Swaminarayan Sampraday

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Swaminarayan Sampraday
Swaminarayan U.svg
Urdhva Pundra Tilak, a symbol of the Swaminarayan Sampraday
Formation1800 (219 years ago) (1800)[1]
TypeReligious organization
PurposePhilanthropic, Religious studies, Spirituality
HeadquartersVadtal, Gujarat, India
Coordinates22°35′N 72°52′E / 22.59°N 72.87°E / 22.59; 72.87Coordinates: 22°35′N 72°52′E / 22.59°N 72.87°E / 22.59; 72.87
Acharya Maharaj shree Koshalendraprasadji - Ahmedabad
Acharya Maharaj shree Ajendraprasadji - Vadtal



Swaminarayan Sampraday (IAST: Svāmīnārāyaṇa sampradāya), formally called Uddhav Sampraday, is a Hindu sect propagated by Swaminarayan (or Sahajanand Swami) (3 April 1781[2] – 1 June 1830). Swaminarayan was handed the leadership of the Uddhav Sampraday by his guru Ramanand Swami to continue to propagate the teachings and philosophy of Vishishtadvaita, which originates from the Sri Sampradaya. His main teaching was that Sri Krishna Purushottam Narayan the resider of Akshardham at midst of Golok is supreme and should alone be worshipped (Vachanmrut Gadhada Madhaya 19,39 and 64)

Under the leadership of Swaminarayan, the movement gained strength, and at the time of his death it had 1.8 million followers. The organisation is based on vedic and puritic[check spelling] Hinduism. Apart from traditional Hindu scriptures, the sect has more than three thousand works written by its members. The most important are the Shikshapatri, Swamini Vato and the Vachanamrut. The Shikshapatri, which the Bombay Gazetteer described as a book of social principles, was written by Swaminarayan in 1826.[3] Before Swaminarayan died, he split the administration of the Swaminarayan Sampraday into two seats for his two adopted sons: the Nar Narayan Dev Gadi (gadi means seat) is headquartered in Ahmedabad and the Laxmi Narayan Dev Gadi is headquartered in Vadtal. This was done by means of a legal document, called the Desh Vibhag Lekh.

Followers, called Satsangis, are expected to follow certain basic rules set forth by Swaminarayan. Since its inception, the sect has had a huge number of ascetics, who contribute towards growth and development of the movement and the salvation of its members. They have a special responsibility to take care of images in temples. These ascetics wear orange robes and lead a strict life, refraining from worldly pleasures and devoting their lives to the service of the fellowship. The Swaminarayan Sampraday has temples on five continents. Six temples that Swaminarayan built during his lifetime are considerred to be the most important within the faith.

In the last century, several organizations (seventy-three or more), such as the Bochasanwasi Shri Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha (BAPS) have been formed by former Swaminarayan Sampraday members who left the main branch because of differences in philosophy.[4]


A portrait of Ramanand Swami


The Swaminarayan Sampraday began as the Uddhav Sampraday and was led by Ramanand Swami. In 1799, Swaminarayan, born as Ghanshyam Pande, was initiated into the Uddhav Sampraday as an ascetic (Sadhu) by his guru, Ramanand Swami, and given the name "Sahajanand Swami".[5] At the age of 21, Neelkanth Varni was given the leadership of the sect known as Uddhav Sampraday with the blessings of Ramanand Swami, who handed him control of the religious diocese shortly before his death.[6] Fourteen days after Ramanand Swami died, Neelkanth Varni, now known as Sahajanand Swami, held a large gathering of followers at the town of Faneni.[7] It was during this meeting that Swaminarayan introduced what he termed "the father of all Mantras" and described it as "maha" (or great).[8] Then he was known as Swaminarayan, and the name "Swaminarayan Sampraday" came into existence.[7]

At the age of 49, Swaminarayan took Samādhi at Gadhada in 1830 and died, after he promised to remain within the Swaminarayan Sampraday in[9] the images he installed (and by the Acharyas succeeding him), the Acharyas and saints installed by him (and those in direct succession), the saints he initiated (and those initiated by succeeding Acharyas) and the scriptures, such as Shikshapatri, Vachanamrut, Satsangi Jeevan, Nishkhulanand Kavya and Yamdand (and those authorised by succeeding Acharyas).


The Swaminarayan Sampraday has its roots in the Vedas. It follows the Vaishnava tradition and to its followers represents a form of Hinduism.[10][11] Swaminarayan built a number of temples during his time and except in Sarangpur, installed Krishna as central deity in each. The faith focusses on salvation through total devotion (or bhakti) to the God developed through virtues (dharma), spiritual wisdom (gnana) and detachment (vairagya).[12][13][14][15]

The Swaminarayan Sampraday is devotion-focussed and advocates God within the disciplines of virtues. Swaminarayan propagated a philosophy called Vishistadvaita, which says that God is supreme, has a divine form, is the all-doer and is completely independent.[10][11] He simply stated that souls (jiva) never merge or dissolve into God and neither are they part of God, but are always subservient to God. Redemption consists in the realisation of ekantik dharma, comprising righteousness, right knowledge, detachment and devotion to that God.[16]

The Swaminarayan Sampraday aims to consolidate characters in society, families and individuals by mass motivation and individual attention, through elevating projects for all, irrespective of class, creed, colour and country. The organisation believes that the hallmark of the Swaminarayan devotee is that he or she devoutly begins the day with pooja and meditation, works or studies honestly, and donates regular hours in serving others. Swaminarayan's lifetime objective for the organisation was to establish a permanent system of achieving the ultimate redemption from the cycle of life and death (aatyantik kalyaan).[17]

Scriptures and important texts[edit]

The Vachanamrut

Many scriptures were written by Swaminarayan or his followers, which are important within the organisation, of which the Shikshapatri and the Vachanamrut are the most notable. Other important works include the Satsangi Jeevan (Swaminarayan's authorized biography), Muktanand Kavya, Nishkulanand Kavya and Bhakta Chintamani.[18][19]

In 1826, Swaminarayan wrote the Shikshapatri; the original manuscript is not available but the work was translated into Sanskrit under his direction by one of his followers and is revered in the sect.[20] The Gazetteer of the Bombay Presidency summarised it as a book of social laws that Swaminarayan's followers should follow.[3] The work is a commentary on the practice and understanding of dharma,; it is a small booklet containing 212 Sanskrit verses that outline the basic tenets of religious views that all his followers should follow to live a well-disciplined and moral life. It is used in the daily morning ritual.[18][21]

Swaminarayan's philosophical, social and practical teachings are contained in the Vachanamrut, a collection of dialogues recorded by five followers from his spoken words. It is the most commonly used scripture in the Swaminarayan sect, and contains views on moral conduct (dharma), understanding of the nature of the self (jnana), detachment from material pleasure (vairagya), and selfless devotion to God (bhakti) – the four essentials for a soul (jiva) to attain salvation.[22][18]


Murtis of Laxmi Narayan with Ranchhodrai at Vadtal

As an adjunct to the scriptures in establishing ultimate redemption and consolidating the framework of the holy fellowship (Satsang), Swaminarayan constructed stone mandirs, buttressing Upasana – worshipping God, and devotion towards the deities. Towards the end of his second decade of work, he placed a greater emphasis on devotion than detachment – vairagya to foster love for God.[23] This emphasis on devotion culminated in the building of mandirs, which served as permanent places of worship, centres for religious gathering, instruction, the study of Sanskrit, devotional music and Vedic literature, and as centres of social services where alms, medicines and clothes were available to the poor and needy.[24] In a span of six years, from 1822 till 1828, Swaminarayan sanctioned the construction of nine mandirs in Gujarat: Ahmedabad, Mooli, Bhuj, Vadtal, Jetalpur, Dholera, Dholka, Junagadh and Gadhada.

One of the most prominent features of the heritage of Swaminarayan is its temple architecture. The images in the temples built by Swaminarayan are the evidence of the priority of Krishna. All of the temples constructed during his life show some form of Krishna, and all temples since have such worshipable figures, or murtis. In the temples of the dioceses of Ahmedabad and Vadtal, these are predominantly a central altar or a shrine. Human forms are predominant, with the exception of the Hanuman temple at Sarangpur, where Hanuman is the central figure.[25] The temples have accommodation for ascetics built next to them. Stones were quarried in far places and carried to the temple sites.

Swaminarayan temples, like other Hindu temples, have walkways around the central shrine to allow worshipers to circumambulate the shrine, which is often decorated with designs and inlaid marble. The main shrine area is divided by railings. One side of the railing is reserved for women, as Swaminarayan said that men and women should be separated in temples to allow full concentration on god. Men perform a specified number of prostrations. In front of the men's section, there is normally a small area reserved for ascetics and special guests. There is great variety in the form and nature of the central images, in front of which are gold- or silver-plated doors that open during darshan.[26] Swaminarayan ordered the construction of the following six mandirs and installed the images of various deities, such as Nara Narayana, Laxminarayan, Radha Krishna, Radha Ramana, Revti Baldevji, himself.[27]

Temples in India[edit]

Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, Ahmedabad[edit]

Swaminarayan temple in Ahmedabad

Shri Swaminarayan Mandir is the first temple Swaminarayan constructed. It was built in Ahmedabad in 1822, and presents images of Nara Narayana, who occupies the principal seat of the temple, and forms of Arjuna and Krishna at the central altar. The left altar has murtis of Radha Krishna. The land for construction of the temple was donated by the East India Company government of the day.The task of constructing it was entrusted by Swaminarayan to Ananandand Swami. The temple is constructed as per scriptural norms with intricate carving in Burma teak and sculptural art depicting deities' episodes, auspicious symbols and religious icons representing axiomatic religion and Indian culture. The temple is believed to be a valuable cultural heritage in the socio-religious history of Gujarat and India.[28][29][30] The installation ceremony of the murti forms in the temple was celebrated in the presence of thousands of pilgrims from across India. Nara Narayana .[28][29][30]

Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, Bhuj[edit]

New temple in Bhuj

On the request of devotees from Bhuj, Swaminarayan asked Vaishnavananand Swami to go there with a team of saints and build a temple. In 1822, they camped on land adjacent to the temple site and drew plans of the temple complex. within a year they had built a temple abode of Nar Narayan.[29][30][31][32][33] The Gujarat earthquake on 26 January 2001 destroyed much of the city of Bhuj, including this temple. Members of the Swaminarayan Sampraday, including saints and satsangis of Kutch residing in India and abroad, have resolved to construct a new marble temple a short distance from the site.[34][35] The new temple, the largest in Gujarat, was opened in May 2010 by the then Chief Minister of Gujarat, Narendra Modi.[36]

Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, Vadtal[edit]

Swaminarayan Temple in Vadtal

The temple in Vadtal, also known as Vadtal Swaminarayan, is in the shape of a lotus, with nine domes in the inner temple. The land for this shrine was donated by Joban Pagi, a dacoit who was later converted into a devotee by Swaminarayan. The temple was constructed under the supervision of Brahmanand Swami, was completed within fifteen months and the idols of Laxmi Narayan was installed by Swaminarayan on 3 November 1824, amidst chants of vedic hymns and devotional fervour of the installation ceremony.[37] Swaminarayan also installed his own idol in Vadtal, naming it Harikrishna Maharaj. The walls are decorated with colourful representations from the Ramayana.[29][30][37][38][39] The temple's walls are decorated with colourful representations from the Ramayana.[29][30][37][38][39]

Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, Dholera[edit]

Dholera is an ancient port-city, 30 kilometres (19 mi) from Dhandhuka in Ahmedabad District. This temple has three domes. Its construction was supervised and planned by Nishkulanand Swami, Bhai Atmanand Swami, Akshardanand Swami and Dharmprasad Swami. The land for the temple was donated by Darbar Punjabhai. On 19 May 1826, Swaminarayan installed the idols of Madan Mohan and his own form Harikrishna, at the principal seat of the temple and invoked Gods amidst Vedic hymns.[29][30][40]

Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, Junagadh[edit]

This temple, in the city of Junagadh on Mount Girnar, has five domes and external decoration with sculptures. Its construction was supervised by Brahmanand Swami; it was built on land donated by king Hemantsinh of Jinabhai, Darbar of Panchala. On 1 May 1828, Swaminarayan installed the murtis of Ranchhodrai and Trikamrai on the principal altar of the temple, which is 278-foot (85 m) in circumference. The life of Swaminarayan is crafted in stone on the dome of the sanctum.[29][30][41][42]

Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, Gadhada[edit]

The land for the temple in Gadhada (or Gadhpur) was donated by the court of Dada Khachar in Gadhada. Darbar Dada Khachar and his family were devotees of Swaminarayan. The temple was made built the courtyard of his own residence. This shrine has two stories and three domes and is adorned with carvings. Swaminarayan assisted in the construction of the temple by lifting stones and mortar, and he installed the figures of Gopinath, Radhika and Harikrishna on 9 October 1828.[29][30][41]

Gadhada is also home to Laxmi Vadi.[43] This is the burial place of Swaminarayan's ashes. The site is marked by a shrine consisting of the idols of brother Ichharam, Swaminarayan himself and Raghuvirji Maharaj.

Other temples[edit]

Sahajanand Swami also ordered construction of temples at Muli, Dholka and Jetalpur. Although these temples were completed after his death, the Murti pratishtas, idol installation ceremonies, were conducted by Sahajanand Swami. He installed images of various manifestations of God, such as Nar Narayan Dev, Laxmi Narayan Dev, Radha Krishna, Radha Raman and Revti Baldevji. Swaminarayan lived in Gadhpur for about 27 years; he stayed at the Darbar of Dada Khachar, one of his best-known devotees. At some temples, footprints of Swaminarayan are worshiped by his followers.[44] Swaminarayan entrusted the day-to-day performance of the worship rituals in these mandirs to ascetics.[45] By 2012, there were over a thousand Swaminarayan temples across five continents.


First Swaminarayan temple outside the Indian subcontinent in Nairobi (1945)

In the 1920s, members of the sect began to move out of India to East Africa in search of work and better lives. Among these was a large number of Kutchis of the Leva Patel/Patidar community, who remained loyal to the Bhuj temple under the Nar Nararayan Dev Gadi.[46] All the temples built in Africa come under the temple in Bhuj. The first Swaminarayan temple in Africa was built in Nairobi in 1945,[47] and temples were built in Mombasa and other Kenyan towns in the following years. Temples were also built in Tanzania and Uganda.[48] The Swaminarayan temple in Karachi, Pakistan, was built in 1868 when Karachi was part of the Indian Union.[49]

After the Second World War, members of the movement in East Africa began migrating to the United Kingdom; the number of migrants rose significantly in the 1960s and 1970s.[50] The first Swaminarayan temple in the UK was built in Bolton in 1973.[51] This was followed by a temple in the London suburb of Willesden, which was consecrated in 1975 and is the sect's biggest temple in the UK.Temples have been built in other parts of the UK, such as Cardiff, Oldham, Leicester and Brighton and several others in London. The temple in Leicester was opened in 1993 and was the first in Europe under the International Swaminarayan Satsang Organisation (ISSO) and was followed by one in Sweden.[52][53]

Swaminarayan in the form of Ghanshyam (left) with Radha Krishna at the Swaminarayan temple in Houston

A small number of followers migrated to the United States before 1965 as students, and following a 1965 immigration law, a large number of Indians, including members of the sect. moved there from the 1970s until 2000.[50] The ISSO was formed in 1978 in Chicago under the Nar Narayan Dev Gadi. The temple in Weehawken, New Jersey, was opened in 1987, and was the first in the US.[54] By 2012, the organisation had 20 temples in the US, in cities including Boston, Houston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Tampa, Florida, Detroit and Cleveland, Ohio, Colonia, Parsippany and Cherry Hill.[55][56] Another organisation, ISSM (ISSM), under the Laxmi Narayan Dev Gadi, has temples in Chicago, Grand Prairie, Texas, Sunnyvale, California, Downey and Somerset, New Jersey.[57] Also under the Laxmi Narayan Dev Gadi, the Laxminarayan Dev Spiritual Organisation (LDSO) has been set up in San Francisco to promote the faith there. [58] http://www.swaminarayanvadtalgadi.org/temples/temple-international/

The movement also has temples in Australia, Seychelles, Canada, Thailand, Fiji, Mauritius, New Zealand, Oman, UAE and Zambia.[49][59][60]

Organisational structure[edit]

Illustration of Swaminarayan writing the Shiskhapatri

In 1826 at Vadtal, Swaminarayan established the dual Acharyaship in Dharmavanshi Acharyas, whom he intended as his successor. "Dharmavanshi" means "belonging to the lineage of Dharmadev" – the father of Swaminarayan.[61][62] Swaminarayan enthroned his two adopted sons, Ayodhyaprasad Pande and Raghuvir Pande, who were the sons of his brothers Rampratapji and Ichcharamji, as the spiritual leaders of the Nar Narayan Dev Gadi headquartered at Ahmedabad and the Laxmi Narayan Dev Gadi headquartered at Vadtal respectively. He installed them as the Acharyas for all followers, including householders and ascetics. Swaminarayan gave sole authority to these two individuals to install murtis in temples and to initiate sadhus and householders into the Sampraday.[63] He did this using a legal document known as "Desh Vibhag no Lekh", which he dictated and was written by Shukanand Swami. Learned saints and elder satsangis witnessed this document. Copies were presented to the inaugural Acharyas, Ayodhyaprasad Pande and Raghuvir Pande – these are currently in the possession of the current Acharyas. The document was accepted by the Bombay High Court as the authoritative document regarding the apportionment of the two dioceses, so it has legal standing.[61] Presently, Acharya Maharajshri Ajendraprasadji[64][65][66] Maharaj is at the head of Laxmi Narayan Dev Gadi, while Acharya Maharajshri Koshalendraprasadji Maharaj is at the head of the Nar Narayan Dev Gadi at Ahmedabad.[67]

Importance of Acharyas[edit]

Swaminarayan thought that as he had established the temples and the Swaminarayan Sampraday, he wanted to keep his sadhus free from the affairs dealing with wealth, power and other worldly affairs. He decided to create leaders who would subsequently be responsible for the Swaminarayan Sampraday. This led to his decision to appoint his nephews as Acharyas.[68] The constitution of the Sampraday is laid out in Desh Vibhag Lekh which describes in detail the functions of the Acharyas.

... it is my command to all sadhus, bhamcharis and all satsangies, that for the purpose of your kalyaan (emancipation) you must obey and follow the two Acharyas of Dharmavansh, and obey their commands by thought, action and speech. If this is compromised and whoever turns elsewhere (rejecting the Acharyas) will find that they will never find sukh (happiness) in this world or the worlds beyond and will experience immense distress ... ― Desh Vibhag Lekh

The Acharyas of the Sampraday are administrative heads, spiritual leaders and the gurus of their followers. Since the acharyas are supposed to refrain from contact with the opposite sex, except close relations, the acharyas' wives are the gurus for female members of the sect, and must avoid contact with unfamiliar men. The acharyas wear a red turban, and carry a golden staff and umbrella, the symbols of their authority[69] In the scripture Purushottam Prakash (Nishkulanand Kavya), the writer Nishkulanand Swami describes Swaminarayan's establishment of the Dharmavanshi Acharyas.[citation needed]

The Acharyas are responsible for:

  • Initiating followers into the organisation with a Samanya Diksha by giving the guru-mantra[70]
  • Initiating monks-sadhus by giving them the Maha-Bhagwadi Diksha[71]
  • Perform murti-pratishtha, installing deities in the temples[72]
  • Authenticating scriptures of the Sampraday[73][74]
  • Acting as the Guru and leader of the entire Sampraday[73][75]

These responsibilities are prescribed in the holy texts Shikshapatri, Satsangi Jeevan and Desh Vibhag Lekh, according to which no person other than the Dharmavanshi Acharyas may carry out these duties.[76]

In one of the most authoritative scriptures, the Vachanamrut, Swaminarayan states one of the prerequisites for attaining Akshardham. He wrote, "The devotee who is aashrit of Dharmakul (i.e. he who has received initiation from Dharmavanshi Acharya and remains loyal to the Acharya) gets a divine Bhram-state body by God's wish."[77][78] It is seen as imperative to be a humble, loyal follower of the Dharmavanshi Acharya once receiving the diksha (guru mantra) in order to achieve a bhram form. In Swamini Vato, Swaminarayan was quoted, "Even Gunatitanand Swami, one of the main sadhus of Swaminarayan states, 'He who insults the temples, Acharyas, sadhus and satsangis will find his roots being destroyed and will inevitably fall from the satsang.' "[79]

Organisations within Swaminarayan Sampraday[edit]

Logo of ISSO

In 1978, the Acharya of the Ahmedabad gadi, Tejendraprasadji Maharaj, founded the International Swaminarayan Satsang Organisation (ISSO) in the United States on the occasion of Vijaya Dasami. The prime objective of ISSO is, "To advance the Sanatan Dharma, in accordance with the principles and teachings of the Swaminarayan Sampraday, founded and ordained by Sahajanand Swami", enabling Swaminarayan's devotees from both the Nar Narayan Dev Gadi (Ahmedabad) and Laxmi Narayan Dev Gadi (Vadtal) to practice their religious duties in harmony.[80]

Logo of ISSO Seva
Logo of NNDYM

In 2001, ISSO-Seva, an independently run charity under the Swaminarayan Sampraday was established to help mankind, the homeless and needy and promote awareness about modern day diseases and infections. It provides relief after natural disasters worldwide. The charity is run by professionals and volunteers of the Swaminarayan temples and centres.[81]

Logo of LNFO

Narnarayan Dev Yuvak Mandal (NNDYM) is a youth organisation which was founded by Koshalendraprasadji Maharaj in his Acharya status in 1994. Its headquarters are at the Swaminarayan Mandir in Ahmedabad; it was created to help young people to confront the challenges of human life. This organisation has various initiatives to build a foundation of young people across the globe. It propagates duty, devotion, knowledge (gnaan) and detachment from illusion (maya).[82]

The International Swaminarayan Satsang Mandal (ISSM) is an organisation based in United States that comes under the Laxminarayan Dev Gadi, Vadtal.[83] It has several temples in the US, all of which are named Vadtal Dham after the parent organisation.[57]


According to Raymond Williams, when Swaminarayan died in 1830, the movement had a following of 1.8 million people. In 2001, the original movement had 3.5 million of a total of 5 million followers of the Swaminarayan faith. BAPS was more wealthy, had more followers, both householders and saints, and supported more large temples than the other Swaminarayan groups.[84][85]

A member of the Swaminarayan Sampraday is known as a Satsangi. Male satsangis are initiated by the acharya of the gadi he comes under. Female satsangis are initiated by the wife of the acharya, who is the leader of women in the Swaminarayan Sampraday. In the absence of the acharya, ascetics perform this initiation, which is then confirmed by the acharya on his next visit.[71] The ceremony involves the taking of five vows (panch vartaman): not to commit adultery or robbery, not to consume intoxicants or meat and not to lie. The initiator then pours water over the initiates hands, gives him a Sanskrit shloka, Shri Krishna twam gatirmama, meaning Shri Krishna thou art my refuge. The initiate then offers at least half a rupee to the acharya, who adorns a kanthi thread around the initiate's neck. The initiate is then required to apply the tilak chandlo to his forehead (chandan U and red kum kum dot in the middle).[70] Ladies only apply the red kum kum dot. Though the organisation is part of the Hindu faith, a satsangi need not necessarily be a Hindu. Some adherents of other religions, such as Islam and Zorastarianism are members of this movement as well.[86]

There are eight important things in the life of a Satsangi;[87] these are Kanthi – a thread worn around the neck,[10] the Tilak Chandlo – a holy mark,[10] the Mala – a thread with 108 beads,[71][88] Nitya Pooja – daily prayers,[10] the Temple,[10] Darshan – a form of worship,[10] Aarti – a ceremony, and[10] Vandu Pad and Chesta Pad – verses recited in the temples daily.[87] A Satsangi must show reverence for God, the Shastras, the Acharya of the Gadi the Satsangi comes under (NarNarayan Dev Gadi or LaxmiNarayan Dev Gadi), festivals, elders and be of overall good conduct.[89]

Upon initiation, Satsangi make 11 vows, called Niyams (Rules):[90][91]

  • Be non-violent
  • Do not have any kind of relationship with a woman other than your wife
  • Do not eat meat, including seafood, poultry products or eggs
  • Do not drink products that contain alcohol, including medicines
  • Never touch a widow woman whom you do not know
  • Never commit suicide in any circumstances
  • Do not steal
  • Never blame others for something that you may not know about
  • Never disparage God, Goddesses, or any religion
  • Never eat someone's food who does not follow these eleven rules
  • Never listen to holy stories from an atheist.


Muktanand Swami, a Paramhansa

From the beginning, ascetics have played a major role in the Swaminarayan Sampraday. They contribute towards growth and development of the movement and towards the salvation of its members.[45] Sadhus, initiated by either Dharmavanshi Acharya, also form an integral part of the organisation and wear only orange robes. The Brahmachari ascetics, who are Brahmins, have a special responsibility of taking care of images in temples. These ascetics wear white robes on their waist and an orange cloth over their shoulder. Ascetics lead a strict life, refraining from worldly pleasures and devoting their lives to the service of the holy fellowship. They preach the philosophy and lifetimes of Swaminarayan and encourage people to follow a pious and religious life.[45] Swaminarayan has stated in the Vachanamrut that the association of Satpurush (true saints/devotees) opens the path to salvation. In 1999, the Ahmedabad Gadi had 765 male ascetics and the Vadtal Gadi 1468 male ascetics.[92]

The first rule of becoming an ascetic (sanyasi) of the sect is never to come in contact with the opposite sex, or money.[93] Ascetics are not allowed to leave the temple alone; they have to move out in pairs. Even in the temple, while using the toilet, they must do so in pairs to ensure they keep their vows. The food they eat must be mixed up so that they may not taste it.[94]

Female ascetics, known as Samkhya yoginis, receive initiation from the Gadiwala, or wife of the Acharya. They stay within the temple, follow ascetic rules strictly, wear dark red clothing and stay in the temple Haveli. They take care of the images in women's temples and conduct discourses for women. In 1999, the Ahmedabad Gadi had 440 female ascetics and the Vadtal Gadi had 115 female ascetics.[95]

Gopalanand Swami

The panch vartman, or the five principal vows, are prerequisites for being considered as part of the Sampraday for Sadhus.[90]

  • Lustless, Desireless:- Observe Naishthik Brahmacharya i.e. eightfold celibacy strictly. He has to observe a fast if he has seen a face of a lady. Not to expect any remuneration even of his good deeds or must not have any desire of anything.
  • Greedless:- Not be attached at all to the worldly objects. He should keep clothes and things only permitted to him. He should not accept, touch or possess even any sort of currency of his own.
  • Tasteless:- Not be allured or tempted at all to any taste. Not to eat anything which is not offered to God.
  • Prideless:- Not have any sort of pride of renouncement, penance, knowledge, efficiency religious austerity, devotion, etc. If anybody beats him, abuses him or insults him, he should endure patiently, not to be angry at all, should forgive, not to oppose, not to keep any grudge or any ill feelings for him, but to wish good for him and to pity for his ignorance.
  • Affectionless:- Not have any affection at all towards his body, his relatives, his disciples or anything except Almighty God Supreme.

Swaminarayan Paramhansas[edit]

Swaminarayan and Paramhansas in Gadhada.

Tradition maintains that Swaminarayan initiated 500 ascetics as paramhansas in a single night. Paramahansa is a title of honour sometimes applied to Hindu spiritual teachers who are regarded as having attained enlightenment. Paramhansas were the highest order of sannyasi in the sect. These paramhansas practiced strict restraint and spread the message of purity to many people.[96][97] Notable Swaminarayan Paramhansas include:

  • Muktanand Swami was initiated by Ramanand Swami, Muktanand Swami was instrumental in Swaminarayan's entry into the Uddhav Sampraday. He wrote the Swaminarayan Aarti and literary works such as Muktanand Kavya, and co-wrote co-authored the Vachanamrut.[98] Swaminarayan sometimes called Muktanand Swami the "Mother of Satsang".[94][99]
  • Gopalanand Swami was considered the chief disciple by Vadtal.[100] He was very learned in Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga, and after the death of Swaminarayan, the responsibility of the Swaminarayan Sampraday and the acharyas were left in the hands of Gopalanand Swami. Swaminarayan held Gopalanand Swami in very high regard.[101] Gopalanand Swami arranged for the image of Hanuman to be installed in the Sarangpur temple[94][102] and co-authored the Vachanamrut.[98]
  • Gunatitanand Swami was the mahant of the Junagadh Temple. He contributed spreading the Swaminarayan Sampraday in that region for over 40 years.[103] His works are compiled in the book Swamini Vato.[104]
  • Brahmanand Swami was a notable poet who wrote almost a thousand poems and co-wrote the Vachanamrut.[98] His works are compiled in the Brahmanand Kavya, a copy of which is preserved in the British Museum in London.[105] He was also distinguished in architecture – as evident in the temple buildings in Muli, Vadtal and Junagadh.[94][104]
  • Premanand Swami was a poet and a singer.[104] He compiled the Chesta Pad and Vandu Pad among other works. The Chesta Pad is recited daily at all Swaminarayan temples, describes Swaminarayan's daily routine and habits. Vandu Pad describes the features and appearance of Swaminarayan.[94][94]
  • Nishkulanand Swami wrote the Bhakta Chintamani, which describes the life of Swaminarayan, his activities, sermons, theories and obstacles faced by him. He also wrote 22 other scriptural works on various subjects, such as Purshottam Prakash and Yamdanda, and poems which are compiled in Nishkulanand Kavya.[99][104][106]
  • Nityanand Swami wrote several important works, such as the Hari Digvijay and the Hanuman Kavach, produced the first Gujarati translation of the Shikshapatri which was approved by Swaminarayan, and co-authored the Vachanamrut.[98][107]

Breakaway groups and disputes[edit]

Decades after Swaminarayan's death, several people claiming differences in philosophy left the original movement and established their own groups. Shree Swaminarayan Gadi is a prominent one.

Muktajivandas Swami (Muktajivan Swamibapa) left the Ahmedabad Gadi to form the Maninagar Shree Swaminarayan Gadi Sansthan in the 1940s, claiming Gopalanand Swami was the spiritual successor to Swaminarayan. Shree Muktajeevandasji Swami took responsibility of the Faith in 1942 CE and established Shree Swaminarayan Temple in Maninagar, Ahmedabad, India as the headquarters of the Swaminarayan Gadi Faith. The current spiritual leader of the faith is Shree Purushottampriyadasji Swamiji Maharaj.[108][109]

Within the tradition, there have been territorial disputes over the Vadtal temple and other assets since the conflict of 1902. The conflict between the Dev faction, led by ascetics, that maintains that the temple is nobody's ancestral property and the Acharya faction, led by the former acharya of Vadtal, has seen some tensions in recent years. In May 2001, the conflict escalated when the schismatic faction brought in Tejendraprasad Pande from Ahmedabad for a diksa ceremony instead of, the then Acharya of Vadtal, Ajendraprasad Pande (the ceremony was performed without Acharya Ajendraprasad as he allegedly refused to give diksa to men under age of 18)[citation needed]. The Government of India intervened by setting up an arbitration panel in June 2001. A settlement was brokered by a panel between the two factions in June 2002, but the Dev faction led by Nautam Swami (Mahant of the Vadtal temple) refused to cooperate, leading to an intensification of the dispute. A number of sadhus of this faction were subsequently exposed in a sex scandal only three months after another five sadhus were sentenced to death for murdering their guru in the Vadtal branch.[110][111][112]

Recent developments[edit]

Swaminarayan Museum inauguration

Swaminarayan Museum[edit]

Swaminarayan Museum in Ahmedabad, which houses more than 5000 artefacts, was opened in March 2011.[113] The museum holds items such as Swaminarayan's writing scripts, day to day garments and ornaments. This is the first project in the Swaminarayan Sampraday that aims to acquire all of Swaminarayan's Prasadi items from temples across the world. This museum is a dream of the retired acharya of Ahmedabad, Tejendraprasad Pande.[114][115]


Dayananda Saraswati[edit]

Dayananda Saraswati, a Vedic scholar, was asked for his opinion on the Swaminarayan sect. In the response, he replied with proverb, "Like the goddess Shitla, like her beast for riding the donkey" aptly applies to this sect.[116] Dayananda, in his book Satyarth Prakash, wrote:

"The followers of the Swami Narayana cult resort to trickery, fraud, and imposition in order to fleece others. Many among them, in order to milead the ignorant, declare on their death-bed that Sahjanand seated on a white horse has come to convey them to heaven and that he always came to that temple once a day."[117]

Dayananda stated that priests of these sect have imposed their assort of tac on their followers. He also alleged that when a Man holding high position in this sect dies then their disciples throw them into the well and give it out that he was such a holy man that Sahjananda himself came to take away him.[117] Dayananda also asserted that nothing much has came into light from this sect, except few sodomy cases.[117]

Mahatma Gandhi[edit]

In 1918, Mahatma Gandhi issued two public appeals for Indians to enlist in the British army to fight in World War I. He asserted that fighting in the war would provide Indians necessary self-defense skills that had been eroded by the deep-seated influence of India’s ascetic culture, which he disdained.[118][119]

This advocacy of violence led some of his staunchest supporters, including his nephew, Maganlal Gandhi, to question whether Gandhi was forsaking his non-violent ideals.[118][120] In a July 1918 letter replying to his nephew, Gandhi stated that any conception of non-violence that prohibited self-defense was erroneous. To support this argument, Gandhi criticized the ethics of love and absolute ahimsa (non-violence) he observed in the teachings of Swaminarayan and Vallabhacharya. According to Gandhi, this love was mere “sentimentalism,” and its concomitant absolute ahimsa “robbed us of our manliness” and “made the people incapable of self-defence.” Gandhi wrote that Swaminarayan and Vallabhacharya had not grasped the essence of non-violence. Instead Gandhi argued for a non-violence that would “permit [our offspring] to commit violence, to use their strength to fight,” since that capacity for violence could be used for the benefit of society, like in “restraining a drunkard from doing evil” or “killing a dog…infected with rabies.”[120]

By 1924, however, Gandhi’s criticism of Swaminarayan and his ethical teachings had turned into admiration. While arguing in a Navjivan newspaper editorial that it was a duty to resort to violence for self-defense against Afghani terrorists, Gandhi admitted that he could not personally adopt this approach because he had chosen the path of love even against his enemies. Gandhi explained that, according to the Hindu scriptures, a single such self-controlled person could eradicate violence from the hearts of one’s opposition. It was through this power of love that Gandhi asserted, “what was accomplished in Gujarat by one person, Sahajanand [Swaminarayan], could not be accomplished by the power of the State.” Moreover, he said that “The Age of Sahajanand has not come to an end. It is only devotion and self-control like his that are wanted.” Ultimately, Gandhi said that while he was attempting Swaminarayan’s approach himself, he did “not have the strength of heart to act upon” it the way that Swaminarayan had successfully done.[121]

Over time, Gandhi’s religious thought showed a further influence of Swaminarayan’s teachings, as, by 1930, he had included many hymns composed by Swaminarayan poets in his Ashram Bhajanavali, a book of prayers which were used in his twice-daily prayer service.[122] In his writings, he often drew inspiration from the spiritual teachings of Swaminarayan saint-poets Nishkulanand Swami and Muktanand Swami, the latter being the author of his most frequently used prayer.[123][124][125][126] Indian sociologist and Gandhian contemporary, N. A. Thoothi, had argued by 1935 that Mahatma Gandhi was “most influenced in his inner-most being… by the teachings of the Swaminarayan Sampradaya above all.” Thoothi concluded that “most of [Gandhi’s] thought, activities, and even methods of most of the institutions which he has been building up and serving, have the flavor of Swaminarayan, more than that of any other sect of Hinduism.”[127]

Vallabhbhai Patel[edit]

Although his father had been a devout follower of the Swaminarayan sect,[128] Vallabhbhai Patel, Indian independence leader, and the first home minister of India had a low opinion of the sect, and had made sarcastic comments about one of the leaders of the sect.[129]

Criticism of Swaminarayan Sect[edit]

Early Criticism[edit]

Since his followers understood Swaminarayan to be God, they regularly asked him to accept their offerings, which he often did.[130] Those who saw Swaminarayan, not as God, but as an ascetic renouncer, criticized him for accepting these large gifts from his followers.[130] Swaminarayan explained that he accepted the gifts “to satisfy the devotion of his followers but not out of personal desire." [130] In fact, he asserted that despite his external circumstances, he maintained the understanding of a renunciate wherein he regarded a nugget of gold as equal to a lump of clay.[130]

Swaminarayan and Caste[edit]

Some scholars have cited excerpts from Swaminarayan sect literature, such as the Shikshapatri, to criticize Swaminarayan as supporting caste discrimination.[131] Other scholars and the followers of the Swaminarayan sect dispute these criticisms, stating such criticism to be unsupported by the history and context of those statements.[131][131][132] They argue that overall, Swaminarayan’s followers, practices and teachings helped reduce the oppressive nature of caste-based customs prevalent in that era and drew individuals of lower strata towards the Swaminarayan sect.[131][131][131]

According to David Hardiman, the sect has had a class and caste bias and is an "ideological voice of commercial farmers and capitalist entrepreneurs" of Hinduism.[133] The lower classes are attracted to it because they aspire the same success and merchantile ideology. It grew, states Hardiman, in an era of British colonial rule where land taxes were raised to unprecedented heights, lands were "snatched from village communities", and poverty spread.[133] Sahajanand's pacifist approach to community re-organization and reaching out to the lowest classes of his day found support with the British rulers, but it also furthered their exploitation by the British, the local moneylenders and richer farmers. The followers of Swaminarayan "swallow the sect's view of the world uncritically", states Hardiman,[133] and accept Shikshapatri teachings such as:[131]

"None shall receive food and water, which are unacceptable at the hands of some people under scruples of caste system, may the same happen to the sanctified portions of the Shri Krishna, except at Jagannath Puri." [134]

This excerpt has been interpreted as an endorsement of class and caste discrimination by the Swaminarayan sect. Vibhuti Parikh disagrees and states Swaminarayan used these instructions, possibly to gradually undermine the caste system without "negating it outright".[131] According to Sadhu Mangalnidhidas, the historical facts suggest Swaminarayan did not encourage discrimination and did the opposite. For evidence, he states that in the early years of the Swaminarayan Sampradaya, high-caste Hindus criticized Swaminarayan for his teachings, inclusiveness, and practices that undermined caste-based discrimination.[131] According to Kishorelal Mashruwala, “Swaminarayan was the first to bring about religious advancement of Shudras in Gujarat and Kathiawad region…And that became the main reason for many to oppose the Sampraday.” [131][131]

An 1823 memorandum from a British official in the Asiatic Journal notes that the native upper classes “regret (as Hindus) the levelling nature of [Swaminarayan's] system” resulting in their violent opposition to and frequent merciless beatings of Swaminarayan’s disciples.[131]  Swaminarayan’s doctrine that everyone’s true self is the pure atma within which God resides, led him to reject caste-based discrimination and welcome those of all caste backgrounds equally in his religious community. According to Sadhu Mangalnidhidas and Vibhuti Parikh,, Swaminarayan rejected caste prejudices but practically accommodated 19th-century social norms and caste language in his public writings. The aim and strategy was to protect and reform the community, though it may have had "unintended negative consequences such as the reinforcement of caste identities".[131]

Numerous historical accounts show that in practice Swaminarayan himself and his followers shared food and openly interacted with everyone without discrimination.[131] When asked for clarity on his views on caste by Anglican Bishop Reginald Heber, Swaminarayan explained that since he considered the distinctions of caste to be ultimately false, “he did not give the subject much importance, but that he wished not to give offence,” and thus gestured towards some minor accommodations to the practice in his public writings.


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External links[edit]