Bhagwan Swaminarayan realized early on in His travels as Neelkanth Varni that Hindu dharma was moving further away from roots in the Vedas. Faith, morality, spiritual practices, and rituals rooted in the Vedas were being replaced with superstition, adultery, substance abuse, animal sacrifices, and the oppression of women and weaker members of society. Bhagwan Swaminarayan targeted each element one after another.
Sorcerers and black magicians would extort money and ask for people’s wives in ransom for economic stability, financial gain, and sound health. Bhagwan Swaminarayan and His sadhus first attacked these evil elements in society. Traveling from village to village, Bhagwan Swaminarayan and His sadhus educated people about faith in God and following basic dharmic codes, or niyams, to prosper in life.
When Bhagwan Swaminarayan arrived in Mangrol He ran into one such sorcerer, Magniram. Magniram had been looting and oppressing the local villagers with his supposed black magic and supernatural powers. When he learnt that the villagers were attending Bhagwan Swaminarayan’s assemblies in large numbers and were not coming to pay respects to him, he threatened to invoke evil spirits to harass Bhagwan Swaminarayan. His threats fell on deaf ears. Bhagwan Swaminarayan smiled and spoke to him of changing his ways and worshiping God with bhakti and faith. Magniram tried to use his supernatural powers and black magic on Bhagwan Swaminarayan and His disciples, but he failed miserably. The Goddess Sharda, whom he prayed to, explained to him the greatness of Bhagwan Swaminarayan and advised him to ask for forgiveness and to accept Him as his Bhagwan. Magniram realized his mistake and surrendered himself and his disciples at Bhagwan Swaminarayan’s feet. He later became a sadhu and traveled far and wide to extricate villagers from the enchantment of sorcery and blind faith.
Bhagwan Swaminarayan revived niyams that had been lost with generations of immoral practices. These niyams helped sadhus and devotees follow a path with fewer hindrances to spiritual redemption. He encouraged people to consume a vegetarian diet, to treat every woman except their wife as a mother, sister, or daughter, and to stop substance abuse of opium, alcohol, hashish, and other narcotics. He taught the Kathi and Koli devotees that it was unacceptable to use force to steal, loot, and oppress people in their villages. These niyams created an environment that fostered brotherhood and harmonious coexistence instead of violence and animosity.
Bhagwan Swaminarayan greatest initiative to revive spirituality was the gift of bhakti. He brought about a renaissance in the bhakti sampraday. While many followers of bhakti sampraday acharyas in Gujarat had taken to adultery, animal sacrifices, and intoxicating themselves with alcohol and narcotics, Bhagwan Swaminarayan’s bhakti renaissance was based on 5 major principles:
1. Bhakti is a means for moksha for everyone.
2. Bhakti is based on dharmic codes.
3. Bhakti is to be performed by believing one’s self as the atma and not the body.
4. Bhakti is to be offered to the manifest or present form of God and His gunatit sadhu.
5. Bhakti is based on the worship of murtis.