Arrows of fire streaked across the sky as the sun's rays lashed the barren landscape. A feverish wind swept the dry river beds. It was summer in Gujarat. The heat was suffocating. Soon they came to a small lake. Soaked in sweat, the Lord decided that they should halt and continue in the evening when it would be cooler. He dismounted from his horse, but where was he to rest? He stood still looking around for a suitable spot. The Paramhansas realised that there was no adequate shade for the Lord to sleep under. A few of them began cutting branches off the trees, others ran to the lake to fetch water, some simply stood watching in bewilderment as to what was going on. Within no time they had constructed a small hut type structure; using their upper garments for walls and a ceiling. Then by soaking the clothes with water the air inside became cool.
The Lord was astonished. At their bequest he went in and lay down while outside the saints took turns to run to the lake to fetch water, to keep the clothes wet. The Lord tried to sleep, but each time he closed his eyes he saw the image of his saints standing outside under the scorching sun without any upper garment for protection.
Such devotion is only possible when one forgets one's own needs and merges into his beloved. The Paramhansas no longer felt the aches and pains of their bodies. When the Lord was happy Ð they were happy; when he was sad they were sad, when he was comfortable they were comfortable even under a burning summer sun!
When a man swears allegiance towards his master he does so for one of two reasons for Money or for Love. Those who do so for money, though they may be honest and loyal, can only give 90% of themselves, whereas those who follow for love give everything.
In 1826 Lord Swaminarayan had a historic meeting with Bishop Heber, the Archbishop of Calcutta. Heber noted in his diary, What a difference was there between his troop and mine! Mine neither know me, nor care for me; they escorted me carefully, and would have defended me bravely, because they were ordered by their superiors to do so, and as they would have done for any other stranger of sufficient rank... The guards of Swami Narain were his own disciples and enthusiastic admirers, men who had voluntarily repaired to hear his lessons, who now took a pride in doing him honour and would cheerfully fight to the last drop of blood rather than suffer a fringe of his garment to be handled roughly...
The Paramhansas endured many hardships, be it through the trials or abuse from demons; but they never flinched. The fabric of their love was illustrated when once the Lord announced that he was going to introduce more trials. Upon hearing this the Paramhansas simply folded their hands and said, 'Oh Lord! There is nothing that you desire which we will not adhere to! If you desire, we will sit in meditation and not allow our eyelids to blink, we will not take food or water, we will live on the peaks of snow-capped mountains with no clothes for warmth. If you so desire we will observe total silence. If you so desire... We hold the courage and belief that nothing, which is desired by you is impossible.'
Men of lesser substance would have become frustrated that, 'All you do is punish us with more trials! We didn't become sadhus for this...'
A wise man once said, 'Real loyalty endures incovenience, withstands temptation and does not cringe under assault.'
Their loyalty had endured, it had withstood and it certainly didn't cringe Ð suggesting it to be of the highest calibre.
Premanand Swami would sing with such love and devotion that one cold wintery night, Maharaj came and stood at his door to listen. In fact he couldn't pull himself away, such was the love of Premanand's affection. Only when it was dawn did he realise that he had been standing there all night!
Kripanand Swami suffered terribly when separated from his master. It is said that he would collapse in a faint and blood would ooze from the pores of his skin!
Adbhutanand Swami was thrice offered great wealth and beautiful maidens to take as wives if only he would exchange his saffron clothes for those of a householder. But not even all the pleasures and all the beauty in the world could untie the knot of enchantment which tied him to Maharaj.
These incidents, the trials, the abuse; all are testimony to their love for Maharaj.
However, there is one group of saints who, until now, have been unmentioned. In fact there are very few references for them in the annals of the Sampradaya. They were known as the ÔEkadmals'.
They were Paramhansas who were unable to endure the trials set by Maharaj. As a result, they shed the clothes of a Paramhansa for those of an Ekadmal. Yet, their story epitomised the type of love between Maharaj and his saints. Though they had left the fold; they could not leave Maharaj, thus they did not rush in a crazed frenzy to enjoy all the pleasures which they had been denied as Paramhansas. In fact, they continued to shun women and wealth just as before. They would travel in groups from village to village, singing and preaching the greatness of Shriji Maharaj. Despite everything, none blamed the Lord for their hardships and difficulties and their faith in him as the Supreme Godhead was as intact as ever.
But even though they still spread the glory of Maharaj and lived pure lives, the fact remained that in the eyes of the people, they were outcasts.
Thus, devotees would shun them and even refuse them food when they came to their village. Saints would ridicule them and at festivals they were made to sit far away from Maharaj. Sometimes, they were not admitted at all.
In the face of such humiliation they displayed great composure. They never harboured bitterness towards anyone, and humbly accepted the taunts and insults. For this pain was insignificant to the pain they felt in their hearts. Because they loved the Lord as much as anyone, yet as they were unable to obey his commands and thus had to leave him, the guilt and the separation never left them for a second. The pain, they knew, was to be a sentence which they would have to endure for the rest of their lives. Still they always craved for a chance to serve and to please the Lord.
Once, the Lord had a well dug outside Gadhpur. He wanted to have another dug, but all the saints and devotees were exhausted, no one was prepared to come forward for the task. Some Ekadamals heard about Maharaj's plight and they approached him. The leader of the group, Vishaalananad said, 'Lord, we have long awaited a chance to serve you again. Please allow us to do the job.'
Maharaj agreed. He too had been long awaiting an opportunity to give these poor Ekadamals some reward for continuing their devotion even after leaving the fold. Sixty-five Ekadamals set to work with great zeal. At last they had a chance to serve their master, just like the old days.
Seeing their enthusiasm to please him, Maharaj ignored public opinion and would daily go to inspect the work. He would take food for them and then personally serve them. They finished in 55 days. Maharaj was so pleased that he gave them all His footprints on their chests.
On the last day they requested Maharaj to attend their assembly. They formed a five-tier pyramid and began singing kirtans and clapping. This went on for two hours until the Lord finally called them down. They then gave Him little gifts which they had collected on their travels across the country. The Lord couldn't hide His pleasure. He lovingly embraced each and everyone of them and promised them, 'I now forgive you for all your shortcomings. I shall redeem all of you, be sure of it. You have my word.'
And so even their love was rewarded. 'Love is the greatest thing one can give to God; for it will also give ourselves, and carry with it all that is ours.'
They gave their all, be it less than others, and they were not forgotten.