Shastri Narayanswarupdas, popularly known as Pramukh Swami
Maharaj, is the fifth spiritual successor of Bhagwan Swaminarayan
(1781-1830 ce) – the founder of the Swaminarayan Sampraday.
Pramukh Swami Maharaj was born on 7 December 1921 (Magshar
sud 8, Samvat 1978) in the small village of Chansad, in Vadodara
district. His childhood name was Shantilal. His parents, Motibhai
Patel and Diwaliba, were farmers and staunch disciples of
The divine glow in Shantilal’s eyes and his spiritual
sincerity made him the cynosure of all eyes. Young Shantilal
went for darshan to the Swaminarayan mandir in Chansad daily.
His association with Shastriji Maharaj and his sadhus, whenever
they came to Chansad, strengthened his affiliation and love
for satsang. Shantilal developed a yearning spend the rest
of his life in the service of God.
Renunciation and Initiation
When Shantilal was 17 years old he received a letter from
Shastriji Maharaj inviting him to becoming a sadhu. Shantilal
was overjoyed. His parents happily complied with Shastriji
Maharaj’s wish and gave him permission to become a sadhu.
On 22 November 1939, Shastriji Maharaj gave Shantilal parshad
diksha at Ambli-Vali Pol in Amdavad. On 10 January 1940, Shastriji
Maharaj initiated him as a sadhu and named him Sadhu Narayanswarupdas.
Within a short time his austerity, renunciation, tolerance,
patience, purity and devotion to the guru blossomed and revealed
his pure saintliness. Within ten years, he earned Shastriji
Maharaj’s divine grace. In 1950, Shastriji Maharaj,
with great foresight, appointed Narayanswarup Swami as the
President of the Bochasanwasi Shri Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan
Sanstha. At that time no one had the faintest idea that one
day the 28-year-old Narayanswarup Swami would be venerated
throughout the world.
In 1951, Shastriji Maharaj passed away and Yogiji Maharaj
succeeded him. For the next twenty years Pramukh Swami served
under the instructions and blessings of guru Yogiji Maharaj.
In 1971: Yogiji Maharaj passed away and Pramukh Swami Maharaj
succeeded him to continue his mission.
It is impossible to describe the work of Pramukh Swami Maharaj
who has transformed BAPS from a sapling into a sprawling banyan
When one looks at his pristine, saintly life one is faced
with the question as to which of his many divine facets is
As the torchbearer
of Hindu revival in modern times.
As a guru
who has spread the universal message of morality and spirituality
preached by Indian culture and Bhagwan Swaminarayan in over
As the inspirer
of over 700 marvellous mandirs, including the impressive
Swaminarayan Akshardham cultural complexes in New Delhi
and Gandhinagar, the world renowned Shri Swaminarayan Mandirs
in London, Toronto, Chicago, Atlanta and Houston, and thousands
of centres of character development worldwide.
As the president
of the global BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha.
As an epoch-maker
who has channelled the energies of hundreds of thousands
of youths towards the path of spirituality and service to
As an initiator
of educated youths into the sadhu-fold for lifelong service
As an inspirer
and organizer of state-of-the-art educational and hostel
complexes and health institutions.
As a promoter
of literature, music and the arts.
As one who
harnesses modern science and technology for the propagation
of spiritual wisdom.
As an idol
of compassion who has rescued and rushed relief materials
to those devastated by natural disasters in Gujarat, Andhra
Pradesh, Maharashtra, Orissa, Kutch, Karnataka and other
As one who
has tirelessly made 15,500 visits to towns and villages
in India and abroad – regardless of time, the vagaries
of weather, discomfort and health – for the benefit
As a giant
who has unfurled the flag of India’s cultural heritage
in the West.
As a liberator
of the downtrodden and poor.
As a pure,
ideal disciple absorbed in supreme devotion of God.
As a living
brahmaswarup Sadhu – the crowning glory of all sadhus.
these features, one can add many others to his fathomless divine
personality. In the words of the late Jain acharya Muni Sushilkumarji,
“India has been nourished and enriched by the Buddha,
Tirthankars, Ram, Krishna, Nanak and other sadhus and divine
incarnations. We had been waiting for someone who could lead
India’s cultural revival – who could nourish India
spiritually, socially and politically. By God’s grace
we have found such a person. His name is Pramukh Swami. If we
want to unite India, then it can be done so through the leadership
of Pramukh Swami. Pramukh Swami is not the head of the Swaminarayan
Sampraday alone but also the head of the Hindu faith. No, not
the head of Hindu Dharma alone, but also the head of Indian
Honours and Recognitions
Swamishri’s most impressive trait is his egolessness.
He is humble and simple, natural and transparent. There is not
even an iota of deception in him. He has no desire for honour
or self-importance. He speaks straight from the heart, with
no frills added. He is never stressed by the daily activities
he performs. After having helped someone, there is not a trace
of self-praise in his words or actions. He claims no proprietorship
in all that he has inspired. He asks for no rights. His mantra
is, “In the good of others lies our own, and in the happiness
of others abides our own.” With this ideal, Swamishri
works for the good of all.
Whoever comes to him experiences a feeling of warmth and serenity.
And that is why his divine personality has touched the hearts
of all – from the tribals of Gujarat to the elite and
intelligent people of the world.
The renowned multimedia producer, the late Professor Jaroslav
Fric, opined, “Pramukh Swami is a great part of the Infinite.
I can say with conviction that he is a true guru and the embodiment
of Bhagwan Swaminarayan on earth.”
The late Ron Patel, Pulitzer Prize-winning editor of the Sunday
edition of The Philadelphia Enquirer, experienced the filial
love of his father in Swamishri’s affectionate personality.
Han and Theo Kop, Dutch nationals, see Swamishri as a unique
Professor Washington Okuma of Kenya felt an indescribable peace
when he saw Swamishri for the first time.
The holy spiritual leaders of India also hold Swamishri in high
esteem. H.H. Chinna Jeer Swami says that he sees Pramukh Swami
as “a spiritual sculptor.” The president of the
Divine Life Society, H.H. Chidanand Swami, considers Swamishri
to be “an idol of morality in our contemporary age.”
The late Head of the Ramkrishna Mission, Raipur, H.H. Atmanand
Swami, said, “Oh! What a humble man. What a divine man!
I’ve yet to see such people in abundance. One of the very
rare souls that our country has. I have not travelled far and
wide, I have gone to some countries, but he is one of the most
impressive men I have met in my life; very dedicated, spiritually
very high, at the same time wonderful organizing capacity. Pramukh
Swami is so silent, at the same time making so many people so
Many heads of other faiths have been impressed by Swamishri’s
divine personality, namely, H.H. The Dalai Lama, Pope John Paul
II, Rabai Lau (leader of the Ashkenazi sect) and Rabbi Doron
Bakshi (leader of the Sephardi sect) of the Jewish faith, the
Archbishop of Canterbury and Jagjitsinghji (Sikh leader).
Various heads of government and royalty who have been touched
by Swamishri’s saintliness include: Tony Blair, Bill Clinton,
Prince Charles, Manmohan Singh, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, and many
The eminent economist and advocate, Nani Palkhiwala, said, “It
is difficult to pen down the achievements of the Akshar Purushottam
Swaminarayan Sanstha. Under the stewardship and inspiration
of Pujya Pramukh Swami Maharaj, his sadhus have dedicated themselves
to the propagation of nonviolence, brotherhood and spiritual
awakening that will become a hallmark of Indian culture.”
The founder of Amul Dairy and former chairman of the National
Dairy Development Board, Bharat Ratna Awardee, Dr Kurien, declared,
“What Swamiji is able to achieve makes what little I have
achieved very insignificant. One then realizes what goodness
can achieve, what piety can achieve, what the devotion of his
followers can achieve. And I wish, I too will receive a small
portion of this.”
The honour accorded to him by the British and Canadian Parliaments,
‘Key to the City’ presentations, honorary citizenships
and ‘Pramukh Swami Day’ declarations by many cities
of America and England speak of his globally appealing personality.
Pramukh Swami Maharaj’s universal appeal as a great spiritual
master lies in his austerity, renunciation, dedication and supreme
devotion to God.
Another unique aspect of his life is his untiring vicharan.
Regardless of physical discomfort, he continuously travels for
the benefit of society. And that is why there is no answer if
anyone were to ask him for his address. There is no inventory
of the hardships he has put up with to please the devotees.
He has sacrificed his entire life for the good of others. Despite
having had a cataract operation, gall bladder removed, a heart
attack, bypass surgery and arthritis he has not reduced his
In 1985, in spite of illness, he had visited 95 villages in
Gujarat in 20 days. In the village of Vasad, Swamishri sanctified
121 homes from 9.00 am till 3.30 pm with a fever of 102 F.
Swamishri has sanctified homes by walking 2 kilometres in the
undulating Badalpur region on the Mahi riverbank. His home-visits
on the hilly grounds of Bamangam village would exhaust any energetic
youth. He has also travelled for months in the scorching summer
in the arid region of Bhal, breathing the sand-laden air and
drinking its muddy lake water.
Swamishri has undertaken home-visits during tight schedules
and in the aftermath of natural calamities. He has also paid
home-visits to please devotees by getting up from his lunch
at 2.30 pm.
Along with his tireless vicharan, he performs scores of socio-spiritual
activities to uplift society, which are simply amazing. Furthermore,
he has personally convinced and inspired hundreds of thousands
of people to give up addictions and practise spirituality. Besides
his one-to-one dialogue in solving problems, he receives hundreds
of letters asking for guidance and blessings. So far he has
read and replied to over 500,000 letters.
Through his leadership the BAPS has taken giant strides, and
in spite of its colossal growth Swamishri has never compromised
in observing the five cardinal moral injunctions prescribed
for sadhus by Bhagwan Swaminarayan, namely, celibacy (nishkam),
non-covetousness (nirlobh), non-taste (nisswad), non-attachment
(nissneh) and humility (nirman).
Pramukh Swami Maharaj is always relaxed despite his multifarious
activities. The secret of his happiness and coolness lies in
his supreme devotion to Bhagwan Swaminarayan.
A reporter in London once questioned, “In spite of being
engaged in so many activities how is it that you are always
fresh?” Swamishri replied, “I do not allow any amount
of activities to get to my head. I do not feel burdened because
I believe the fruits of all activities are due to God’s
wish. I perform all actions by following God’s commands
and remembering him. One does not feel the burden of activity
when one keeps God in the forefront in all that one does. One
should discard one’s ego and become engaged in God and
the guru. By giving up one’s resolves and abiding by his
wishes and believing him to be the doer, one experiences eternal
On seeing Akshardham in Gandhinagar, L.K. Advani, a stalwart
national leader, asked Swamishri, “Who has made it?”
“God,” Swamishri replied instantly. “Whatever
there is belongs to God and it is all because of him.”
These sentiments of God’s doership are echoed unceasingly
in his supreme devotion to him. On seeing his devotion to the
murti of Harikrishna Maharaj (Thakorji), H.H. Chidanand Swami
of the Divine Life Society observed, “To see Swamiji with
his supreme Master is a sight which is a privilege even for
the gods. He never separates himself from his Lord. In all important
events, be it on stage or wherever, he always places the murti
of God in the foremost position. In his presence, the murti
of God is always given priority. Pramukh Swami is like a matchless
crown of our society.”
Swamishri’s profound divinity, care and compassion are
beyond the ken of human intellect. No amount of thought, emotion
or endeavour can enable one to understand him or realize him
fully. However, a little realization of his divine personality
does enable an aspirant to become a recipient of his grace,
and thus experience the joys of pristine divinity.