Born as Ghanshyam in the small village of Chhapaiya in northern India, Bhagwan Swaminarayan incarnated in the midst of a troubling time for India. Society was plagued with social, moral, and spiritual problems and lacked fundamental dharmic values. On 3 April 1781, He was born to Dharmadev (also known as Hariprasad Pande) and Bhaktidevi (also known as Baladevi) as the second of three sons.
When He was just three, a famous sage named Markandeya Muni visited Dharmadev’s home and revealed that Ghanshyam would establish dharma on Earth, remove pain and misery from people’s lives, be famed all over, and lead people down the path of God. True to the astrologer’s words, Ghanshyam showed an affinity towards God and spirituality from a young age.
When He was a toddler, Dharmadev decided to test Ghanshyam’s instincts. He placed Ghanshyam in front of a plate with a gold coin, a small dagger, and a copy of the Shrimad Bhagavad Gita, each of these objects symbolizing a particular trade or occupation. As per tradition, if He reached for the gold coin, it meant He was destined to be a tradesman or entrepreneur, while the sword represented a warrior or a king and the scripture represented a religious scholar. Ignoring the more appealing and shinier objects, Ghanshyam immediately reached for the scripture. Ghanshyam’s choice signified that He would influence the hearts and minds of millions with His wisdom.
Bhagwan Swaminarayan took birth to reinstate the four values of dharma, satya, ahimsa, and brahmacharya. He displayed a commitment to these values from an early age. Whether young or old, Ghanshyam was a role model for all those with whom He came into contact. It was clear Ghanshyam possessed qualities that surpassed human characteristics.
Once, Ghanshyam was visiting a mandir close to His childhood home. He became so involved in the spiritual discourses that He lost track of time and did not return home. Realizing that Ghanshyam must be at one of the many nearby mandirs, Ghanshyam’s older brother, Rampratapbhai, went to search for Him. Upon meeting Rampratapbhai at the mandir, Ghanshyam asked him to wait until the discourse was over and suggested that in the meantime, he go for darshan at the mandir down the road. However, at the second mandir, Rampratapbhai saw Ghanshyam listening to discourses there as well. Rampratapbhai made his way to all of the mandirs in Ayodhya and was surprised to see Ghanshyam present at each one of them. Ghanshyam’s love for spiritual discourses was obvious from a young age, as was His spiritual prowess.
Through His many divine incidents, Ghanshyam revealed that the purpose of His avatar was to reestablish the ideals of Hindu Sanata Dharma. Once, Ghanshyam was swimming in Meen Lake with His friends when He noticed a fisherman emptying his catch into a basket. A strong proponent of ahimsa, Ghanshyam was pained to see the fish floundering for their lives. He mercifully glanced at the dead fish, and they immediately came back to life. The fisherman was infuriated and rushed at Ghanshyam with his net. With a snap of His fingers, Ghanshyam sent the fisherman into samadhi. In the trance, Yama, the God of Death, appeared before the fisherman and showed him that the fruit of his sinful action of taking innocent lives would result in him suffering in hell. The fisherman begged Ghanshyam for forgiveness. Seeing that the fisherman wholeheartedly repented for killing the fish, Ghanshyam compassionately brought the fisherman out from his trance. The fisherman realized the greatness of Ghanshyam, bowed at His feet, and vowed to never to kill again. Ghanshyam established many such Hindu ideals and values from a young age.
By the time Ghanshyam was ten years old, He mastered the Vedic scriptures with an authority many strive towards for their entire lives. He once accompanied Dharmadev to a debate in Kashi and was the only person able to offer an articulate and thorough explanation to break a tie between the senior Advaita and Vaishnav scholars. His impressive delivery on the merits of Ramunujacharya’s Vishishtadvaita philosophy captivated the minds of all the scholars present. This is but one example of how Ghanshyam championed the bhakti sampraday traditions of dharma, bhakti, gnan, aashro, and sharnagati.
Bhagwan Swaminarayan came on this Earth with a mission to establish ekantik dharma and liberate countless souls from the clutches of maya. Once, in the middle of a hide-and-seek game, Ghanshyam climbed atop a pipal tree and started gazing in a westward direction. The game was almost finished when one of His friends spotted Him far up in the tree, lost in deep thought. They called Him down and asked Him the reason for His steady gaze. Ghanshyam’s profound answer aptly explained the purpose for His incarnation. He said, “I was looking towards the west, where thousands of devotees are awaiting my arrival. They are waiting for me to come and establish ekantik dharma. They are waiting for their moksha.” In a few short years, Ghanshyam would leave home to satisfy the spiritual thirst of thousands of aspirants around India, later settling in Gujarat for the latter part of His life.