|The virtue of brahmacharya is the stem from which many noble virtues branch. Brahmacharya involves not only physical continence but also control of the mind. India's history is full of examples of men who have achieved this ideal. In this article we review the determination with which some of the virtuous men upheld their vow of brahmacharya.
Prior to India's Independence, Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad Of Vadodara often invited scholars from home and abroad to deliver scholarly lectures at his Lakshmi Vilas Darbar. Once he invited a German professor to talk on character. As the speaker approached the dais, the darbar spokesman gave a brief introduction of the listeners. He narrated a story from the Ramayan about Lakshman's character. He then added that the gathering belonged to such a lofty cultural tradition. When the spokesman finished, the professor thanked the Maharaja for inviting him and added that to such an audience he had nothing to say! He then returned to his seat!
The story that awestruck the professor concerned Lakshman's superhuman control over his senses. Such a person is known as jati. This facet of Lakshman's personality was revealed after Ravan abducted Sita. While Ravan was flying to Lanka, Sita dropped her gold ornaments to leave a trail. When Bhagwan Shri Ram and Lakshman came across an earring, a bangle and an anklet, Ram questioned Lakshman whether he could recognize any of them as belonging to Sitaji. Lakshman replied:
"Nãhãm jãnãmi kundale nãhãm jãnãmi kankane,
Noopure chaiva jãnãmi nityam pãdãbhivandanãt."
"I do not know the earring nor the bangle. But I recognize the anklet for I bowed at Sitaji's feet everyday." (Valmiki Ramayana, Kishkindha Kand 6-22)
Such incredible control of the senses (indriya saiyam) stunned Shri Ram. Incredible because the three of them, Ram, Sita and Lakshman had roamed the forests in exile for fourteen years and yet the latter only had the darshan of Sitaji's feet. Hence Lakshman is one of the foremost jatis in the Hindu Sanatan Dharma.
Jati, with two synonyms, Yati and Brahmachari, comprise two types: the married, like Lakshman and Shri Krishna, and the Bal Brahmacharis.
The Bal Brahmacharis observe brahmacharya from childhood, hence Bal. In ancient Hindu tradition such jatis include Hanumanji and Shukdevji of the Shrimad Bhagvatm. Relatively recent examples include Bhagwan Swaminarayan, His three thousand paramhansas and Ramkrishna Paramhansa.
In the 19th century many men resolutely renounced worldly enticements and marital opportunities to become Bhagwan Swaminarayan's ascetic jatis. One notable example was of 33-year-old Ladudan Barot, a bard genius who had left home at a young age to study poetry in Kutch and later enthralled Maharajas in Kathiawad. Soon after the Lord initiated him as Brahmanand Swami, a young woman named Mojbai arrived with his family from Khan village, his birthplace in the Sirohi district of Rajasthan. She had betrothed herself to him when he was very young. In reply to her requests for him to return home, Brahmanand Swami composed instant kirtans for eight days through which he informed Mojbai that the true, lasting wedlock in life was with God, everything else being ephemeral. So effective were the sentiments that they transformed her heart. She happily consented to his wedlock to God and returned home. Years later, an incident reflected the prowess of his 'jatihood.'
Once the Nawab of Junagadh warmly welcomed Shriji Maharaj in a grand procession through the city. One of his ministers being, a fierce dissenter of the Sampraday, set a full-blooded stallion, used as a stud in the Nawab's stables, loose in the procession. He hoped the stallion would turn wild on seeing the mares ridden by the Kathi chiefs alongside Shriji Maharaj, thus resulting in chaos and dispersion of the procession.
Brahmanand Swami instantly gleaned the grim outcome, approached the stallion and touched his forehead. The excited horse calmed down immediately. He 'calmed' to such a degree that for the rest of his life he shied away from mares, and thus proved worthless for the Nawab's stud farm!
Like Ladudan, another Bal Brahmachari on his way to becoming a sadhu encountered a similar enticement. A beautiful servant of a king, with a potful of gold offered herself to him. On the pretence of attending to a call of nature he beat a hasty retreat! Shriji Maharaj initiated him, naming him Govindanand Swami.
Brahmanand Swami and Govindanand Swami are just two of the over two thousand paramhansas initiated by Shriji Maharaj, all of whom were jatis.
To those unfamiliar with the Hindu Dharma, the concept of brahmacharya for the married may sound paradoxical. However, the Hindu scriptures assert that a married man who controls his senses and remains loyal to his wife is deemed a brahmachari - ek nãri sadã brahmachãri. The devout poet Tulsidas, author of the Ramacharitmanas, has extolled this moral principle in verse:
"Pardhan patthar jãniye parstri mãt samãn,
Itnese Hari nã mile to Tulsidãs jamãn."
"Regard wealth other than your own as stone and a woman other than your wife as a mother. If then you do not attain God, Tulsidas will become your surety (to attain God)."
This lofty tradition has been upheld sincerely over the ages in India both by Maharajas and the citizens.
Many Rajput Maharajas have been renowned for their high morality and fidelity. Around 1670, an extremely handsome Rajput Maharaja, named Chhatrasal, ruled Bundelkhand in Madhya Pradesh. Once a prostitute named Pyaribai invited him to her house. As a ruler he could not refuse social invitations from his subjects. At her house, when she started behaving in an immoral manner Chhatrasal remarked, "Rather than crave for another son accept me as your son." Pyaribai fell at his feet.
A similar morality existed among the Kathis of Saurashtra. Sura Khachar, the tall, well-built, married Kathi chief of Loya accepted the Swaminarayan Sampraday at the young age of twenty-six. Once the chief of Jasdan village invited him on a social occasion. The chief being a fierce dissenter of the Sampraday, decided to blot Sura's character. At night he sent a prostitute to his lodgings. When Sura opened the door he gleaned the women's intentions. Drawing his sword he growled, "Take one more step and I'll behead you." The woman fled. Sura then galloped away to Gadhada. When he entered Dada Khachar's darbar grounds, Shriji Maharaj commented to the assembly, "Here comes our jati."
Hindu Dharma's avatars revere such control over one's senses and desires. In the Bhagvad Gita (7-11) Shri Krishna declares, "I am that desire which is in accordance with the principles of Dharma." Bhagwan Swaminarayan, in Vachanamrut Gadhada II-33, reveals that God has a special benediction for those who observe brahmacharya and accepts their service. Amazingly this seems to be true for those men whose behavior at times may not conform to other social norms. We glean this from the lives of two Kathi leaders in the early 19th century.
Jogidas Khuman was a notable outlaw and rebel, who harbored a grievance with Maharaja Wajesinh of Bhavnagar during the decade from 1820 to 1829. With his gang members he often raided, pillaged and looted Wajesinh's villages. Yet he never touched the womenfolk. Once, when he visited Gadhada to attend the mourning of Jiva Khachar, Dada Khachar's uncle, Shriji Maharaj questioned him about why he had once filled his eyes with chilli powder!
Jogidas replied, "I had once glanced at a beautiful woman. Later this pained me intensely, for my name is Jogidas - the servant of jogis (stalwart yogis). As such this act tainted my name. To punish my eyes I flung chilli powder in them."
Despite his warring nature and rebellious pursuits, his high morality pleased the Lord.
The second Kathi whom Shriji Maharaj considered a jati was Bhan Khachar, the chief of Bhadli, a village near Gadhada. He often harassed Dada Khachar, a stalwart amongst the Lord's devotees. Bhan Khachar often harvested and stole Dada's crops growing on a patch of disputed land at Rampara, bordering Gadhada and Bhadli. Despite his malevolent behavior Shriji Maharaj once visited him. When devotees requested to know the reason, He replied, "To have his darshan since he observes unflinching brahmacharya!"
Being the omniscient Lord Purushottam, only He could know for certain that Bhan Khachar was observing brahmacharya, which by definition, along with the body, also includes mind and spirit. More striking is that as the Lord Himself, He used the word 'darshan' not only for a mere mortal but a non-devotee who did not love Him. This reflects the importance of brahmacharya in the Lord's heart.
Perhaps it can even be asserted that no matter where a person resides, yet if he sincerely observes brahmacharya, the Lord will seek and bless him. Towards the end of His forest sojourns, Nilkanth Varni visited Jetha Mer and his wife in Madhada, near Mangrol in 1799. Without any prior acquaintance Nilkanth Varni graced this jati's home. He revealed that He had arrived specially to give darshan and blessings to both, for they had been observing brahmacharya for one hundred births specially to have God's darshan!
Like the ideal Pativrata (see Swaminarayan Bliss, Feb. 2000), the ideal jati's heart is wedded to the Lord. When the call of the Divine beckons he will eagerly uphold His commands. Once Shriji Maharaj wrote a letter to test eighteen married devotees to renounce instantly and become sadhus. Some were Kathi chiefs, while some were businessmen. They promptly obeyed His command. Added to this, on their way to meet Him, they passed through Kadu, where young Kalyandas just happened to be on the verge of completing the final marriage rites with his bride. When he asked them where they were headed, they showed him the letter. To their astonishment he accompanied them, considering himself included in the Gujarati word 'vagere', meaning 'etcetera'! Later, when Shriji Maharaj sent all the eighteen back, Kalyandas remained. Maharaj initiated him and named him Adbhutanand Swami, for he had performed an adbhut (fantastic) act.
Similar is Govindram's case, another jati. He accompanied his wife Amrabai of Methan, near Dhangadhra, straight from their marriage to receive Shriji Maharaj's blessings. When the two knelt before Him, still in their marriage attire, He made an astonishing remark, "O you remembered God first after marrying. Brother and sister have both come together for darshan. I am extremely pleased!
When the couple returned home they looked at each other with questioning eyes.
"You heard what Maharaj said?" asked Amrabai.
"He blessed us as 'brother and sister'," replied Govindram.
"So be it," asserted Govindram.
And they lived as brother and sister from then on observing chheda vartman, literally, a vow of distance - not touching each other even while still living together in the same house.
Shriji Maharaj later lauded their marriage as "the open-doored marriage of Methan."
The jati then, has subjugated his mundane desires and is the embodiment of total control over his mind and ten indriyas. This renders him a sublime Indian personality worth emulating. Even jatis who observe jatihood as a dharma discipline, not necessarily to please God, receive His blessings, as did Jogidas Khuman and Bhan Khachar. Those whose goal is to please God are the ideal jatis. Besides divine grace, jatihood's most singular benefit is that it serves as a foundation for imparting sublime samskaras to the offspring of the married jati. This universal truth, revealed by Shri Ram, is today propounded by Pramukh Swami Maharaj, himself a stalwart jati. Furthermore, in an age when young people languish in materialistic pursuits, he continues to inspire hundreds of teenagers and young men to imbibe jatihood as ascetics, to offer exuberant devotion to God and serve society.