Bhagwan Swaminarayan bequeathed a legacy of mandir, scripture, and sadhu to His followers for their continued guidance on the spiritual path. He gave talks which were written down in the Vachanamrut, wrote His devotees’ ideal code of conduct in the Shikshapatri, and inspired Gunatitanand Swami to speak of the glory of God which has been recorded in Swami ni Vato.
In addition to these main scriptures, Bhagwan Swaminarayan inspired many of His sadhus to study languages and write poetry and prose in Sanskrit, Braj, and Gujarati. The matchless treatises written by His sadhus include the Bhaktachintamani, the Satsangi Jivan, and the Haricharitramrut Sagar. Bhagwan Swaminarayan’s teachings, immortalized during His own lifetime in these scriptures, reinforced the principles of ekantik dharma. Nishkulanand Swami prominently extols this fact at the end of every chapter of his Bhaktachintamani. To Bhagwan Swaminarayan’s name he attaches the prefix, Shrimad Ekantik Dharma Pravartak, or ‘Propounder of Ekantik Dharma.’
In addition, the daily occurrences of Bhagwan Swaminarayan’s spiritual successors have been recorded, and these biographies also serve as scriptures for devotees.
The Bhaktachintamani is a scripture detailing the divine exploits of Bhagwan Swaminarayan. Bhaktachintamani literally means ‘the wish fulfilling gem of the devotee,’ as those devotees who wish to ponder upon the divine actions of Bhagwan Swaminarayan may look upon this book as a wish fulfilling gem.
Nishkulanand Swami authored this scripture in Gujarati and chiefly employed the famous Chopai stanza form. Although Nishkulanand Swami was illiterate, he could compose in verses, highlighting his deep devotion to Bhagwan Swaminarayan. This work is comprised of 164 chapters. In addition to depicting the divine occurrences of Bhagwan Swaminarayan, Nishkulanand Swami vividly describes the celebration of Holi and Annakut festivals. The authenticity of this work is seen in the great detail provided about the places visited by Bhagwan Swaminarayan and the list of eminent devotees belonging to respective towns and villages. Key chapters include chapter 64, the Fagva Chapter, and chapters 76 and 103 to 105, which discuss the supremacy of Bhagwan Swaminarayan. Chapters 106 to 110, which discuss the subjects of non-attachment and freedom from passion, avarice, taste, and ego, also merit study. Shastriji Maharaj, the third spiritual successor of Bhagwan Swaminarayan, often recommended the chanting of the verses from this scripture to overcome difficulties.
Haricharitramrut Sagar literally means ‘the ocean of the nectar episodes of Hari,’ which is another name of Bhagwan Swaminarayan. Considered as the authoritative biography of Bhagwan Swaminarayan, an eye-witness account, its staggering length of 80,000 sakhis (a system of poetic versification), renders this an epic in its own right, over three times the length of the Ramayana.
The history of the creation of this masterpiece is as intriguing as its contents. On several occasions, Bhagwan Swaminarayan related His life, from birth until arrival in Loj, to Muktanand Swami. In Vikram Samvat Year 1881 (1825 CE), Bhagwan Swaminarayan bestowed upon Muktanand Swami the opportunity to offer bhakti by writing His life episodes until his last breath. Muktanand Swami performed this task diligently, writing details in the form of Kharda, a rough format to be systematically restructured later. He continued writing and dictating the Khardas prolifically until Bhagwan Swaminarayan passed away in 1830. Grief-stricken by His departure, Muktanand Swami's poor health deteriorated rapidly, and he passed away one and a half months later. In Vikram Samvat Year 1914 (1858 CE), Adharanand Swami, himself an artist and sculptor, but not a poet, commenced the mammoth versification of the Haricharitramrut Sagar from Muktanand Swami's Khardas. Divinely inspired, Adharanand Swami composed the sakhis, akin to that of the Ramayana, in Vraj Hindi. The work is comprised of 28 chapters, beautifully named as purs, or waves, each divided into tarangs, or ripples, in consonance with the sagar's (ocean's) imagery.
‘Satsangi’ signifies a member of the fellowship of Bhagwan Swaminarayan, and ‘jivan’ means life. This scripture contains details of the life to be lived by a disciple in Satsang. It was written in Sanskrit by Shatanand Swami.
In Gadhapur, Shatanand Swami composed some verses in praise of Bhagwan Swaminarayan, who upon hearing such praises became pleased with Shatanand Swami and requested that he ask Him for a boon. Shatanand Swami asked permission to compose a work depicting Bhagwan Swaminarayan’s divine exploits on this Earth, to which Bhagwan Swaminarayan agreed. The writing of this scripture commenced on Magshar Sud 6 Vikram Samvat Year 1885. During the course of its composition, Shatanand Swami continually verified its content with senior sadhus and Bhagwan Swaminarayan, establishing its authenticity.
Comprised of 5 volumes and 17,627 verses, it incorporates: the constitution and brief history of the Sampraday; details of festivals and rituals; vows of disciples; modes of worshipping God and expiation of sins; Bhagwan Swaminarayan’s philosophical principles, such as Vishishtadvaita and dharma, gnan, vairagya, and bhakti; and the divine episodes of Bhagwan Swaminarayan. Also included are the vows and penances for sadhus, known as the Dharmamrut and Nishkam Shuddhi.
A guru’s life can teach as much to a follower as his lectures. The lives of Bhagwan Swaminarayan’s spiritual successors have been recorded, and these biographies also serve as scriptures for devotees. Their lives illustrate the principles and philosophy taught by Bhagwan Swaminarayan, providing an ideal example of spiritual living for all devotees.
- Gunatitanand Swami was the first spiritual successor and guru and is recognized as Akshar, the eternal abode of God. He was the mahant of Junagadh mandir for 40 years and led a life of great simplicity. He continuously conducted discourses to explain Bhagwan Swaminarayan’s philosophy. His teachings have been compiled in the Swamini Vato, revered as one of the three main scriptures, along with the Vachanamrut and Shikshapatri, of the Swaminarayan faith. His cremation place, Akshar Deri in Gondal, is regarded as a sacred place of pilgrimage.
- Pragji Bhakta , commonly called Bhagatji Maharaj, was the second spiritual successor. He was not a sadhu but a householder from the lowly tailor caste, both of which would have been considered shortcomings anywhere else but in the progressive Swaminarayan faith. His spirituality shone through in spite of insurmountable problems, and he clarified the role of Akshar in Swaminarayan philosophy. For those who understood this philosophy, he promised, “I will take away your robes of illusion and clothe you in robes eternal.”
- Shastri Yagnapurushdas , known as Shastriji Maharaj, was the third spiritual successor. He displayed his intellectual and divine powers from childhood. He never compromised on the truth and remained firm in his principles. He left the Vadtal diocese to propagate Bhagwan Swaminarayan’s philosophy of Akshar Purushottam. To further this philosophy, he founded the BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha as a formal organization in 1907 CE. Beginning with just five sadhus and a few devotees, he erected five mandirs and worked tirelessly to spread Bhagwan Swaminarayan’s message. He appointed Yogiji Maharaj and Pramukh Swami Maharaj as the next successors of Bhagwan Swaminarayan’s spiritual lineage.
- Sadhu Gnanjivandas was the fourth spiritual successor. He was initiated into the sadhu fold at the age of 16 and was called ‘Yogi’ by everyone because of his transparent divinity and abundant joy. He established special children and youth centers to involve youths with satsang. Yogiji Maharaj initiated many youths into the sadhu fold, forming an educated core for the organization’s spiritual and humanitarian activities. His spontaneous joy, unassuming humility, and unflinching faith in God and the goodness of each individual captivated thousands.
- Sadhu Narayanswarupdas is popularly known as Pramukh Swami Maharaj and is also referred to as ‘Swamishri’ by devotees. He is the fifth spiritual successor and President of the BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha. As a sadhu, he leads an austere life without any personal wealth or belongings. His profound love for God rises beyond any borders of nation or race. He is the inspirer of all BAPS spiritual and humanitarian projects, from mandirs in the United States to medical camps in India. His belief in the power of prayer and his affinity for all people are the foundations of his leadership. He has traveled to thousands of villages and towns and sanctified thousands of homes with his visits. He still meets devotees everyday despite his age and continues to personally inspire and lead people towards better lives.