It was past midnight when Bhagwan Swaminarayan appeared before him. Quickly he got up, sat in a lotus posture and contemplated on the Lord. Within minutes his soul departed. At that moment, one sadhu, Ramcharandas, was suddenly awakened by the dazzling brilliance that filled the place - the Swaminarayan Mandir at Gondal, Gujarat. He shook the others out of their sleep. At once they all saw what he had seen: Swami Gunatitanand had passed away. No more would he talk to them, bless and comfort them, as they had been accustomed to all those years. Their hearts were filled with a vacuum and cramped with an intense grief.
The sad news spread like a forest fire through the town. Soon the mandir teemed with devotees and prominent citizens. They walked around his body in silence, bowed their heads and wept. In the early hours of the morning the Swami's disciples bathed his body, adorned it with new saffron clothes, bedecked it with garlands and gently placed it in a decorated palanquin.
The long cortege started from the mandir, chanting God's name and inching through Gondal's streets to the banks of river Gondali where he was cremated. The bones that had defeated the flames were washed with holy water, deposited in a copper urn and buried nearby. On that place a beautiful shrine called Akshar Deri was constructed by King Sangramsinhji of Gondal. Today, a majestic three pinnacled mandir, built in 1934, stands over it.
In 1867, on the day Swami Gunatitanand passed away, he was what he had always been; a humble sadhu and an ideal devotee of God. Even though he was without wealth, property or academic distinction, people from all walks of life paid homage to his shrine, because he had gifted them all with the eternal knowledge of atma and God. Today, hundreds of thousands pay homage to his shrine annually.
He was born in a small mud-house at Bhadra, a little village in Gujarat. It was on a full moon day of Ashwin month (Sep-Oct) in A.D 1784. A pious sadhu, Swami Ramanand, named him Mulji. Right from early childhood he showed clear signs of extraordinary spirituality.
Once, when he was five, his mother found him rocking her youngest son, Sunderji, and whispering something into his tiny ears. When she enquired, he replied, "I will become a sadhu and will also inspire Sunderji to walk that path."
At another time when he was engrossed in chanting God's name his father discouraged him. He said, "Childhood is meant for playing and not in worshipping God. So postpone it till old age." Mulji's wise reply touched his father's heart, "Everyone shall die one day, not knowing when and how. And who knows whether one shall live upto a ripe age. That is why one should never delay the supreme good of worshipping God to a future time. A time which may never arrive."
One day in 1809, while watering his fields, he felt an irresistible urge to meet Bhagwan Swaminarayan. Immediately, diverting himself from all worldly activities, he left his home, his family and village for good. He met Bhagwan Swaminarayan who initiated him into the monastic order in 1810. He was given a new name, Gunatitanand Swami. During his initiation ceremony Bhagwan Swaminarayan revealed, "This Mulji is my choicest devotee. He is my eternal abode. He is Aksharbrahma in person."
Committing himself to the five great vows of non-lust, non-covetousness, non-taste, non-attachment to family members and non-pride, he moved from man to man, house to house and field to field, spreading the redemptive message of Bhagwan Swaminarayan till the very end of his life. He weaned people from addictions and superstitions raising their economic standards and making them fearless. He telescoped their visions beyond material horizons to spiritual realms. And he redeemed them of their moral and spiritual poverty, nourishing their souls to perfection.
His attachment and love for Bhagwan Swaminarayan was unsurpassingly unique. Every move he made, every word he spoke, every thought he conceived were in tune with the commands and wishes of Swaminarayan.
Once, he went to a village called Juna Savar with a group of sadhus. There, Ugo Khuman, the chieftain, was extremely hostile to them. Forsaking all respectable rules of hospitality he and his people battered the sadhus using foul language and raining brutal blows with spiked sticks. Even though thus treated and driven out of the village, the sadhus did not hurl even a harsh word of retaliation. Although their bodies were bruised and beaten, their hearts remained unbeaten, for, virtue is like a flower which is most fragrant when crushed. When they learnt that Ugo was childless, Gunatitanand Swami and all sadhus prayed to Bhagwan Swaminarayan that he be blessed with a virtuous son. All this he did because of his love for Bhagwan Swaminarayan who had commanded, "You shall not only forgive the abuses and beatings of evil people but also wish them well."
He was in constant rapport with Bhagwan Swaminarayan. But his devotion for Him was so profuse that he longed to see Him in person, again and again. Once the Lord was to pass by a certain spot after midnight. To behold Him, the Swami stood under the eaves for many hours, inspite of rain, wind and drenched clothes, before he caught a vague glimpse of the Lord passing hurriedly by.
Of his attachment with Bhagwan Swaminarayan he had himself said, "Like the fish in water I do all activities remaining immersed in God. Were I to forget Him for even a moment it would be like a fish out of water; I could not survive."
In A.D. 1827, Bhagwan Swaminarayan appointed him as the head of the Swaminarayan Mandir in Junagadh, Gujarat. On that momentous occasion He commanded all his disciples to keep the Swami's company and hear his discourses for one month every year. This would ensure them continuous spiritual progress. He also revealed at that time that Swami Gunatitanand was the means to ultimate redemption.
His discourses were simple but invariably enlightening. Doubtless he loved silence but his greater love was to sing aloud the glories of God, for he knew that it pacified the turbulent mind and calmed the restless soul of anyone who heard it. And had the humans before him been immortal he would have gone on discoursing till eternity, for he spoke of eternal values, of God and His Sadhu, of immortality of the soul and vanity of sense pleasures.
His words were so sweet and selfless, true and helpful, that thousands thronged to hear Him. They were so effective that even enterprising youngsters became ascetics and lay down their lives for God and society.
Even people of different faiths came to listen to him to seek his guidance, for he not only had respect for all religions but loved everyone, equally and whole-heartedly. This was natural for him as he saw God in everyone and in everything. No wonder that the Muslim ruler of Junagadh frequently heard his solace-giving discourses.
If his discourses were effective, the way he lived was even more inspiring. He ate simple food, wore simple clothing, lived in a simple shelter and his mattress was no better than the bare floor.
He was never concerned for the welfare of others. And although privately soaring in the highest spiritual realm, his eyes never overlooked the earthly needs of the people. He cared for and provided both in abundance.
His blessing had made the blind see, the diseased healthy, the poor rich and on one occasion raising a poor woodcutter, Ba-ud-din to the height of the King's Prime Ministership. Even today the Ba-ud-din College in Junagadh is a proof of this event. More than this, his touch had revived the dead. He had, thus, performed many miracles but only when necessary, and that, too, to help people towards a more righteous and devotional living.
For him real miracles constituted in sublimating the base or primitive nature of human beings, vitally necessary to bring about peace both within and without. He accomplished this without any aid from 'White-papers' or conferences or declarations or proclamation concerning peace. Swami Gunatitanand succeeded in bringing about such transformation en masse. He turned hardened sinners into humble devotees of God. They, too, abstained from intoxicants, adultery, gambling, stealing and violence.
Through his gracious efforts thousands realised the greatness of Bhagwan Swaminarayan. This was his greatest work, the culmination of all his endeavours. Gunatitanand Swami had trained more than 300 sadhus and raised many of them to the most exalted spiritual state of an eternal loving communion with God. He accomplished this in a very special way. He moved amongst them but did not interrupt. He supervised, guided, nudged, pointed, directed but only when required. And even this, he did without seeming to do so. He did it effortlessly.
This was so because his life spoke louder than his loudest words. What he said was just the surface of what he practised. Once the head of a renowned mandir of Tarnetar came to meet him. The Swami at that time was sweeping the mandir square. He met the Swami and asked who the head of the mandir was. The Swami told him that he would meet him in the assembly hall. When he was gone, the Swami washed his hands, entered the hall and took his seat. The other head became speechless. Slowly he uttered, "But just now you were sweeping…" The Swami replied, "He is the real head who serves."
This incident occurred when he was 76 years old, when he had already served his office as the head of the mandir for 36 years. Even the smallest service he did was unto God. He held it in highest esteem and did with utter humility. He never considered it below dignity to perform any menial task.
Swami Gunatitanand shouldered many administrative responsibilities but that did not stop him from touring and preaching in the village extensively and untiringly. He undertook his last tour when he was 82 years old. Many had gathered to bid him farewell. Some how they felt that the Swami would not return and they became very sad. The Swami consoled them and gave a last bit of vital advice. Then he turned his back and whilst mounting his horse his turban fell down. He remarked, "That rider doesn't return whose turban falls down." The devotees inner fear of the Swami's not returning intensified. Their hearts broke but the time of last farewell had arrived. He gave one last look at the magnificent mandir which he himself had shaped to perfection, in which he had stayed for 40 years, 4 months and 4 days and gently trotted away.
Through the villages he passed, he provided solace to the distressed and uplifted the fallen. At long last he reached Gondal. There he met Abhainsinh, his staunch devotee, who told him that he wished to donate land to the Swaminarayan Mandir at Junagadh and that he would give in writing the next day. Swami Gunatitanand cautioned him, "Please get it now. Tomorrow may never arrive."
That very night Bhagwan Swaminarayan appeared before him. Quickly he got up, sat in a lotus posture and contemplated on Him. Within minutes his soul departed.
Whatever he did was to please God, to please Him and Him only and that too only to please without expecting anything in return.
Today, Swami Gunatitanand's spirit of work and devotion is being perceived in His Divine Holiness Pramukh Swami Maharaj who has carried his message to distant lands, to the five continents of the world. Wherever he moves people revere him as someone very special, the devout followers hold him as the very form of Swami Gunatitanand and for Bhagwan Swaminarayan he is His choicest devotee.