|The Shikshapatri presented by Bhagwan Swaminarayan to Governor Sir John Malcolm, currently preserved in the Bodleian Library at Oxford University.
On 26th February 1830, an historic meeting took place between Bhagwan Swaminarayan and Sir John Malcolm, Governor of Bombay.
Governor Malcolm, one of 17 children of a poor family, was commissioned by the directors of the East India Company at the age of 13.
From this humble beginning, he attained the rank of Major-General in the military and his diplomatic skills were recognised by his appointment as Governor of Bombay from 1 November 1820 to 1 December 1827. Thus, John William Kaye writes in The Life and Correspondence of Major-General Sir John Malcolm, “He left the country of his adoption having attained if not its highest place, the highest ever attained by one who set out from the same starting point.”
As the Governor of Bombay, Sir Malcolm had political responsibility for Gujarat, Kathiawad and Kutch. He endeavoured diligently to eradicate the evils of robbery, murder, sati, and female infanticide.
He believed that lasting reform to rid society of these evils could best be achieved, not by use of force, but by the reasoned persuasion of enlightened and respected Indian leaders.
In Governor Malcolm’s territory of political responsibility, Bhagwan Swaminarayan’s teachings had improved public order and discipline – an effect which British administrators in the region appreciated and reported to their superiors and friends. For example, Mr. Williamson, Collector of Baroda, reported to Bishop Reginald Heber that “some good has been done among many of these wild people by the preaching and popularity of the Hindu reformer Swamee Narain.”
David Anderson Blane, acting political agent at Rajkot from 1828-30 informed Governor Malcolm about the good work and positive influence on the people of Bhagwan Swaminarayan. In tune with his objective, this explains Governor Malcolm’s great desire to meet with Bhagwan Swaminarayan.
Mr. Blane must have been well acquainted with Bhagwan Swaminarayan, for in his letter of invitation to meet the governor, he addresses it to him as “Most respectable and wise” and signs it “from his friend”.
Thus, despite ill health, Bhagwan Swaminarayan consented to the meeting, which took place at the residence of Mr. Blane in Rajkot.
Amidst an atmosphere of mutual respect, Governor Malcolm enquired if Bhagwan Swaminarayan or his disciples had been harmed under British rule. Replying, Bhagwan Swaminarayan informed the governor that “every protection was given by all the officers in authority.” In fact, Bhagwan Swaminarayan had received a warm welcome in areas under British control and had even been donated land for building a mandir in Amdavad.
At the end of this meeting, Bhagwan Swaminarayan presented a copy of the Shikshapatri to Sir Malcolm. The Shikshapatri, containing Bhagwan Swaminarayan’s moral, social and spiritual codes for all devotees, was thus a most appropriate gift – one that would enlighten the governor about how Bhagwan Swaminarayan had been so successful in creating social order and harmony.
This copy of the Shikshapatri presented by Bhagwan Swaminarayan to Sir John Malcolm is presently preserved in the Indian Institute Library, a part of the Bodleian Library at Oxford University (see photograph). It was donated to the Indian Institute Library by Thomas Law Blane, member of the Madras Civil Services in the 1820’s and 1830’s and younger brother of David Anderson Blane. It seems that the elder Blane, who had arranged and was present in the meeting, had preserved the Shikshapatri until his death in 1879, when his younger brother donated it to the Bodleian Library.
This manuscript of the Shikshapatri is one of the oldest copies of the text preserved. It is a small, hand-sized manuscript in book form, measuring 5½ x 3½ inches. It contains 166 pages, with six lines of writing per page. There are five pages without text. The material used to write on is paper and the manuscript is protected by a cloth binding that is folded over and tied shut. On the fly-leaf the following unsigned inscription is written in English:
Presented by Swami Narain, a reforming saint in Guzerat. It is a detail of the duties of his disciples upon different subjects but not so full as the Manu Dharma Shastra to which he refers for what he may have omitted. He forbids all cruel punishments whatever. The shlokas are in Sanskrit but the commentary is written in Guzerati.
This copy of the Shikshapatri was scribed by Nilkanthanand Muni in 1830, and contains some interesting additional material. First is an eight-verse hymn to Shri Narayan by Dinanath, followed by an eight-verse hymn to Shri Radha Krishna by Shatanand. At the end of the Shikshapatri is a Gujarati hymn by Muktanand Muni.
The Shikshapatri, containing 212 verses in its final form, was completed by Bhagwan Swaminarayan in 1826 (Maha sud 5, Vasant Panchmi, Samvat year 1882) at Vartal.
Having observed the decline in morality and social harmony, Bhagwan Swaminarayan worked for many years to improve the situation. His methods were highly successful and the Shikshapatri is a distillation of His experience. It is one of the primary scriptures of the Swaminarayan Sampraday and provides a sound framework on which moral, social and spiritual integration of society can be achieved.
Its 212 verses provide a summary of duties for one and all and is both rational and progressive.
It reveals that devotion to God, righteous living, detachment from worldly pleasures and a knowledge of one’s true form as the atma (soul) is vital for spiritual progress.
Bhagwan Swaminarayan has instructed His devotees in matters of health, hygiene, dress, diet, etiquette, diplomacy, finance, education, friendships, morality, habits, penance, religious duties, celebrations and other areas.
The codes are applicable to devotees of all stages and walks of life – young or old; men or women; married, unmarried or widowed; householder or sadhu.
So that devotees remain constantly aware of their duties, Bhagwan Swaminarayan has instructed them to read it daily. Thus, even today, thousands throughout the world sincerely live by the injunctions of the Shikshapatri.
Shikshapatri in 29 languages
Written originally in Sanskrit verse, early manuscripts of the scripture were accompanied by commentaries in Gujarati. The first English translation was published by Professor Monier-Williams, Boden Professor of Sanskrit at Oxford University. The Shikshapatri has been published in 29 languages:
11. Modern Hebrew
12. North Sotho
15. South Sotho