The mystic of all mystics, the siddh of all siddhs, the yogi of all yogis, Aksharbrahman Gunatitanand Swami incarnated as Mulji Sharma on Aso sud Purnima, Samvat 1841 (1784 CE). His parents Bholanath and Sakarba, received blessings from guru Atmanand Swami, prophesying, “Bhagwan Purushottam will incarnate at Dharmadev’s house in Sarvardesh (near Ayodhya) and four years later, His abode will incarnate at your place.”
Bholanath’s village was Bhadra near the river Und, not far from the port of Jodia, in north–west Saurashtra. Upon examining the child’s astrological signs, Bholanath’s astrologer revealed that, “He will be an eloquent speaker and spread Bhagwat Dharma.”
During childhood Mulji often spoke to Sakarba about Bhagwan Purushottam’s divine lila in Chhapiya, the village where Ghanshyam (Bhagwan Swaminarayan) incarnated. He could observe this from Bhadra. Once he requested Sakarba to sing bhajans about the yagnopavit samskar (the sacred thread ritual) since Ghanshyam was being invested with the janoi on that day in Ayodhya. When Mulji was given janoi, the ‘guru’ pandit advised him, as is customary, to go to Kashi to study. When Mulji refused, the pandit asked him the reason. Mulji replied, “Purushottam Narayan, at whose lotus–feet reside innumerable Kashis, will arrive here. Hence, what is the need for going to Kashi?” When Ghanshyam renounced home, embarking on His seven–year forest sojourns as Neelkanth, Mulji related this to Sakarba. During the next seven years he often described Neelkanth’s travels. This always amazed Sakarba, reminding her of Atmanand Swami’s prophecy, about Bhagwan’s abode incarnating as her son. To his little brother Sundarji, Mulji often divulged, “I am going to become a sadhu and will also make you a sadhu.”
Mulji Sharma first had Bhagwan Swaminarayan’s physical darshan on Kartik sud 11 (Ekadashi), Samvat 1857 (1801 CE), when He was given bhagvati diksha by Swami Ramanand, in Piplana. On this occasion when the two first met, Bhagwan Swaminarayan revealed, “This Mulji Bhakta is in constant rapport with me and in the future, will extol my glory. He is my very abode, Akshardham.” Two years later, when Bhagwan Swaminarayan visited Bhadra, He revealed to Bholanath, “Mulji is constantly in my service, but you can’t see that. He is my disciple since time immemorial. He has realised my form in all three states (physical, subtle and causal). He is Anadi Mul Akshar – the eternal Aksharbrahman.”
In Samvat 1866 (20 January 1810 CE), Bhagwan Swaminarayan held a grand yagna in Dabhan near Kheda, specially to initiate Mulji as a sadhu. During this ritual He revealed to the devotees, “I am extremely delighted to initiate Mulji Sharma, who is My Akshardham incarnate, in whom I dwell alongwith numerous muktas, and who is limitless and is My Akshardham” (Harililakalpataru 7–17–49,50). He named him Gunatitanand Swami.
On many occasions during His life, Bhagwan Swaminarayan revealed Gunatitanand Swami’s glory to His paramhansas and devotees. One such occasion was during the festival of Fuldol in Sarangpur. While playing raas and singing Kabir’s verse (not the first Kabir, but a later one), Bhagwan Swaminarayan stopped at the following stanza and asked two of his paramhansas, Muktanand Swami and Anandanand, about the identity of such a Sadguru:
“Millions of Krishnas join their palms,
Millions of Vishnus bow their heads,
Millions of Shivs meditate,
Millions of Brahmãs deliver knowledge,
And Sadguru celebrates the festival of spring.”
The two paramhansas replied, “You are that Sadguru. Who else could it be?” Bhagwan Swaminarayan then pointed His stick at Gunatitanand Swami and revealed, “That Sadguru is this Gunatitanand Swami and I am the supreme Purushottam Narayan. The composer of this Holi pada, Kabir, worshipped and addressed Aksharbrahman as Sadguru Saheb.”
During His lifetime Bhagwan Swaminarayan built six Vedic stone mandirs in Gujarat. In each He appointed stalwart paramhansas as mahants (heads), from His retinue of over three thousand ascetics. However, a question arose among the senior paramhansas about whom to appoint in Junagadh. Brahmanand Swami, a poet and senior paramahansa cautioned Him that conditions in Junagadh were very precarious and formidable, for it was a Muslim state managed by the Nawab, whose minions were Nagar Brahmins. The latter were absolutely averse to the Swaminarayan Sampraday and would pose great obstacles to the mandir’s activities. However, Bhagwan Swaminarayan confidently replied that He would appoint just such a formidable sadhu – Gunatitanand Swami. After Nawab Hamid Khan honoured and welcomed Bhagwan Swaminarayan in his palace, he requested Him to leave behind somebody like Him in Junagadh. On that occasion, He replied, “Ham jaisã rakhenge,” (I will leave somebody like me) and pointed to Gunatitanand Swami.
Since antiquity, Mount Girnar has been the abode of ascetics and yogis performing austerities. During Swami’s period, an ascetic performing tapas to please Dattatreya had the deity’s darshan. The ascetic requested for the bliss of Aksharbrahman by uttering the shlok lauding Akshar in the Gita (8/11):
“Those great sages who have renounced the bondage of samsar enter what the Vedas proclaim as Aksharbrahman. To attain this (Akshar), aspirants strive and observe brahmacharya.”
To the ascetic, Dattatreya revealed, “The bliss of Akshar that you wish is today manifesting as Aksharbrahman incarnate in Junagadh. Thousands of aspirants are flocking from afar for his darshan. Go to him for this bliss.”
The ascetic then assumed the form of a lion. One day when Swami was meditating on the edge of the jungle outside the city with some sadhus, a lion suddenly emerged from the jungle and sat a few feet in front of Swami. Sadhus bathing nearby shouted to warn Swami. Swami opened his eyes and looked at the lion. In turn, the lion then bowed several times with tears in his eyes. Then he turned towards the jungle. Continuing to glance back a few times at Swami, he disappeared into the dense vegetation. The sadhus then rushed to Swami and inquired about the lion. Swami revealed the above story. Then he added, “The ascetic will now leave his body and take birth in the Satsang. After deeply associating with the Satpurush, he will attain Akshardham” (Dave 2000 I:239–40).
Another similar case was of Naranji, a Brahmin who worshipped Shivji. To earn his grace he retreated to the Ramnath Mahadev shrine in the recesses of Girnar, near Bilkha. Here he fasted for three continuous days, chanting Namah Shivaay. On the morning of the fourth day, Shivji graced him with his darshan. The deity instructed him, “If you wish to attain Bhagwan manifest (pragat), go to Junagadh. There is a Swaminarayan mandir there. Go and meet its mahant Gunatitanand Swami. He will grace you with Bhagwan’s darshan.”
Naranji rushed to Junagadh. After inquiring in the Swaminarayan mandir he bowed to Swami. Without uttering a word, Swami took him up to the mandir. Indicating Bhagwan Swaminarayan’s murti, he divulged, “This is Sahajanand Swami, the Bhagwan that Ramnath Mahadev told you about and I am Gunatitanand Swami!” Swami’s antaryami revelation of his past elated Naranji, to the extent that he decided to spend the rest of his life offering bhakti by accepting Swami as guru.
Though he was an eternal siddh (realised), Swami once asked Bhagwan Swaminarayan about which of the four forms of sadhana he should focus on: to imbibe atmanishtha, to meditate, to serve the ill or do katha – deliver spiritual discourses. Bhagwan Swaminarayan replied that he should do katha. He reasoned that by katha, both he and the recipient would benefit spiritually. Thereafter, Swami placed greater emphasis on katha. Wherever he went he delivered dynamic spiritual discourses, lauding Bhagwan Swaminarayan’s glory as Purushottam Narayan. Moreover, his talks effectively castigated the mundane panch vishays (pursuits of the five senses: speech, touch, sight, taste and smell). His talks were noted by several gruhasth devotees and sadhus who accompanied him. These were compiled and published in the late 19th century as Swamini Vato. In the Swaminarayan Sampraday this text is considered as a commentary on the Vachanamrut of Bhagwan Swaminarayan. It contains the essence of the principles of sadhana, Ekantik Dharma and the glory of Bhagwan Swaminarayan. In his own words, Swami reveal that he had imparted brahmavidya to over 200 aspirants and nurtured the Satsang tenets to devotees numbering thousands. The British census of Saurashtra, in 1872, five years after Swami returned to Akshardham, testifies this and cites a total number of Swaminarayan devotees as follows: 151,399, divided in the following states: Junagadh (88,723), Bhavnagar (50,861), Dhrangadhra, Porbandar (47) and Jamnagar (11,768) (Source: Watson’s Statistical Accounts). Such a large number was the fruit of Swami’s katha in his
incessant tourings during his 82 year lifespan.
His foremost disciple to whom he taught brahmavidya and graced realisation of Bhagwan Swaminarayan, was Pragji Bhagat, a gruhasth tailor by varna. This was often spited upon and severely castigated – by senior contemporary sadhus in the Sampraday. However, Swami remained undaunted – Sthitapragna – in the words of the Gita (2/55). The societal shackles of varna did not play a role in Swami’s choice of a spiritual successor.
In 1867, at the age of 82, he returned to Akshardham. Prior to that, he covertly revealed to followers that “he would now live in Mahuva.” This meant that Bhagwan would now manifest through Pragji Bhagat of Mahuva. Thus, Bhagwan Swaminarayan’s manifestation on earth continued through His spiritual successors. Today HDH Pramukh Swami Maharaj is Aksharbrahman manifest, the fifth spiritual successor of Bhagwan Swaminarayan and the head of BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha.
At 12.45 a.m. on Aso sud 13, Samvat 1923, Bhagwan Swaminarayan appeared in divine from in front of Swami, who then circumambulated Him for some time. Then he sat in a lotus posture and returned to Akshardham. His body was cremated on the banks of the river Gondli, in Gondal, Saurashtra. A year later in 1868, Maharaja Sangramsinhji of Gondal State had a small shrine, named Akshar Deri, built on the spot. Since then devotees began to celebrate the Sharad Punam and Annakut festivals here. They witnessed and experienced many miracles and divine visions.
In 1934, Shastriji Maharaj built a beautiful, three–pinnacled mandir over the Akshar Deri. His successor, Yogiji Maharaj further increased the Deri’s glory and importance by advocating its mahapuja and circumambulations to devotees and wrote a booklet, Akshar Tirth. It has since attained the status of the most miraculous shrine in Saurashtra. Its unique and aesthetic shape has rendered it the symbol of BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha.
In the Sanatan Dharma, the principle of worshipping the foremost bhakta with Bhagwan, has prevailed since time immemoria: Uma–Mahesh (Parvati–Shivji), Sita–Ram, Lakshmi–Narayan, Radha–Krishna and Nar–Narayan. In the 12th century Nimbarkacharya first introduced Shri Radha’s murti with Shri Krishna (see p. 113). Similarly, in Samvat 1962 (1906 CE) Shastri Yagnapurushdasji (Shastriji Maharaj) first consecrated Aksharbrahman Gunatitanand Swami’s murti next to Bhagwan Swaminarayan in the central shrine of the Swaminarayan Mandir in Bochasan. Hence, the Sampraday became known as Bochasanwasi Shri Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha (BAPS).
Akshardham is the divine abode of Bhagwan Swaminarayan, who incarnated as Gunatitanand Swami. On 30 October 1992, His Divine Holiness Pramukh Swami Maharaj, consecrated the pink stone Akshardham monument in Gandhinagar. Another grander ‘Swaminarayan Akshardham’ is under construction in New Delhi, scheduled for consecration in November 2005. Both monuments are symbolic representations of the
The Need for Aksharbrahman in Sadhana
According to Bhagwan Swaminarayan, Aksharbrahman is needed for the jiva to identify with, in order to become like Brahman (brahmarup). Only when the jiva attains such a state does it become eligible to offer worship to Parabrahma (Shikshapatri 116). Shri Krishna also enjoins this principle in the Gita (18/54): one who becomes Brahma–rup, whose mind is always contented, who does not lament in any way, does not crave for any object, has equanimity for all living creatures, that person attains my supreme bhakti.
And to become Brahma–rup the jivas needs the manifest Aksharbrahman, who is the medium through whom they transcend maya, and who is also the medium to realise Parabrahma (Bhagvatam 1/1/1, Vachanamrut Panchala–7). And the manifest Aksharbrahman is known as the Param Ekantik Sadhu, to whom the jivas should resort, and in whom they should develop love and faith (Shvetashvatar Upanishad 6/23, Vachanamrut Vartal–3, 5, 11; Gadhada II–13).
Aksharbrahman in the Shastras
Isha Upanishad (5), Kath Upanishad (2/2/15), Mundak Upanishad (2/2/1,2,4,7; 11/3/2/1,9), Taittiriya Upanishad (Anandvalli 1), Chhandogya Upanishad (8/1/1,4), Bruhadaranyak Upanishad (3/8/1), Mahavakya Upanishad (3), Mahabharat (Udyog Parva 44/28–30, Shanti Parva 44/31, 206/13–19), Bhagvad Gita (8/3,11; 13/13–18; 15/6,16) and the Shrimad Bhagvatam:
“The cause of all causes, in which this universe looks like a paramanu (atom), and which comprises myriads of other universes, is called Aksharbrahman; which is the transcendent abode of Paramatma, the Supreme Reality in embodied form.” (3/11/40,41).
Aksharbrahman Gunatitanand Swami’s talks were self–realised. They reflected his state of spiritual realisation, saintliness and detachment from maya. Stalwart paramhansas such as Brahmanand Swami, Shukanand Swami and Nityanand Swami often praised his unflagging zeal in delivering sermons, likening them to Bhagwan Swaminarayan’s divine talks. A few short talks are listed below.
“Spoil ten million tasks but improve your moksha. But if ten million tasks are improved and moksha is spoilt, what has been achieved?” Swamini Vato (1/14).
“Whatever happiness there is in maya is not without misery. This, too, should be kept in mind.” (1/25)
“If a true Sadhu is attained and one does as he says, then the faults that would have taken tens of millions of births to overcome are overcome today (in this very birth).” (1/119)
“We know that we have love for Bhagwan. But Bhagwan and His Sadhu have greater love for us.” (1/196)
“That Bhagwan and Sadhu we wanted to attain through endless tapas, tens of millions of japa, vrat, donations and yagnas, we have attained today.” (1/294)
“There are many things to understand in Satsang. Of these, the main is upãsanã. Otherwise, observe dharma and study Vachanamrut and other shastras.” (2/166)
“One, upãsanã; two, ãgnã; three, company; and four, addiction to the shastras – these four should be consolidated firmly.” (4/22)