Hinduism has an ancient guru-shishya tradition. The genuine guru propagates the philosophical principles, moral values and ritual tradition to his disciples. He also spiritually grooms his disciples out of which he selects one as his successor to continue his spiritual heritage. By seeing the living guru, his actions and teachings, the disciples are inspired to live a moral and spiritual life.
The Swaminarayan Sampradaya, founded by Bhagwan Swaminarayan, is a bhakti sampradaya that belongs to the Vaishnav tradition in Hinduism. The Bochasanwasi Shri Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha (BAPS) has its roots in the Swaminarayan Sampradaya and continues the bhakti tradition and philosophy propagated by Bhagwan Swaminarayan through a succession of Gunatit gurus. Each guru declared his successor to the Satsang Fellowship prior to his earthly departure.
A brief introduction to the guru parampara in the BAPS is as follows.
Bhagwan Swaminarayan (1781-1830 CE) lived for only 49 years, but left an enduring legacy that has enabled countless people to experience the bliss of God.
Ramanand Swami appointed the 21-year-old Sahajanand Swami in his place. Sahajanand Swami initiated many spiritual and social projects to remedy and revive society’s ailing conditions and fading spirituality. Among other activities, he operated almshouses, built and recharged wells, and introduced education for women.
Bhagwan Swaminarayan’s practical spirituality appealed to and attracted people from all strata of society, helping them to regain their lost piety. Such was his divine magnetism that over 3,000 youths accepted initiation from him into the sadhu-fold to lead a life of devotion and service to society.
Bhagwan Swaminarayan built six magnificent mandirs to serve as centres of spirituality and service. In his own lifetime, countless revered Bhagwan Swaminarayan as the avatar of Purushottam – the supreme God. His exemplary life still serves as an inspiration for all. But of all the various aspects of Bhagwan Swaminarayan’s legacy, the most important was his promise to remain ever-present on earth through the manifest form of Akshar, the God-realized Sadhu. He declared the greatness of Gunatitanand Swami as his divine abode and ideal devotee on many occasions. It is this lineage that has sustained the original ideals of Bhagwan Swaminarayan in their pristine form.
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The first in Bhagwan Swaminarayan’s spiritual lineage of God-realized Sadhus was Aksharbrahman Gunatitanand Swami (1785-1867 CE), the manifest form of Akshar.
Gunatitanand Swami’s discipline, devotion and service were exemplary, inspiring all who came into his contact. On numerous occasions, Bhagwan Swaminarayan identified Gunatitanand Swami as the manifest form of Akshar (also called Aksharbrahman), his divine abode and ideal devotee – Akshardham. Thus, many developed an understanding of Gunatitanand Swami’s true glory.
Gunatitanand Swami toured relentlessly to the villages, teaching the glory and philosophy of Bhagwan Swaminarayan, and encouraging a moral and spiritual way of life.
Through their association with Gunatitanand Swami, many sadhus and householders attained the state of brahmarup and experienced the bliss of God. His foremost disciple was Bhagatji Maharaj
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Bhagatji Maharaj (1829-1897 CE) was the second spiritual successor of Bhagwan Swaminarayan in his lineage of Gunatit Gurus.
Bhagatji Maharaj served Gunatitanand Swami with tireless enthusiasm and without concern for his physical needs. His spirit of service embodied the ideal manner in which one should serve one’s guru; he eagerly fulfilled tasks which others avoided.
Bhagatji Maharaj also discoursed on the Akshar-Purushottam doctrine, clarifying to devotees that Bhagwan Swaminarayan was Purushottam and Gunatitanand Swami was the manifest form of Akshar.
Although he was a householder, sadhus and other householder devotees revered him as their guru. Foremost among his disciples was Shastriji Maharaj, whom he revealed as his successor.
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Shastriji Maharaj (1865-1951 CE) was the third spiritual successor of Bhagwan Swaminarayan and founded the BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha in 1907.
From Bhagatji Maharaj he learnt the Akshar-Purushottam philosophy as revealed by Bhagwan Swaminarayan in the Vachanamrut.
In November 1905 he separated from the Vartal mandir, with only five sadhus and a few devotees. In June 1907 he built a mandir in Bochasan and consecrated the murtis of Akshar-Purushottam in the central shrine. This marked the beginning of BAPS. He continued to preach the Akshar-Purushottam philosophy in his extensive travels through all terrains and climates. He also built mandirs in Sarangpur, Gondal, Atladra and Gadhada. Through his efforts Satsang spread to East Africa where a hari mandir was inaugurated in Nairobi.
In 1950, Shastriji Maharaj appointed Pramukh Swami Maharaj as the administrative President of BAPS, instructing him to serve under Yogiji Maharaj, whom he proclaimed as his successor.
(To know more about Shastriji Maharaj, click here.)
Yogiji Maharaj (1892-1971 CE) was the fourth spiritual successor of Bhagwan Swaminarayan.
In 1934, Shastriji Maharaj appointed him as the mahant of the newly built BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Gondal. From here he travelled to the villages, encouraging all to pursue a moral and spiritual life.
He established separate weekly satsang assemblies for children, youths and elders, enabling them to receive spiritual guidance appropriate for their level. He especially focused on youths and developed such a bond with them that many renounced and became sadhus. He encouraged them to excel in studies and to develop other talents.
Yogiji Maharaj undertook overseas Satsang Tours to Africa and England, where he consecrated mandirs. He also sowed the seeds of Satsang in America.
In 20 years, from 1951 to 1971, he undertook over 4,000 city, town and village visits, consecrated over 60 mandirs, sanctified over 170,000 homes and wrote over 545,000 letters. His credo in life was “O Lord! Do good of all.”
Yogiji Maharaj identified Pramukh Swami Maharaj as his spiritual successor.
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PRAMUKH SWAMI MAHARAJ
Pramukh Swami Maharaj (born 1921 CE), the fifth spiritual successor of Bhagwan Swaminarayan.
Guru Shastriji Maharaj spotted his innate spirituality, and so in 1940, initiated him into the sadhu-fold, naming him Narayanswarupdas Swami.
At first, Narayanswarupdas Swami studied Sanskrit and the shastras. Then, Shastriji Maharaj appointed him kothari of the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Sarangpur. In 1950, when Narayanswarupdas Swami was only 28 years old, Shastriji Maharaj instated him as the administrative President (Pramukh) of BAPS in his place. Since then he has been fondly known as ‘Pramukh Swami’.
From 1951 to 1971, Pramukh Swami served under the spiritual guidance of Yogiji Maharaj with the same dedication he had served Shastriji Maharaj.
Since 1971, after the passing away of Yogiji Maharaj, he has built upon the foundations laid by his gurus and spread the message and activities of BAPS worldwide.
Pramukh Swami Maharaj has sustained the tradition of Bhagwan Swaminarayan and the Gunatit Gurus by continually touring in India and abroad to strengthen satsang in the lives of devotees. Much of his time is spent in guiding and inspiring devotees by personal counselling, letters or telephone. Amid all these responsibilities and despite his frail health, he continues to offer personal devotion to God. His greatest strength is his absolute faith in God. And it is this spirituality that has been felt by countless people.
He has built over 1100 mandirs in India, North America, UK, Europe, Africa, Australia, New Zealand and the Middle East. They serve as perennial sources of spiritual inspiration and social harmony. Fulfilling the wish of Yogiji Maharaj, he has created the magnificent Swaminarayan Akshardham complexes in Gandhinagar and New Delhi, enlightening them on India’s ancient culture, traditions and spirituality.
His unique bond with the youths has inspired over 900 to become sadhus, renouncing all worldly ambitions to serve God and society. He has directed the energies of youths to serve as volunteers in the Sanstha’s various spiritual, social, cultural, educational, environmental, health, disaster relief, tribal uplift and other humanitarian activities. His selfless work has been applauded by revered spiritual leaders, national leaders and other dignitaries.
(To know more about Pramukh Swami Maharaj, click here.)