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This Sharad Punam, 1 November 2001, marks Aksharbrahma Gunatitanand Swami's 216th birth anniversary. To understand his immense glory we offer our humble tribute and devotion by considering the period's harsh contemporary life.

On Chaitra Sud Purnima, Samvat 1883 (1827CE), Bhagwan Swaminarayan appointed Aksharbrahma Gunatitanand Swami as the mahant of the Junagadh mandir. He remained the mahant till Samvat 1923 (1867CE). On leaving the mandir on Bhadarva sud 6, he retrospected, "Shriji Maharaj had placed the mandir in my charge. From then till today I have looked after it for a span of 40 years, 4 months and 4 days." During these years he visited the villages in the Junagadh district, known as Sorath. After Shriji Maharaj returned to Akshardham in 1830, Swami nurtured and consolidated Satsang among the devotees in the Sorath region. Thereby, he imparted to them Shriji Maharaj's divine bliss. To appreciate the enormity of this task, of his success in managing the mandir's affairs and thus realise that only Aksharbrahma Gunatitanand Swami could fulfil Shriji Maharaj's wish, we need to consider the hardships that he faced. This is only possible by having a glimpse of the life and conditions then prevailing in Gujarat generally and the Junagadh region specifically. Though he returned to Akshardham in 1867CE, in the foregoing essay we shall regard the period between 1830 and 1872 as Gunatitanand Swami's times.

Junagadh State in 1880

Situated in the south-west region of Kathiawad, the Junagadh state encompassed over 3,800 sq. miles. In the early 19th century, this state was divided into 20 Mahals (sub-district): 1) Una, 2) Sutrapada, 3) Patan, 4) Veraval, 5) Chorwad, 6) Maliya, 7) Keshod, 8) Vanthali, 9) Balagam, 10) Sil, 11) Mahiyari, 12) Kutiyana, 13) Vadaal, 14) Jetpur, 15) Bhesan, 16) Visawadar, 17) Bagdu, 18) Mangol, 19) Ranpur, 20) Khadiya.
The city of Junagadh being independent, did not belong to any sub-state. The city's former names provide an interesting insight to its historic character.
A Sanskrit aphorism lists the ancient names: Manipur, Chandraketupur, Raivat and Pauratanpur.
The story of Manipur is not available. The second was named after King Chandraketu, who was of the Surya dynasty and worshipped Shiv and Narayan. Pleased with his devotion, the deities instructed him to reside on Mt. Raivat. Here on the remains of Manipur he built Chandraketupur. Shiv then resided in a nearby shrine named Bhutnath Mahadev, while Narayan resided as Damodarrai in the mandir next to Damodar Kund. Both shrines are important tirths even today. The names Girinagar and Purvanagar are also found on ancient rock inscriptions. Additionally the more recent names are also found: Jirnadurg, Jirangadh and Junagadh. Jirna or Juna means old. Durg means city and gadh means fort.
In his Statistical Account of Junagadh (1880), Major J.W. Watson notes, "even today, a villager will say, 'I am going to gadh tomorrow.' The whole word 'Junagadh' is not pronounced." A kirtan of the Swaminarayan Sampraday also uses the same word: Chãlo santo jaiye gadh june re.

In 1872, (five years after Gunatitanand Swami's return to Akshardham), a census by the colonials recorded a total population of 380,921 in the state. Hindus comprised 82.5% and Muslims 11.50%.
The majority of the Hindus consisted of castes and clans noted for their militant temperament: Ahir, Khaant, Koli, Kathi (Wala & Khuman), Mer, Mahiya, Hati, Rajput and a mixture of others - Gandharva, Girnara, Sompara, Patiyala, Gadhiya, Unewal Brahmins, Sorathi Vania and Lohana. This gives us an inkling of Swami's efforts in transforming those with volatile temperaments. His success is reflected in the figures.

The table on the next page details the number of followers of various sects then prevalent, as noted in the 1872 census:


40.7% of the total

28.2% of the total
Followers of
other deities
Jain or Shrawaks

It is noteworthy that from the 11 divisions, after the Vallabh, the Swaminarayan had the greatest number of followers. This adds weight to Swami's statement to Raghuvirji Maharaj, "I have consolidated Satsang among the devotees in Sorath such that I can fill the Junagadh step-well with their heads."
Added to the devotees in the Junagadh state, there were those in other areas of Kathiawad: Dhrangadhra (figures not available), Nawanagar (today's Jamnagar, with 11,768), Porbandar (47) and Bhavnagar (50,861). To obtain a figure of the total number of followers in the Swaminarayan Sampraday, the number of those in Kachchh, Gujarat, Burhanpur and Khandesh would have to be added (figures not available).

The main rivers of the state comprised: Bhadar, Uben, Ozat, Hiran, Saraswati, Machundri, Singada, Meghal, Brajni and Raval. None had bridges. Therefore, during the monsoon, many were unfordable. Swami and the sadhus usually spent this period in the mandir. In the absence of piping, water was hauled from wells. Watson notes that water was then available at depths of only 6 to 10 feet. However this water was not healthy for everyone. The heavy concentration of minerals rendered it difficult to digest causing various ailments.

In the absence of tar-macadam, the roads were of dirt, which turned to mud during the monsoon. This also hampered travelling during the monsoon. There were two major roads from Gujarat to Kathiawad. One skirted the southern coast from Gogha-Mahuva-Una-Prabhas-Mangrol-Porbandar to Dwarka. The other, inland road linked Wadhwan, Sayala, Bhadla, Sardhar, Rajkot, Jetpur to Junagadh. Both passed through the pristine, yet dangerous countryside. Travellers faced several possible dangers; of dacoits, baharwattias (outlaws) and wild animals.

Wild Fauna
Watson noted a surprising variety of wild animals. Those which posed a danger to travellers, especially to those travelling by foot, included: the Asiatic lion, leopard, cheetah, lynx, hyena, wolf, manis and jackal. Even today, shepherds and farmers are occasionally attacked by lions and leopards in the areas surrounding Mt. Girnar.

Natural Calamities
Besides wild fauna, natural disasters also took a toll on people's lives.
Famine, floods and epidemics such as cholera, plague and influenza often decimated the population. Swami cites tuntyu (influenza) in Swamini Vato (Ch. 2/187). One incident of a particularly heavy monsoon correlates with that mentioned by Watson.

In 1850, after celebrating Janmashtami in Junagadh, the stalwart devotee Lalabhai returned home to Upleta. Here, Indra, deity of rain, appeared to him and demanded three pieces of cloth. Being a staunch disciple of Swami, Lalabhai replied that without Swami's permission, he was unable to gift the cloth. Indradev then threatened him of sweeping away his village with heavy rain. Lalabhai remained undaunted. The wrath-filled Indradev then struck with a massive downpour. Simultaneously in Junagadh, Swami chanted the Swaminarayan mantra to deliver Lalabhai from the calamity (Dave, Vol. I pp.265-6). Watson noted, "In 1850 very heavy rain fell in the Junagadh districts, and many villages were washed away by the rivers."
The peasants further suffered from marauding bands of looters as well as the tax imposed by the Nawab of Junagadh and the village chiefs. This steeped the farmers in such penury that often they had no grain for themselves. The table below illustrates the levels that existed in society and the poverty each experienced.

1 Copper,
Wheat, rice, ghee, milk, fruit and sugar, Women do not cook, servants employed. Personal dwelling, cart/carriage, houses, cattle, land &/or orchard. Women: silk, gold-lined fabrics, golden jewellery.
Men: thin clothes, silk or cotton turban.
2 Copper, brass Food as above, Women cook. Personal dwelling, horse or milch cow, buffalo. Some own a small orchard. Women: Cotton fabrics, simple jewellery
Men: thick cotton clothes.
3 Copper, earthenware Bajri* & jowar* rotla, vegetables, Grind corn, Womencook, collect firewood & dung. Rented dwelling, job or hard labour. Both men & Women wear thick cotton clothes.
Women: silver jewellery.
Men: tie a simple cloth on head.
4 Earthenware Staple diet of jowar. Women cook. An example of this is Bauddin, the Muslim boy who gifted some firewood to Swami. Swami blessed him, he entered the Nawab's service and built the Bauddin College, which is still functioning in Junagadh. Under tree or simple hut. Women do all sorts of labour work or beg. Less clothing, which is tattered, jewellery of brass or copper. Men tie cloth on head.


* bajri - millet-Pennisetum    typhoides


  * jowar - Great millet-Andropogon    sorghum

  * kodra - Paspalum    scrobiculatum

The majority of Swami's disciples probably belonged to the second group and a few to the third. Swami himself only ate bajri rotlo and buttermilk once a day. This is attributed to his extreme detachment and observance of niswad vartaman - vow of non-taste. However, the meals for the mandir's murtis were not much different. This consisted of bajri rotla and lentil dal. Vegetables and sweets were offered only rarely. Swami once revealed in his sermons, "When we begged alms in the whole of Vartal (located in the relatively richer area of Gujarat), we barely received two rotlas of kodra* and some barley flour." (Swamini Vato. Vol. II 13/71.)

In the midst of : such heart-rending poverty, fear of looters and wild animals during travelling, the unhealthy water and climate of Junagadh, its Muslim rule and the acrimonious opposition from the Nagar Brahmins, who were Shaivites with high ranking positions in the Nawab's court, Gunatitanand Swami developed the mandir and spread the Satsang among all sections of society. Like Bhagwan Swaminarayan before him, Swami lived and coalesced with the people. This, to such an astonishing degree that by merely glancing at the bajri grain donated to the mandir, he would name the donor devotee! During calamities he would offer alms from the mandir's grain store to the disciples. He eradicated superstition, blind faith and addictions from their lives. By transforming notorious baharwattias such as Valera Varu into ideal bhaktas, he released society from their chronic harassment and depredations. His saintliness won the heart of even the Muslim Nawab, who regarded him as a true aulia- God-realised sadhu. The crown of his life-long endeavours was that he taught brahmavidya to his sadhus and disciples.
His profound saintliness coupled with God-realisation and by his uninhibited extolling of Bhagwan Swaminarayan's true glory and greatness as Purushottam Narayan, he helped disciples attain jivanmukti - God realisation during life. Despite the harsh living conditions, such experience of the manifest God was at the root of the Sampraday's rapid success, reflected in the 1872 census. This wrought an overall calming effect and harmony in Saurashtra and Gujarat in the latter half of the 19th century.

Source references:

(1) H.T. Dave. Gunatitanand Swami, Vols. I & II. Swaminarayan Aksharpith, 2nd. ed., 1977.
(2) Swamini Vato, Parts I & II.
(3) Major A.H. Watson. Statistical Account of Junagadh. Bombay. Education Society's Press, 1880.
(4) Shambhuprasad Desai. Saurashtrano Itihas. Rajkot. Pravin Prakashan. 3rd. ed., 1990
(5) B.G. Vaghela. Bhagwan Swaminarayan nu Samkalin Lokjivan. Amdavad: Swaminarayan Aksharpith, 2nd. ed., 1988

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