Introduction to Swaminarayan Sapmraday
The Swaminarayan Sampraday with its roots in the Vedas was founded by Lord Shree Swaminarayan. It follows the Vaishnav tradition and represents the purest form of Sanatan Dharma (Hindu) religion. It focuses its faith on salvation through total devotion – bhakti – to the Supreme God developed through dharma (virtues), gnaan (spiritual wisdom) and vairagya (detachment). Established on the pillars of spirituality, it reaches out far and wide to clear the confusions and questions of the moral, social and material world of today.
The Swaminarayan or Uddhav Sampraday is bhakti-focussed and advocates God within the disciplines of dharma. Lord Swaminarayan has propagated a philosophy where He says that God is supreme, Has a divine form, is the all-doer and is completely independent. He simply stated that jivas (souls) 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, above all, devotion to that God.
The Sampraday consolidates characters in societies, families and individuals. This is done by mass motivation and individual attention, through elevating projects for all, irrespective of class, creed, colour and country. 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. No stealing, no adultery, non-consumption of intoxicants, vegetarianism, and non-conversion are the ’panch vartman’ or the five principal vows, that act as prerequisites for being considered as part of the Sampraday. Such mortal purity and spiritual surety add a deeper brilliance to all the hundreds of social services performed for better life.
Lord Swaminarayan’s objective on this earth was to establish a permanent system of achieving aatyantik kalyaan – the ultimate redemption from the cycle of life and death. He achieved this by establishing the three resolutions; the murtis (deities); shastras (scriptures) and the Dharmavanshi Acharyas (spiritual leaders).
As an adjunct to the scriptures in establishing Ekantik Dharma and consolidating the framework of the Satsang (holy fellowship), Lord Swaminarayan constructed magnificent stone mandirs- buttressing Upasana – worshipping god in all His greatness and glory, and bhakti – unalloyed devotion towards the deities. Towards the end of His second decade of work, He placed a greater emphasis on bhakti over detachment – vairagya to foster love for God. This emphasis on bhakti culminated in the building of mandirs. The mandirs served four major purposes
In an astonishingly short span of six years, from 1822 till 1828, Lord Swaminarayan sanctioned the construction of nine mandirs of exquisite beauty and architectural grandeur in Gujarat : Ahmedabad, Mooli, Bhuj, Vadtal, Jetalpur, Dholera, Dholka, Junagadh and Gadhada.
The sadhus (monks) and devotees provided the labour considered as seva or devotional service. The Lord Himself spiritedly carried stones on His head, hauling them up the hill from the river Ghela to Dada Khachar’s courtyard during the foundation laying of Gadhada mandir. He also carried thirty-seven bricks in the construction of Vadtal mandir. These can be observed ‘in situ’ even today. He further spread the concept of unique monotheism by installing murtis such as NarNarayan, LakshmiNarayan and Radha Krishna declaring that God is one but appears in many forms. He also consecrated His own murtis, named Hari Krishna Maharaj in temples such as Vadtal. Interestingly, in the history of the world religions, this is perhaps the first instance of monuments of worship being constructed in the life period of a religious founder.
He entrusted the day to day performance of the worship rituals in these mandirs to the sadhus (monks). At a time when the land was steeped in penury, finances scant the construction of such grand temples attested to His innate divinity.
Religious literature of the Sampraday forms another fundamental aspect of the purpose of Swaminarayan Bhagwan’s arrival on this earth. These endorse the preaching, principals and the lifetimes of Lord Swaminaryan. The Shikshapatri, written by Lord Swaminarayan Himself, stands as the basis of the Sampraday in which it contains the sum and substance of all the sat-shastras or scriptures, thereby eliminating the need for followers to refer to any other shastra for guidance. In addition, the Vachanamrut, Satsangji Jeevan, Desh Vibhag no Lekh, Satsangi Bhushan, Shree Hari Digvijay and Bhakta Chintamani are prominent scriptures approved by Swaminarayan Bhagwan himself.
Dharmavanshi meaning belonging to the lineage of Dharmadev – the father of Lord Swaminarayan. In 1826 Swaminarayan Bhagwan established his two adopted sons as the sprititual leaders of the Sampraday. He installed them as the Acharyas for each and every follower including both householders and ascetics. Swaminarayan Bhagwan has given sole authority to these two individuals to perform the installation of the murtis in temples and the initiation of sadhus and householders into the Sampraday. The two Acharyas are based in Ahmadabad known as NarNarayan Dev Gadi and Vadtal, known as LakshmiNarayan Dev Gadi. The current Acharyas are His Holiness 1008 Shree Koshalendraprasdji Maharaj and His Holiness 1008 Shree Rakeshprasadji Maharaj.
The sadhus, initiated by either Dharmavanshi Acharya, also form an integral part of the Sampraday. They lead a strict life refraining from worldly pleasures and devoting their whole life to the service of the holy fellowship. They preach the philosophy and lifetimes of Lord Swaminarayan and encourage people to follow a pious and religious life.