|He was 40 years older than Maharaj, yet he obeyed Him implicitly.
Even the smallest of commands was carried out to the letter.
That is why Atmanand Swami is respected as the embodiment of obedience.
The whole assembly stared in amazement as Shriji Maharaj picked up a garland in His right hand and began spinning it around one finger like the Sudarshan Chakra. Where will the garland land? Who will it fall upon? Everyone watched in anticipation. Just then, the garland flew from Maharaj’s hand and landed directly in the lap of Atmanand Swami. He picked up the garland and touched it to his eyes in deep reverence.
Brahmanand Swami spoke out, “Maharaj, praise be to Atmanand Swami! He is an appropriate recipient of the garland. Because, like the garland that revolved on your finger, Atmanand Swami’s life in Satsang is pivoted around your wishes.”
Atmanand Swami, who even today is recognised in the Sampraday as the embodiment of obedience, was originally a native of Utwad village in Marwad. He was born in 1743 (V.S. 1799) and with an intense desire to embrace God, he renounced his worldly ties and set off on a pilgrimage. He met Ramanand Swami first and then in the village of Meghpur had his first darshan of Bhagwan Swaminarayan. He was so overcome with devotion at this darshan that even at the age of 60, he pledged his allegiance to the 20-year-old Sahajanand Swami.
Once, after touring in the region of Valak, Atmanand Swami arrived on the outskirts of Gadhada. Since he had no permission to go for Shriji Maharaj’s darshan in Dada Khachar’s residence, he camped for the night in a garden. He sent a request for permission to see Maharaj. Maharaj complied, saying, “Let him come here in the morning to beg for alms.”
So in the morning, accompanied by Tadrupanand Swami, Atmanand Swami entered Dada Khachar’s residence and shouted the begging call, “Narayan Hare! Sachchidanand Prabho!” Maharaj heard them and sent Nath Bhakta to bring them to Him. When they arrived, He met them with deep affection and fed them.
Then, out of the blue, Maharaj asked “Who are you at present?” Faced with such a vague question without any prior reference, Atmanand Swami replied, “Maharaj! We are your servants… we do only as you instruct.”
Maharaj was pleased with Swami’s instant reply. Shriji Maharaj always respected this aged, senior, knowledgeable and virtuous sadhu as His guru-bhai (i.e. initiated by the same guru). Sometimes Maharaj would address him as ‘Bhai Swami’ and sometimes as ‘Vrudh Atmanand Swami.’ Throughout the Satsang, he was known as ‘Bhai Atmanand Swami.’
Once, Maharaj asked the sadhus, “Stand up if you have never asked for anything from anyone for your personal use?”
One sadhu stood up, but Maharaj reminded him, “On one occasion you had asked for a needle and thread from Vela Luhar of Pipaliyana.”
The sadhu recalled the occasion and humbly sat down. Who would now dare to stand up? Is there anything unknown to the all-knowing Lord?
After a few moments of silence, Atmanand Swami stood up. With folded hands, he said, “Maharaj, I have not asked for anything from anyone for my personal use.” Everyone awaited with eager anticipation to see Maharaj’s response. Maharaj confirmed, “Yes Swami, you are right. You have not asked for anything from anyone.”
Atmanand Swami had a deep aversion for worldly things, disliked pampering his body and avoided all luxuries.
Once, Muktanand Swami and Atmanand Swami were touring Marwad with a group of sadhus. For three days they did not get any food. On the fourth day, a Brahmin, seeing these virtuous sadhus invited them to his house for a meal. Muktanand Swami requested the Brahmin, “Please do not, even accidentally, add ghee to the khichdi, since we have a vow not to eat it.” The Brahmin agreed, made the khichdi and having offered it to the Lord, requested the sadhus to take their seats so that he could serve them. Thus, after three days, these sadhus would now be able to break their fast. As the Brahmin served, the sadhus chanted the Swaminarayan mantra. Then, suddenly, from one corner a shout was heard, “I can smell ghee! It seems that ghee has been added to the khichdi.”
All the sadhus were shocked for it was the voice of Atmanand Swami. Muktanand Swami quickly approached the Brahmin and learnt that he had added ghee only to the khichdi offered to the Lord. Then he had mixed this khichdi with the rest. Muktanand Swami thought deeply and assessing the situation declared, “Sadhus! All of you eat the khichdi. I will bear whatever atonement Maharaj specifies for breaking this vow. But if we do not eat, this devoted Brahmin will be disappointed.” Everyone ate except Atmanand Swami, demonstrating his strict adherence to Maharaj’s commands. When Maharaj learnt of this incident, He praised both sadgurus, saying, “One has intense enthusiasm to obey all commands and the other knows how to protect the pride of Satsang. So, both are to be praised.”
Atmanand Swami toured extensively to spread the message of Satsang and unless ill, he never used any form of transport. And such was his disregard for his own body that after bathing he never wiped himself dry. As a result, he suffered from many skin infections on which little insects used to lodge and thrive. If an insect happened to fall off from the boil it was feeding on, he would pick it up and replace it, saying, “Here, this body is your food!”
Once, Gunatitanand Swami undertook the task of serving him. They were touring in the region of Bhal. Gunatitanand Swami arranged for a cart to take them via Gadhada to another village. They left in mid-afternoon and the cart driver was in a hurry to return home. So he sped along, disregarding the stones and bumps along the dusty road. Such reckless driving led to the two passengers being rocked from side-to-side and to-and-fro within the cart. It was a very uncomfortable ride and Atmanand Swami suffered more because of the friction on his boils. He questioned the driver, “Why are you going so fast?”
“Swami,” he replied, “there are a lot of robbers on this route. And after sunset I fear they may attack me. Hence I’m hurrying so that I can return home before dark.” Hearing this, Atmanand Swami said, “Then stop this cart of yours!” The driver stopped and both passengers got off. Swami said, “I am Atmanand. You turn around and go home.” With this, Atmanand Swami started walking. The cart driver repented and pleaded but Atmanand Swami did not relent.
Thus, at the age of 75, in the intense afternoon heat and bare-footed on the rough terrain of Kathiawad, Atmanand Swami’s tolerance of bodily discomfort revealed his elevated spiritual state of atmanishtha. Walking in these rough conditions caused blisters on his feet and his boils to burst, yet he did not utter even a sound in complaint.
When they reached the next town, Gunatitanand Swami prepared some hot water, bathed Atmanand Swami and treated his wounds, giving him much relief.
Pleased with Atmanand Swami’s high spiritual state, Shriji Maharaj often graced him with prasad and His footprints and directed others to learn from his example.
At the age of 90, Atmanand Swami walked from Dholera to Gadhada for darshan of Maharaj in His final days on earth. He always remained immersed in spiritual bliss.
After Maharaj returned to Akshardham, Atmanand Swami spent most of his time in Vagad. He was approaching 100 years of age.
Even new teeth had appeared in his mouth. Whenever he attended the festivals at Vartal, Acharya Raghuvirji Maharaj would accord him the utmost respect.
Once, in the town of Nadiad some sadhus accompanied Raghuvirji Maharaj on some visits to the homes of devotees. At everyone’s insistence, Atmanand Swami also went along. At one house, a chair had been arranged for Swami – but the ladies were too close while doing darshan. The very next day, Swami refused to go to any home visits and sent a strong message to Raghuvirji Maharaj saying, “Your Father (Bhagwan Swaminarayan) has given us vows of celibacy and you arrange home visits in which we sadhus have to sit in the midst of women – and that too on chairs! So from today I won’t come.”
Such was the resolute force behind Swami’s words that Raghuvirji Maharaj was unable to make him change his mind. Only when he had made suitable arrangements to the liking of Atmanand Swami did he relent. So, even at the age of 100, Swami’s insistence on the observance of Maharaj’s commands was strong and fearless.
Atmanand Swami often stayed at Aniyali, near Vagad. He was now 116 years old and often wondered why Maharaj had not yet taken him to Akshardham.
Once, Aksharbrahma Gunatitanand Swami visited him from Junagadh. So, Atmanand Swami said, “Swami, I have a great desire to hear your talks. You are like a king and have a huge following. In comparison, I am a mere pauper. So how can I keep you in this small mandir here? And if I come to Junagadh to seek your company, the local water is too hard for me.”
Gunatitanand Swami was pleased by Atmanand Swami’s devotion and decided to stay at Aniyali. The next day, Atmanand Swami revealed to Gunatitanand Swami his innermost worry, “Swami, please explain to me why Shriji Maharaj has not yet taken me to Akshardham?”
Gunatitanand Swami explained clearly, “Swami, you have not yet accepted Maharaj as the Supreme God. If this belief is firmly established, Maharaj will take you to Akshardham.” Then, Gunatitanand Swami explained Maharaj’s supreme glory to him. In the end, Atmanand Swami confessed, “Upto now I believed Maharaj to be on par with Shri Krishna. Only today I have come to understand and believe Maharaj as the supreme form of God – Purushottam Narayan. Swami, today you have indeed blessed me.” Continuing, Atmanand Swami said, “You are truly Gunatit. Upto now you have been silent.”
Then, Gunatitanand Swami recalled one occasion, “Swami, you may not remember, but once in the Akshar Ordi (Maharaj’s residence in Gadhada) a discussion on Maharaj’s supreme glory was in progress. You arrived and queried how such comparisons of deities can strengthen one’s faith. At that time, Maharaj told everyone not to speak and said that you would not be able to understand at present. In the future, our Sadhu will explain to you.”
Atmanand Swami was overcome with emotion. Having now fully understood Maharaj’s true form – the Gunatit Sadhu, he was overjoyed. Daily, he had been giving prasad to Gunatitanand Swami, but today, he said, “Now the river will not flow in the wrong direction. Today you give me prasad from your bowl.” He persuaded Gunatitanand Swami to give him prasad and said, “Now the river is flowing in the correct direction.”
A few days after these events, on 21 June 1860 (Jeth vad 6, V.S. 1916), Atmanand Swami passed away and entered Akshardham.
His compilation of the divine episodes of Maharaj are popular in the Sampraday as Bhai Atmanand Swamini Vato.
Translated by Sadhu Amrutvijaydas