Swaminarayan (spiritual tradition)

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Swaminarayan Sampraday, also known as the Swaminarayan faith or the Swaminarayan sect, originating in the state of Gujarat, in which followers offer devotion to and worship Swaminarayan as a form of Parabrahma. The Swaminarayan faith has a large percentage of Gujarati Hindus who are followers of Swaminarayan.[1]


Swaminarayan in the form of Ghanshyam at a temple in London

Considered a Vaishnava Bhakti sect following philosophical teachings of Uddhava as per Ramanujacharya. Since its origin, Swaminarayan Sampraday has been noted by its preservation of Gujarati cultural and linguistic traditions, devotion to the personality of Swaminarayan as supreme deity and the reason of all avtārs, dedication to social service and a strict ethical code including uncompromising segregation of the genders.[2] Monier Williams, on at least one of his visits, had long discussions with Swaminarayan and his followers and did his best to ascertain the way Swaminarayan's principles were preached.[3] He visited the temple in Vadtal in the company of the Collector of Karira during a popular Kartik Purnima festival that took place there and recorded the basics. Those who are initiated into proper worship of Krishna deity are instructed to wear a Tulasi kanti or rosary beads in two rows around their necks, one for Krishna and one for Radha. Followers are also instructed to chant the mantra of śrī-kṛṣṇa sharaṇaṁ mama (great Krishna is my soul's refuge) and wear Urdhva Pundra Tilak markings on their forehead. Daily worship of Krishna in the temple was instructed and the Krishna mantra was central to the Swaminarayan's initiation (diksa). Supreme Being is believed to be referred by various names: Para Brahman, Bhagavan and Purushottama.[3] While no detailed statistical information is available, most of the followers of Swaminarayan share a belief that Swaminarayan is the complete manifestation of Narayana or the supreme person and more superior to other avatars.[4]

Swaminarayan teachings are sometimes categorized as monotheism. Unlike most other Vaishnavite schools such as those of Ramanuja, Madhva and Chaitanya, Swaminarayan, although leaning in preference towards Vishnu/Krishna, did not differentiate between Vishnu and Shiva; moreover, he followed a Smarta approach (scripture-sanctioned deities are viewed as different manifestations of the same Brahman) by instructing his followers to venerate all five deities of the Panchayatana puja with equal reverence.[5][6][7] Verse 84 of Shikshapatri, a key scripture to all followers of the Swaminarayan faith, makes reference to the Smarta-like belief.[8][9] In making no distinction between Vishnu and Shiva, Swaminarayan, held that Vishnu and Shiva are different aspects of the same God, instead of according Shiva a lower status as Madhva and Ramanuja had done, for example.[6][10] Verse 47 of the Shikshapatri, makes reference to this belief.[11][12]

Manifestation of Narayana[edit]

Durvasa's Curse at Badrikashram

Followers of Swaminarayan believe that it was events that took place at Badarikashram, the abode of Nara Narayana, that led to the incarnation of Swaminarayan. It is believed that Narayana took birth as Swaminarayan due to a curse of sage Durvasa Muni which he accepted at his own will. The curse led to Narayana taking the form of an avatar on Earth to destroy evil and establish ekantik-dharma, religion based on morality, knowledge, detachment and devotion.[13] Important Hindu scriptures such as the Bhagavad Gita and Bhagavata Purana confirm that Narayana descends in human form to destroy evil though there is no direct reference to Swaminarayan. He was a human & then a sage or philosopher. Only the Swaminarayan followers specifically interpret the Visvaksena Samhita, 11th part of the Brahma Purana, as well as the Skanda Purana as giving a direct reference to Narayana taking birth in the form of Swaminarayan.[14][15] None of the Puranas even mention "Swaminarayan". In the liturgy of the sect, the story of the announcement of the coming birth of Krishna in the Bhagavata Purana is similar to the story of the birth of Swaminarayan, and merging of the images and stories of Swaminarayan and Krishna has occurred. Some people believe him to be reincarnation of lord Krishna. Krishna promised to come back in Govardhans & he did in form of Shreenathji. In Vaishnava theology Uddhava, who is considered to be the chief disciple of Krishna, was ordained to spread his message in a future birth, and some groups of Swaminarayan Faith believe that he reappeared as Ramananda Swami to prepare the way for another manifestation of Krishna.[16][17] Swaminarayan is said to have intimated that he was a manifestation of God Supreme in a meeting with the Reginald Heber, the Lord Bishop of Calcutta, in 1825.[18]

Fundamentals of the Swaminarayan philosophy[edit]

The basic principle of the philosophy of Swaminarayan is vishistadvaita (qualified non-dualism) as propounded by Ramanujacharya.[19][20][21][22]

  • Dharma (religion): Proper conduct as defined in the revealed scriptures: 'Srutis' and 'Smritis'.[23]
  • Bhakti (devotion): Supreme love of soul combined in the consciousness of the glory of the Supreme God.[24]
  • Jnāna (enlightenment): Awareness of the concepts of the soul, illusion, and God.[21]
  • Vairagya (renunciation): Detachment from all material possessions and absolute attachment towards God – known as 'Vairagya'.[25]
  • Māyā (illusion): Named 'tri-gunatmika' i.e. illusion prevalence in three qualities of sattva, rajas and tamas; To be possessed by māyā is considered to be caught in darkness; God is the lord of māyā; It breeds ego in one for his body and for the relatives of the body.[21]
  • Mukti – (liberation or moksa): Loving worship of God.[21]
  • Ātman – (self): Recognition of the ātman, after which one experiences a transcendental bliss, is achieved through bhakti yoga as outlined in the Bhagavad gita, according to the teachings of Swaminarayan. It is the source of energy and is the real knower; It pervades the entire body and is the essence that differentiates matter and life; in character it is inseparable, impenetrable, indestructible and immortal.[21]
  • Paramātman – (Supreme Soul): It is omnipresent within the souls, just as soul is present in the body; it is independent and is the one who rewards the phala (fruits of karma) to the souls. It is the source of infinite material universes and the First Cause. It has no prior causes, and is the inherent cause of all effects (i.e. law of causality or karma).[21]

Some did not understand and rebel against the notion of Swaminarayan's worship of Krishna while Swaminarayan also considered himself to be a manifestation of God.[26] It is believed by his followers that just as Krishna assumed as many forms as the number of divine maidens (gopis) with whom he danced, he may have manifested himself simultaneously in many forms.[27]

Travels as Nilkanth Varni[edit]

Nilkanth Varni during his travels

After the death of his parents, Ghanshyam Pande left his home on 29 June 1792 (Ashadh Sud 10, Samvat 1849) at the age of 11.[28] He took the name Nilkanth Varni while on his journey. Nilkanth Varni travelled across India and parts of Nepal in search of an ashram, or hermitage, that practiced what he considered a correct understanding of Vedanta, Samkhya, Yoga, and Pancaratra, the four primary schools of Hindu philosophy.[29] To find such an ashram, Nilkanth Varni asked the following five questions on the basic Vaishnava Vedanta categories:[30]

While on his journey, Nilkanth Varni mastered Astanga yoga (eightfold yoga) in a span of 9 months under the guidance of an aged yogic master named Gopal Yogi.[19] In Nepal, it is said that he met King Rana Bahadur Shah and cured him of his stomach illness. As a result, the king freed all the ascetics he had imprisoned.[31] Nilkanth Varni visited the Jagannath Temple in Puri as well as temples in Badrinath, Rameshwaram, Nashik, Dwarka and Pandharpur.[28]

In 1799, after a seven-year journey, Nilkanth's travels as a yogi eventually concluded in Loj, a village in the Junagadh district of Gujarat. In Loj, Nilkanth Varni met Muktanand Swami, a senior disciple of Ramanand Swami. Muktanand Swami, who was twenty-two years older than Nilkanth, answered the five questions to Nilkanth's satisfaction.[32] Nilkanth decided to stay for the opportunity to meet Ramanand Swami, whom he met a few months after his arrival in Gujarat.[33] He later claimed in the Vachnamrut that during this period, he took up a severe penance to eliminate his mothers flesh and blood from his body so that the sign of his physical attachment to family, was completely removed.[29]


Swaminarayan under a Neem tree in Gadhada

Swaminarayan propagated general Hindu texts.[34] He held the Bhagavata Purana in high authority.[35] However, there are many texts that were written by Swaminarayan or his followers that are regarded as shastras or scriptures within the Swaminarayan sect. Notable scriptures throughout the sect include the Shikshapatri and the Vachanamrut. Other important works and scriptures include the Satsangi Jeevan, Swaminarayan's authorized biography, the Muktanand Kavya, the Nishkulanand Kavya and the Bhakta Chintamani.[36]


Swaminarayan wrote the Shikshapatri on 11 February 1826.[37] While the original Sanskrit manuscript is not available, it was translated into Gujarati by Nityanand Swami under the direction of Swaminarayan and is revered in the sect.[38][39] The Gazetteer of the Bombay Presidency summarised it as a book of social laws that his followers should follow.[23] A commentary on the practice and understanding of dharma, it is a small booklet containing 212 Sanskrit verses, outlining the basic tenets that Swaminarayan believed his followers should uphold in order to live a well-disciplined and moral life.[36] The oldest copy of this text is preserved at the Bodleian Library of Oxford University and it is one of the very few presented by Sahajanand Swami himself. Acharya Tejendraprasad of Ahmedabad has indicated in a letter that he is not aware of any copy from the hand of Sahajanand older than this text.[39]


Swaminarayan's philosophical, social and practical teachings are contained in the Vachanamrut, a collection of dialogues recorded by five prominent saints (Muktanand Swami, Gopalanand Swami, Nityanand Swami, Shukanand Muni, & Brahmanand Swami) from his spoken words. The Vachanamrut is the scripture most commonly used in the Swaminarayan sect. It contains views on dharma (moral conduct), jnana (understanding of the nature of the self), vairagya (detachment from material pleasure), and bhakti (pure, selfless devotion to God), the four essentials Hindu scriptures describe as necessary for a jiva (soul) to attain moksha (salvation).[40]

Satsangi Jeevan

Satsangi Jeevan is the authorised biography of Swaminarayan. The book contains information on the life and teachings of Swaminarayan. It is written by Shatanand Swami and completed in Vikram Samvat 1885. Swaminarayan decided to make Gadhada his permanent residence on the insistence of Dada Khachar and his sisters.Swaminarayan instructed Shatanand Swami to write a book on his life and pastimes.

To enable Shatanand swami to write from His childhood, Swaminarayan had blessed Shatanand Swami with Sanjay Drishti – special power to see the entire past right from His childhood.

Once written by Shatanand Swami, this book was verified and authenticated by Swaminarayan. He was much pleased to read the book. Swaminarayan then asked his disciples to do Katha of Satsangi Jeevan

Succession of Swaminarayan[edit]

Prior to his death, Sahajanand Swami decided to establish a line of acharyas, or preceptors as his spiritual successors.[41] After his death several divisions occurred with different understandings of the succession of leadership.

Swaminarayan Sampraday[edit]

Swaminarayan (left) in the form of Hari Krishna with Radha Krishna at the Swaminarayan Manor in Crawley

Swaminarayan established two gadis (seats of leadership). One seat was established in Ahmedabad (Nar Narayan Dev Gadi) and the other one in Vadtal (Laxmi Narayan Dev Gadi) on 21 November 1825. He appointed an acharya to each of these two gadis to pass on his message to others and to preserve his fellowship, Swaminarayan Sampraday. These acharyas came from his immediate family; he formally adopted a son from each of his two brothers, Rampratap and Ichcharam, and appointed them to the office of acharya. Ayodhyaprasad, son of his DESIGNATED brother Rampratap, was appointed acharya of Ahmedabad Gadi, and Raghuvira, son of his younger brother Ichcharam, was appointed acharya of the Vadtal Gadi. Swaminarayan decreed that the office should be hereditary so that acharyas would maintain a direct line of blood descent from his family.[42] The administrative division of his followers into two territorial dioceses is set forth in minute detail in a document written by Swaminarayan called Desh Vibhaag Lekh.[43] The current acharyas of the Swaminarayan Sampraday are Koshalendraprasad Pande, of the Ahmedabad Gadi, and Ajendraprasad Pande, of the Vadtal Gadi.[44][45]

After his death several divisions occurred with different understandings of the succession of leadership. Apart from this, there has been some conflicts in the Sampraday itself. Controversy over Vadtal gadi had attracted attention of national media in the past.[46][47] Besides these the sects has produced a number of schismatic groups.[48]

Bochasanwasi Shri Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha[edit]

Bochasanwasi Shri Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha (BAPS) followers hold Gunatitanand Swami as the spiritual successor to Swaminarayan. Members of BAPS assert that on several occasions Swaminarayan revealed to devotees that Gunatitanand Swami was Aksharbrahm manifest. These instances claimed by the devotees of BAPS have come to embody the philosophy known as Akshar Purushottam Upasana. It was in 1907 that a prominent ascetic named Shastri Yagnapurushdas separated from the parent organization and established this institution, claiming Gunatitanand Swami as the rightful successor.[49] Yagnapurushdas, who formed the schism, is believed by the devotees of BAPS to be the third spiritual successor of Swaminarayan.[50] The current leader of BAPS is Keshavjivandasji, more commonly known as Mahant Swami.

Shree Swaminarayan Gadi Sansthan[edit]

The followers of the Shree Swaminarayan Gadi Sansthan believe that Gopalanand Swami was the spiritual successor to Swaminarayan. This difference in belief of succession led to the creation of Swaminarayan Gadi in 1941.[51] The current leader of the Swaminarayan Gadi is Acharya Purushottampriyadas.[52]

There was a split in this sect which transpired due to the conduct of the head of the sect.

Five saints' separated from the Swaminarayan Gadi Sansthan Temple and formed the Swaminarayan Temple Kum Kum which actually shares part of its East boundary with the SSGS Temple. In London, after a prolonged court case, the Supreme High Court ordered a 'scheme' whereby the numbers on each side in London was the criteria for the divide. Thus Shree Swaminarayan Sidhant Sajivan Mandal Kum Kum UK was formed in 1997. Shastri Anand Priya Dasji Swami, (the first saint anointed by the previous leader of SSGS, Shree Muktajeevan Swamibapa, is the head of 'Swaminarayan Temple Kum Kum').

Swaminarayan Mandir Vasna Sanstha[edit]

Founder of SMVS

Another group who share the same beliefs with the Gadi Sansthan is the Swaminarayan Mandir Vasna Sanstha (SMVS). The group's founder is Devnandandas Swami.[53]Swaminarayan Mandir Vasna Sanstha also known as SMVS is an organization within the Swaminarayan Faith which spreads teaching of Swaminarayan. SMVS was formed on 2 February 1987 by HDH Bapji .Devnandandasji Swami, respectfully addressed as Bapji by his devotees and followers, is the founder of the organization. SMVS has actively conducts activities in areas like social, cultural, educational, religious fields .Nowadays,HDH Satyasankalpdasji swami is second-in-command and guru of SMVS.

From an early beginning in 1987, SMVS has today developed into a multifaceted institution. SMVS has 100 main centers throughout Gujarat, wherein 100 saints, 100 lady saints, and about 10000 front-line devotees and volunteers are assigned religious duties. Many of their saints and devotees have visited United States, United Kingdom, Canada,Dubai,Bahrain,Australia,New Zealand,Africa and other parts of the globe to propagate supreme teachings of Sahajanand Swami explained by Jivanpran Abjibapashri . Moreover, monitor construction and expansion of SMVS Swaminarayan temples as well as other related religious and cultural activities such as functioning of medical centers, old age homes, schools, hospitals, and other charities.To speed-up the charity works SMVS organized a sister organization named as 'SMVS charities'.

Gunatit Samaj[edit]

Kakaji and Pappaji [The founders of the Gunatit Samaj] on a government issued 2018 stamp of India

The Gunatit Samaj was formed in 1966 due to beliefs in regards to women living their lives as ascetics like the saints in safrron-clad. This belief was instilled by the spiritual head of BAPS at the time, Yogiji Maharaj who had a wish for women to also dedicate their lives to the service of God (like their male counterparts) this wish had been expressed to Pappaji and Kakaji (Founders of the Gunatit Samaj) in 1952 after a question was posed by Pappaji to Yogiji Maharaj regarding Sonaba's (A founder of the Gunatit Samaj) daughters who wanted to lead a life dedicated to God. Yogiji Maharaj had given his blessings regarding what path the two sisters should take; He had stated his intention to Kakaji & Pappaji, Yogiji Maharaj had stated that "What is wrong if these sisters want to devote their lives to God? Swaminarayan will ensure that this will happen, and further more you are to undertake this task.”

Thereafter, a separate establishment was established in Vallabh Vidyanagar by Pappaji, his brother, Kakaji and Sonaba whose daughters were the first two to join the establishment and the first to be ordained in saffron-clad, they were then followed by two others and by 1966 a total of 51 women had joined the establishment. Heavy opposition was received from members of the BAPS denomination and as a result, Pappaji and Kakaji were excommunicated from BAPS by trustee members.

Many were also in support of the establishment for the upliftment of women leading their lives as ascetics and thus 40 Sadhus initiated by Yogiji Maharaj who had expressed support for Kakaji and Pappaji had also left. The youth residing in the Akshar-Purushottam Hostel (Chhatralay) in Vallabh Vidyanagar had also been asked to vacate due to showing support and taking the words of Kakaji & Pappaji as the commands of Yogiji Maharaj. Despite continuous efforts between Kakaji, Pappaji and senior saints at BAPS a firm resolution could not be met thus the Gunatit Samaj came into formation. The Gunatit Samaj consists of four wings (Saints, Ordained Women, Ordained Men and Ordained Householders), Each wing is respectively lead under a spiritual head who is in ontological terminology, Akshar Brahman – the present manifestation of Lord Swaminarayan & Gunatitanand Swami. The Gunatit Samaj now spans worldwide with centres in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, Australia, France, New Zealand, United Arab Emirates and many other countries.

The Saints wing known as Yogi Divine Society is being led by Hariprasad Swami and also Aksharvihari Swami who leads saints in Sankarda under the name of Akshar-Purushottam Satsang Kendra. The dedicated women's wing is led by Pappaji in Vallabh Vidyanagar under the name of Gunatit Jyot. The Dedicated [Youth] Brothers wing is led by Jashbhai Saheb in Vallabh Vidyanagar [Mogri] under the name of Anoopam Mission. Each of the mentioned sub-groups include a Dedicated Householders wing, together forming the aforementioned four-winged Gunatit Samaj.[54]


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Cited sources[edit]

External links[edit]