He encouraged them to excel in studies and to develop other talents. Yogiji Maharaj inspired many publications in Gujarati, English and other languages, providing an opportunity for in-depth scriptural study. He also initiated the weekly Swaminarayan Satsang Patrika featuring news of Satsang events and an agenda for the weekly satsang assembly. Yogiji Maharaj undertook overseas Satsang Tours to Africa and England, where he consecrated mandirs and nurtured satsang. He also sowed the seeds of Satsang in America. In the 20 years from 1951 to 1971, he made over 4,000 city, town and village visits, consecrated over 60 mandirs, sanctified over 170,000 homes and wrote over 545,000 letters. Yogiji Maharaj identified Pramukh Swami Maharaj as his spiritual successor in Bhagwan Swaminarayan’s lineage of God-realized Sadhus.
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Pramukh Swami Maharaj (1921- ), the fifth spiritual successor of Bhagwan Swaminarayan, is the present guru of BAPS. His childhood name was Shantilal. As a quiet and devout boy, his honest, helpful and friendly ways made him popular among all. Guru Shastriji Maharaj recognized his innate spirituality, and so, in 1940, initiated him into the sadhu-fold, naming him Narayanswarupdas Swami. As a young sadhu, despite his slim physical frame, Narayanswarupdas Swami was energetic, resilient and eager to serve in all ways. Such diligence won the trust and confidence of Shastriji Maharaj, who gave him increasing responsibilities. At first, Narayanswarupdas Swami studied Sanskrit and the shastras. Then, Shastriji Maharaj appointed him Kothari (Head) of the BAPS Mandir in Sarangpur. In 1950, when Narayanswarupdas Swami was only 28-years-old, Shastriji Maharaj instated him as the administrative President (Pramukh) of BAPS in his place. Since then he has been fondly called ‘Pramukh Swami’. From 1951 to 1971, Pramukh Swami served under the spiritual guidance of Yogiji Maharaj with the same dedication as he had served Shastriji Maharaj. Since 1971, after the passing away of Yogiji Maharaj, he has built upon the foundations laid by his gurus to guide BAPS. Pramukh Swami Maharaj has sustained the tradition of Bhagwan Swaminarayan and the Gunatit Gurus by continually touring in India and abroad to strengthen satsang in the lives of devotees. Much of his time is spent in guiding and inspiring devotees by personal counselling, letters or telephone. Amid all these responsibilities and despite his frail health, he continues to offer personal devotion, for his greatest strength is his faith in God. And it is this spirituality that has been felt by all. He has inspired over 700 mandirs in India, North America, UK, Europe, Africa, Australia, New Zealand and the Middle East which serve as constant sources of spiritual inspiration and social harmony. Fulfilling the wish of Yogiji Maharaj, he has inspired the magnificent Akshardham complexes in Gandhinagar and New Delhi, which together attract over 7 million visitors annually, enlightening them on India’s ancient culture, traditions and spirituality. Through large-scale festivals, Pramukh Swami Maharaj has highlighted ancient traditions, creating social awareness of the need for moral and spiritual living. His unique bond with the youths has inspired over 700 to become sadhus, renouncing all worldly ambitions to serve God and society. He has directed the energies of youths to serve as volunteers in the Sanstha’s various spiritual, social, cultural, educational, environmental, health, disaster relief and other humanitarian activities. His selfless work has been applauded by revered spiritual leaders, national leaders and other dignitaries.
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