The courtyard was packed. Many scholars had gathered, all eager to prove that the new fellowship was a hoax, an impostor among the family of sects which make up Hindu Culture. In one corner sat a few paramhansas, in actual fact they just happened to be passing through when they were lured into this 'would-be' debate.
Jamnagar, a city in western Gujarat, renowned to be the twin city of the great Kashi. Here, scholars from all over the land gather to debate and discuss new corners of the eternal galaxy which is Hindu philosophy. It was here that the principles of the Swaminarayan faith were for the first time, to be challenged in public.
A bearded man stood up and with a gesture of his hand ushered the restless crowd. "We are much obliged that you accepted our invitation," he said courteously. "Now we'd like to ask you some questions." His voice became cold and deliberate, "What is the cardinal belief of your sect?"
The humble saints were rarely qualified for such a debate, they firmly believed Shreeji Maharaj to be the Supreme Godhead, but none were learned in the scriptures or philosophy. The head saint, Atmanand Swami simply folded his hands, "We believe in total observance, come what may, of the commands of our Guru." It was a weak reply and he knew it. There was some chuckling in the crowd. "Hmm.I see. Very well, do you perceive God as possessing a divine form, as do the Vaishnavas or....?
"We only believe in totally observing, come what may, the commands of our Guru." There was a roar of laughter. "I told you. Jivanmukta's a fraud." "Yes, it's true also that all his saints and followers are illiterate peasants."
Bad news travels fast! In no time people everywhere were talking about the 'Scholar's victory'. The saints rushed to Gadhpur to tell Maharaj of the failure.
It was a relatively small incident, but it made Maharaj realise that if he was to establish the fellowship in society, he would now have to confront the scholars. It was time to prepare the saints for their next battle, this time they first had to go 'back-to-school.'
The Lord sent instructions to all the saints to begin studies in Sanskrit and philosophy. He also encouraged music, singing, literature, art, etc. Whichever field the saint was talented in, he was to pursue and attain perfection in it. All began their re-education with great zeal. Even elders, such as Muktanand Swami, now 51, felt no shame in sitting in the same classes with the younger saints, learning the basics of Sanskrit.
At the time when the young Sahajanand Swami took over the reins of the fellowship, he only had 12 able saints, 4 ashrams; the chief scripture was the Bhagwat, yet none of the saints were educated in Sanskrit. Also, no form of expressive devotion was encouraged, such as poetry, art, etc.
The Lord knew that if this new movement was to withstand the pressures of a hostile society and selfish scholars, then it's foundations must be deep rooted in the culture and philosophy. Thus requiring scriptures, scholars and, to give it the colour and fervour of devotion, poets, singers, painters were also needed. A combination of all these would result in a fellowship wherein there is something for everyone. And where, all forms of devotion and knowledge of God - as the supreme Reality - are inculcated into one body.
He had taught them to fly, now he went about perfecting them, to fly with the grace and elegance of a Swan.
With the saints prepared, he sent them out, once again, into society. This time they went to prove a point, that Shreeji Maharaj was God incarnate. As they did so, instances where they were once humiliated and scoffed, now became scenes of praise and glory of the new sect.
The Queen of Dharampur, Kushalkunverba, had summoned the royal musicians to perform in honour of the Lord. The hall was richly decorated with fine silks and ornaments. Maharaj arrived, accompanied by Premanand Swami and Devanand Swami.
The musicians began to sing 'Dukkad Raag'. They were very good and Maharaj was impressed. As they finished their next piece the Lord turned to Devanand Swami and said, "Did you hear how beautifully they performed the 'Dukkad Raag'? Now I want you to sing like that." Devanand Swami picked up his Sarod and began tuning it. The musicians looked on, they were amused by the thought that 'how could this 'Sadhus' possibly match them?'
Slowly and softly, he began. The musicians were forced to take notice by the perfection of the notes and the sweetness of his voice. They strained to detect even a small mistake, but there was none. Then he began to pick up the tempo. Soon he was singing so fast that the Royal tabla player couldn't keep up with the beat. He frantically tried to match the pace, then suddenly he threw his arms into the air in a gesture of defeat. There was applause all around. The musicians conceded their defeat and bowed before Maharaj. "Until today we thought that sadhus could only sing village rhymes, but your saints are of a different calibre."
Adharanand Swami was a talented artist. He drew the first sketches of Shriji Maharaj. He also composed the scripture 'Harileelamrut Sagar', a scripture comprising of over 116,000 verses!
Muktanand Swami was an 'all-rounder!' He could sing, play a variety of instruments, compose songs and poems and even dance! Once he drew an elephant in the dust with his feet, while dancing. He also wrote a variety of books.
Premanand Swami was so adept in singing that he could create an atmosphere of dawn in the afternoon. He too, wrote 5 books and composed over 14000 songs.
Nishkulanand Swami was a skilled carpenter, he used to build carriages for the Lord. As well as writing 23 books and composing over 2000 songs.
Despite living in such difficult circumstances, where opposition was still rife, they produced inspiring works of brilliance. Swaminarayan saints became renowned for setting high standards in every field, unmatched even today.
Once the famous poet, Dulaa Kaag was reciting Brahmanand Swami's songs, and tears began flowing from his eyes. "I have never heard such elegant compositions." He recited them before Rabindranath Tagore, who it is said, began dancing around the room!
Mahatma Gandhi often sang songs composed by Nishkulanand Swami and Muktanand Swami. He enjoyed them so much, he memorized them.
Jamnagar. Again some Paramhansas were challenged to a debate. Ironically it was the same courtyard, same scholars with the same intent. They began with the same simple questions. Little did they know that the leader of the group was Nityanand Swami, who had as a child studied in Kashi on the banks of the Ganga, and who had mastered Sanskrit at the age of 8. Before his knowledge these men were mere novices.
This time their questions were made to look weak and soon they were forced to concede defeat and bow before the superior knowledge of the saints. The principles of Swaminarayan had been proven to be in consonance with the ideals of Hinduism. Moreover, never again did simple men dare challenge the honour of Swaminarayan or his paramhansas.
The Paramhansas were all talented, but it was by the inspiration of their master that they flourished.
The Greek Philosopher Euphrides one said, "Human excellence means nothing, unless it works with the consent of God."