His birth, today, calls for a great spiritual celebration,
yet on 23 May 1892, the village Dhari allowed it to pass quietly
with little stir or attention. Neither Devchandbhai, nor Puribai,
his father and mother, were aware of the magnitude of the
birth of their fourth child. And they routinely named him
Jhina, the ‘small one’.
Perhaps nothing more beautifully summarizes his life than
this; he silently concealed his greatness at all times possible.
Yet how long can you withhold the sun from shining?
He grew up to become one of the purest forces of the spiritual
world, a sadhu who was admired as the essence of the eternal
Twelve years after meeting Yogiji Maharaj, Swami Chinmayanand,
the President of Chinmaya Mission writes:
“The experience I had of Yogiji Maharaj cannot be expressed
in language. He is a living mass of what is to be Experienced
in the Upanishads. The bliss of the self-supreme exploding
out of that aged body, wafting a steady fragrance of pure
love, gushed into those who came near him to fill up the hearts
of others – even when they were not pure enough to receive
and retain it. Hence, none wanted to leave him and his presence.
To such a master we can only prostrate and not write about.”
“He was a man ripened with love,” said Muktanand
“Meeting him was like hugging God.”
“So immersed was Yogiji in God, that not all the people
of the world combined, could withdraw him from God, even for
a fraction of a moment.”
“Once in a thousand years sadhus like Yogiji Maharaj
appear on our earth.”
These are just some expressions of those who happened to meet
Yet great people are better understood through experience
than expression, for they choose to write their lives through
“He never cried as a child,” reports the farm-owner
where his mother worked. This simple fact grows in importance
when we consider his whole life. Because he never sulked throughout
his life. Joy seemed to be his inborn birthright.
In his early days, he had only two loves: his school and the
village mandir. His teachers never stopped praising his gift
for memorizing passages and songs and even whole chapters.
Intellect he had in abundance, but it was his unbroken smile
that won him special affection. He ranked first throughout
his school life and was lauded for his regularity and sincerity.
Yet, one day, his schooling was gravely threatened; his devotion
to truth and honesty whipped up trouble. When the much feared
headmaster of their school brutally thrashed a young classmate,
Chandu, to death, no pupil dared to whisper a complaint, even
when the officials inquired. Who would? Only Jhina stood up
as eyewitness. Within his small frame there stood a mountain
of confidence which nobody could defy. Young Jhina was prepared
to sacrifice education but not the values he cherished. Ultimately,
he was rewarded and adored for his heroism. He had become
the favourite of his friends and all other townsfolk admired
his popularity. However, Jhina displayed one pecularity that
He withdrew from the world. If given a choice to play or ponder,
to speak or remain silent, to read or meditate, he would doubtlessly
choose the latter. And this was the stamp of his towering
spiritual might that was to later lead thousands of souls.
Often he would be found meditating on the rocks of the Shetrunji
river. Often he would be found in the local Swaminarayan mandir
serving the sadhus, sweeping the surroundings and talking
with the murtis of God. And often he had to be dragged home
from the mandir.
By the time he reached his teens it had become clear that
Jhina was destined for a future uncommon to the common man
and beyond the reach of an ordinary school boy.
Renunciation and Discipleship
And in 1910, at 18, his real life began; the life he had come
for, the life God had sent him for. Jhina sacrificed all his
other loves, his friends and family, his school and studies
for his highest love – God. He renounced the world,
and became Sadhu Gnanjivandasji. From then onwards, he moulded
his future according to the wishes of his guru, Shastriji
Shastriji Maharaj was the enlightened guru, who embodied the
Swaminarayan Sampraday. It was to this faith that young Jhina
committed himself. Bhagwan Swaminarayan, the incarnation of
Supreme God, had appeared on the earth in 1781. During his
short lifespan of 49 years he had revived Ekantik Dharma,
strengthened society morally, socially and spiritually and
revealed the Vedic truth of the Akshar Purushottam Philosophy.
Behind him, he left a legacy of mandirs and scriptures and
a spiritual hierarchy of enlightened gurus –Gunatitanand
Swami, Bhagatji Maharaj and Shastriji Maharaj, who was the
third spiritual successor.
Nobody knew that young Gnanjivandasji was divinely sent to
become the fourth successor, and so his life progressed like
a silent stream, destined to become an ocean.
As a sadhu, he gave up caring for his body, dismissed any
desire of the world that dared to cross his path. He rose
beyond self-importance and spent his days in arduous service.
Waking up before 4.00 am and resting not earlier than midnight,
he cooked food and washed utensils, swept the mandir yard
and halls, served pilgrims and cleaned the kitchen, cared
for the ill and old and did not eat till the last man in the
mandir had satisfied his hunger. It was a hard life, physically
exhausting and perhaps the cause of the many illnesses he
was to suffer in his later years. However, he enjoyed every
moment of it, for his service brought joy to others. He continued
to serve even while fasting nine days in a month, forbidding
himself even a drop of water on the day of fast. While performing
seva, he would memorize chapters and verses from the scriptures.
He did this not to become a scholar or an orator, but to him,
all else had become immaterial. In his total surrender to
God and his guru, he became the recipient of Divine Grace.
Soon people began to lovingly call him ‘Yogi’,
one who is ever-steady in God.
The five prime moral and spiritual principles of the Swaminarayan
sadhu were sincerely seen in the life of Yogiji Maharaj.
He was Nishkami, a lifetime celibate. The radiant lustre on
his face reflected the purity of his mind which remained free
from lust and ill thoughts.
He was Nirlobhi. He had no possessions, no wealth; he never
touched money. Despite being the leader of an international
spiritual movement, with thousands of followers, not one penny
or institution was under his name.
He was Nissnehi, a sadhu who had no attachment to anything
or anyone except God.
He was Nisswadi, beyond likes and dislikes of taste. He ate
in a wooden bowl, in which he mixed all his food, even if
it be a variety of sumptuous dishes. For him, the menu or
the manner of cooking was not important. What mattered most
was whether it had been offered to God or not. He refused
to drink even a drop of water if unoffered to God.
He was Nirmani, beyond pride and ego. He considered himself
low and insignificant, unable to do anything without the will
of God. A leading statesman of India said, “Not once
does Yogiji Maharaj seem to be conscious of being Yogiji Maharaj.”
He was beyond ego, and that helped him reach out to one and
In 1951 Shastriji Maharaj passed away, leaving the Sanstha
in the hands of Yogiji Maharaj. Even as the head of the whole
fellowship, nothing changed in his way of life, just as his
schedule of service did not alter when he had been appointed
the head of the Gondal mandir, earlier at 42.
Now he was 59 and the whole responsibility of the progress
and welfare of thousands of people were upon his shoulders.
He tirelessly moved from country to country, city to city,
village to village, visiting every hut and home. His mission
remained to free people from the traps of addictions and superstitions
and to help them lead a holy, God-centred life. His affectionate
nature drew both childern and youngsters who enjoyed his company
and valued his wisdom. Some became sadhus and joined his mission.
Others helped to run the hundreds of children and youth centres
he established around the world. Apart from building mandirs,
he advocated the creation of educational centres, such as,
schools, hostels and gurukuls. Annual conventions and seminars,
regular discussions on spiritual matters, and above all, his
personal care remained most effective.
Yogiji Maharaj was a master craftsman of the hearts of the
people. He never forced or compelled, never hurt or humiliated
the beliefs of others; he simply lived his life in divine
harmony with God. And in doing so, somehow, his presence inspired
answers to life’s toughest questions.
He is often remembered for the large smile that never left
his lips, his loving pat or the expressive gestures of his
hands. However, today, decades after his departure in 1971,
his presence is felt through his spiritual successor, His
Divine Holiness Pramukh Swami Maharaj, whom he revealed as
his ‘whole and sole’. The mission he had continued
from Shastriji Maharaj, is being furthered by Pramukh Swami
Maharaj. The Bochasanwasi Shri Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan
Sanstha (BAPS) has grown into an international organisation
with over 3,300 centres and a million followers. The seeds
once planted by Yogiji Maharaj are finding form in the colossal
social and moral renaissance Pramukh Swami Maharaj has ushered
into the young and old of this world, highly essential at
this junction in history.