Yogiji Maharaj, the fourth spiritual successor of Bhagwan Swaminarayan, was known for his patient and playful nature. He carried the philosophy of Akshar Purushottam out of India to Africa and London. He was a visionary, inspirer, and initiator of the organization’s weekly children and youth activities. His positive attitude and engaging smile captured the hearts of thousands of people. Chinmayananda Swami of the Chinmaya Mission used to say, “His face carried the anand, or the divine joy, expressed in the Upanishads.”
Yogiji Maharaj was born as Jinabhai in Dhari in 1892. As a young boy, he taught his friends how to properly perform darshan and puja and made both a priority for himself. He displayed honorable virtues early on in his childhood. Once, when he was in the fifth grade, the principal of his school fatally injured one of his classmates. When the police came to investigate, no one told the truth; students, teachers and other administrators all protected the principal. Jinabhai, at the age of eleven, courageously spoke out against the principal and told the police the truth. Even on a daily basis, Jinabhai encouraged other students to study hard and deterred his classmates from cheating.
One day, Sadhu Krishnacharandas, a sadhu initiated by Gunatitanand Swami, visited Dhari. When he met Jinabhai, he was impressed by his devotion to Bhagwan Swaminarayan and invited him to become a sadhu. Jinabhai quickly agreed and left Dhari soon thereafter. He then remained at Junagadh mandir and performed seva there. In 1911, he was given sadhu diksha and named Sadhu Gnanjivandas. He then joined Shastriji Maharaj to spread the Akshar Purushottam philosophy.
Shastriji Maharaj and his sadhus experienced many hardships as they continued to build Akshar Purushottam mandirs, deliver discourses, and travel. Despite this, Sadhu Gnanjivandas stayed at the side of his guru and tirelessly continued to help build mandirs and spread the Akshar Purushottam philosophy. He patiently tolerated the incessant beatings, name-calling, and hostility.
By now, Sadhu Gnanjivandas was affectionately known as Yogjii Maharaj. Yogiji Maharaj, despite his growing role in the sanstha, never lost his original passion to serve others. Each day, he would wake up at 4 o’clock in the morning and make over 300 rotlas to serve the other sadhus and devotees. He would then spend the remainder of the day building mandirs, delivering lectures, or serving in other ways.
Yogiji Maharaj always put his guru, Shastriji Maharaj, and Bhagwan Swaminarayan before anything else. One time, he was traveling to visit devotees. It was 4 o’clock in the afternoon, and he could not find water anywhere to offer to the murti of Thakorji. Finally after two hours, he saw a river and immediately had the driver of the bullock cart pull over. He offered water to the murti and prayed for forgiveness despite there not being water available through no fault of his own.
His selfless and unconditional love captured the hearts of youths. He initiated over 51 educated youths from Africa, India, and the United Kingdom as sadhus to commit their lives to the service of Bhagwan Swaminarayan and society. Some of these sadhus were doctors, lawyers, engineers, and scholars. This brought about a renaissance in the sadhu samaj across Hindu Sanatan Dharma. Of these sadhus, Pujya Mahant Swami, Pujya Doctor Swami, Pujya Bhaktipriya Swami, Pujya Tyagvallabh Swami, Pujya Ishwarcharan Swami, and Pujya Viveksagar Swami earned his blessings and have continued to serve society under the leadership of their guru Pramukh Swami Maharaj for over 50 years now!
Yogiji Maharaj’s conviction in the Swaminarayan mantra was unwavering. One time at the Akshar Deri mandir in Gondal, Yogiji Maharaj was sitting under a tree and was bit by a poisonous snake. All of the other sadhus and devotees went to call a doctor, but Yogiji Maharaj stopped them stating that the bite would be cured simply by chanting the Swaminarayan mantra. Yogiji Maharaj instructed the sadhus to carry him inside the mandir where everyone chanted the mantra for his recovery. Twelve hours later, Yogiji Maharaj was completely cured from the effects of the snake bite.
Yogiji Maharaj was appointed the mahant of Gondal mandir where he remained until Shastriji Maharaj appointed him as his spiritual successor before passing away in 1951. As spiritual head of the BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha, Yogiji Maharaj traveled outside India to East Africa and England, establishing mandals overseas. He opened five mandirs in East Africa and one in London. He also sent four sadhus to North America, one of whom was Sadhu Narayanswarupdas, or Pramukh Swami Maharaj.
Yogiji Maharaj emphasized the importance of regular satsang for every age group. He initiated weekly Sunday sabha at every BAPS mandir and center. He also began the bal, kishore, and yuvak mandals that offered special assemblies for youths.
Yogiji Maharaj passed away in 1971 in Mumbai after naming Pramukh Swami Maharaj as his spiritual successor.