Shree Swaminarayan The Bhagvad Geeta, the incomparable book on the path of Action and on the synthesis of Yogas of Bhakti, Jnana and Karma, says an eternal truth in one of its verses:
"Whenever there is a decline of righteousness and rise of unrighteousness, the Almighty Lord descends on earth in human form."
About a couple of centuries ago, the world was passing through turmoil and anguish, violence and unrighteousness was in the ascendent, discord and distortion ruled the minds of the people, the texts of scriptures were twisted and distorted to serve the purpose of selfishness and sex-indulgence and acquisition of wealth, there was as if the densest darkness on the soil of India.
It was at this critical point of time that a saviour appeared on the scene. This saviour was none else but Shree Sahajanand Swami popularly and reverently known as Bhagwan Swaminarayan who manifested Himself in a holy Brahmin family in Chhapaiya near Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh on Monday 2nd April 1781 which is equivalent to the Ramnavami of the Vikram Samvat year 1837.It is happy coincidence that Shree Sahajanand Swami manifested Himself on the day sanctified by the birth of Shree Ram who was an Incarnation of God, who practiced in life the Dharma in both letter and spirit.
Shree Sahajanand Swami was known as Ghanshyam Maharaj in his infancy. His father Dharmadev and mother Bhakti Devi were a pious and holy couple wedded to the whole-hearted and single-minded devotion of Lord Shree Krishna.
After being invested with the sacred thread, Ghanshyam Maharaj completed the study of Hindu scriptures at the age of eight years. He also prepared an epitome of the essentials of Hindu scriptures like Mahabharat, Bhavat Purana, Skanda Purana and Yajnavalkya Smriti.
Within a short span of a couple of years, since the sacred thread ceremony, the mother of Ghanshyam left the mortal frame on Saturday, Kartik Sud Tenth, Vikram Samvant year 1848. Father too followed her soon. Shree Ghanshyam Maharaj delivered spiritual discourses to His parents on the eve of their death and gave a mystic Darshan to them at the time of death. Being endowed since birth with the traits and tendencies of detachment and austerities, Shree Ghanshyam now left home on the 10th day of Asadh Sud Vikram Samvat tear 1849. I.e. Friday 26/6/1792 when He was only Eleven years old.
Thereafter He undertook the journey of all the places of pilgrimage from the Himalayas to Kanyakumari during which he went through severe penances and observed difficult vows. He thus passed 7 years and reached Loj near Mangrol in Saurathstra region on Gujarat State on the 6th Day of Shravan Vad, Samvant year 1856 i.e. 21.8.1799.
At Loj, Shree Nikanth Varni as he was then known, stayed with Swami Muktanand who was a follower of Ramanand swami, Shree Ramanand Swami was then in Kutch. Later when he met Ramanand Swami, Nikanth Varni was initiated by shree Ramanand swami into Bhagvati Diksha and was named Swami Sahajanand. Ramanand swami made him his successor in the year 1801 AD. At Jethpur in Saurathstra though he was only19 years of age and the youngest of his disciples. The next month Ramanand Swami left this world and shree Sahajanand swami was now at the helm of the fellowship.
Sahajanand swami, a young celibate equipped with the profound knowledge of spiritual mysteries and the superhuman powers, transformed the whole body of followers into a dynamic dedicated spiritual fellowship. To develop intimate contact with people, Sahajanand swami toured every nook and corner of Gujarat on foot and on horseback. Accompanied with a band of devoted followers.
He went from place to place, preached the principles of righteous conduct, the necessity of Dharma, propagated the teaching of devotion to one God only, sense of brotherhood among men, observances of universal principles of truthfulness, non- violence, self- continence, non-stealing, non-possession etc. prohibition and abstinence from meat and flesh and ceasation of violent Yagna in which living beings were offered as sacrifice were widely preached and firmly rooted in the lives of the lay men. In a sense Sahajanand swami was a forerunner of Mahatma Gandhi, who preached and practiced non-violence and prohibition and extended them on national and international levels.
With a unique talent of organization and marvelous power of attracting and assimilating people from diverse ranks and stations of life as from diverse castes and communities, he strongly built the fellowship and created a band of 5000 Paramhamsas, who were loyal and dedicated souls wholly wedded to the unflinching faith in and a single minded devotion to the one and the paralleled Supreme Divine.
Wherever he went, he held open meetings, during which he discussed the spiritual problems facing the aspirants in their spiritual disciples. His discourses in the open assembly were direct, precise and pointed. The language he used was simple, elegant and easy to understand. He dealt with even abstruse topics in lucid and pleasant style and avoided equivocal and vague replies. His answers were convincing and conclusive, direct from the heart and based on the direct experience. His teachings propounded and expounded in discourses in open assemblies re enshrined in Vachanamrit. His faith was not confined to Hindus only. Parsis, Khojas, Mohammedans, Jains too. Embraced his fold of fellowship.
He opened the doors of his newly founded sect to both the holy man and the sinners. He embraced even the robbers and dacoits: the low and the high, the males and females alike. Dreadful dacoits like "Joban Pagi" were transformed into dedicated devotees. All his followers by following the dictates of Shikshapatri enunciating the practice of Dharma coupled with Bhakti radiated a new atmosphere of sweet perfume of purity, righteousness and devotion. His followers were held in high esteem.
A renowned Sanskrit scholar of international reputation, Sir Monier Williams paid handsome tribute to the Swaminarayan sect, which deserves to be reproduced. "This (Swaminarayan) sect is worthy of full notice, both because it affords a good example of the best aspect of modern Vaishnavism and because the efforts of its founder to deliver the system of Vallabacharya from corrupting influences, ids worthy of praise". Henry George Brigg too paid an eloquent tribute to Sahajanand swami and his work of restoring Hindi mode of worship in virgin integrity and of reclaiming the dacoits and looters to the honest and industrious pursuits.
The followers of the faith are broadly divided into 2 classes (1) Ascetics (Tyagis) and (2) House holders. Generally ascetics would not submit to the authority of householders. But Sahajanand Swami struck a new note in his faith by appointing householder Acharyas as the Heads of the Faith. All the followers including the Ascetics are expected to show full unswerving allegiance to them. In fact, the Acharyas for the time being are the Founders sole living representatives on His Gadi. The selection of Acharyas is confined to the stock of the family of the Founders fathers.
The whole of India is divided into2 dioceses - one to the North of the line drawn from Dwarka in the West to Puri in the East and other to the South. The chief seat of the former is at Ahmedabad and the latter in Vadtal. The founder then adopted 2 of his nephews and installed them as Acharyas for the 2 Gadis in the year 1826 Ad. Even the Acharyas are enjoined by Sahajanand swami to strictly abide by the precepts of Shikshapatri. The Ahmedabad and Vadtal are the only 2 Gadis established and approved by the founder in the "Deshvibhag Lekh" which defines the territorial jurisdiction of each of the 2 Acharyas. The present Acharyas are Shree Tejendra Prasadji Maharaj on Ahmedabad and Shree Ajendra Prasadji Maharaj on the Vadtal Gadi.
During his life time, Shree Sahajanand swami laid the firm foundation of the movement by means of construction of temples at Ahmedabad, Bhuj, Vadtal, Dholera, Muli, Jetalpur, Dholka, Junagadh, Gadhada and installation of Divine Images of Lord in the temples, appointed of Acharyas as Heads of the Fellowship, production of literature like- Shikshapatri which lays down the code of conduct for different classes of his followers and Satsangi Jivan, Vachanamrit etc.
When the mission of His Manifestation of restoring Bhagwat Dharma to its pristine purity, profound depth, integral intensity and universal catholicity was fully fulfilled, Sahajanand swami left the physical frame on Jeth Sud 10th Vikram Samvant year 1886 i.e. in the month of June 1830 AD living a brilliant but brief life of only 49 years, by his unique power of organization, superhuman powers of moulding a man of clay into a self- realized soul dedicated to the sole devotion of the Lord, he was the center and the fountain of Love, peace and ecstasy of all his followers who were attracted to him by his magnetic personality , abundant affection and graceful compassion for all, irrespective of caste, sex or status. He was acclaimed during his lifetime as the Manifestation of the Supreme divine by Millions of his followers.
The Acharyas who are missioned to execute and propagate the teaching of the Founder are putting their heart and soul into the work that is allotted to them for winning the grace and pleasure of Shree Sahajanand Swami.
At present there are about one hundred great domed temples in big cities and thousands of them in every village and town in which there is a permanent arrangement for worship and religious discourses for the benefit of the people. Every temple has the separate arrangement for worship and discourses for males and females.
The Acharyas look after the worldly welfare of their followers and other persons. They run schools and colleges, run residential hostels for students, provide "Annakshetras" for serving cooked meals and/or uncooked food to the needy followers in the temples. They extend their help to their best in providing relief and succor to the victims of the flood, famine etc. Humanitarian service of the people has been accorded privileged place in the programme of service of the people, both secular and spiritual.
The present activities of the Fellowship are marked by the prominent features such as the provision of relief to the poor, medical aid to the patients, the establishments of schools and colleges for imparting education and organizing Janan Satras for the wakening religious and spiritual interest in the people.
May Lord Shree Swaminarayan shower His blessings on all His Followers to attain the spiritual emancipation and worldly welfare.