When Shastriji Maharaj began to build the Bochasan Mandir, there were many difficulties in finishing it. So the ceiling of Thakorji’s garbhagruha was done, but there were no shikhars, ghummats or ghummatis. Amid such difficulties, the work for Sarangpur Mandir started. Shastriji Maharaj was of such firm mind and said that it will be supreme. And in Sarangpur, he built a three-storey mandir.
Amid so many difficulties and a weak financial position, nobody would have the courage to lay even the foundations of such grand mandirs.
At that time, a senior and scholarly officer of the Gaekwad government came to Sarangpur. He said to Swami, “If the Gaekwad granted me a boon, I would ask for only a village, but would not be able to ask for more. But the work you have done, despite your financial difficulties and your devotees not being wealthy, of building three-storey mandirs, is amazing.”
Shastriji Maharaj said, “I am not doing this. It is all happening by the wish of Bhagwan Swaminarayan.”
In their homes, people struggle to renovate even their bathrooms. But, such was Shriji Maharaj’s power, and Shastriji Maharaj’s courage and working style. He placed everything on the shoulders of God and did the work.
At the time, Shankar Bhagat was kothari of Sarangpur. He was a great devotee. Very saintly and also worldly wise. Three kotharis from Vartal joined Shastriji Maharaj in his work: Shankar Bhagat, Jibhai Ranchhod and Prabhudas Devji. In Vartal, the kothari had many powers and comforts. But here, he had to lift stones, serve in the kitchen, go to the farm and do everything. In those days labour was relatively cheap. Labourers were paid 4 paisas per day. A good carpenter got 4 anas daily. The wages had to be paid, but there was a shortage of money. So Shankar Bhagat would write to Shastriji Maharaj.
When Shastriji Maharaj went on padhramanis, donations would be given – a rupee or two. Sometimes, if five were given, it was counted as a lot.
So, with the masons, carpenters and others to be paid Rs. 8-10, Shankar Bhagat would explain to them and convince them to wait till the next month for payment. This was the situation, yet the mandir work continued. Even the sadhus had to help in the construction site by carrying stones and bricks and doing other work.
I was young when appointed as the kothari of Sarangpur. I had come straight from school (to become a sadhu) and so I was not adept at social dealings. Bhaichand Sheth was there at the time. Swami said, “He will be your assistant and write the accounts. You take care and make sure things are done.”
In those days, we issued receipts for donations of 4 anas, 8 anas or a rupee. The wealthier gave 2-3 rupees. Monthly donations totalled 25-30 rupees. Shastriji Maharaj would tour in Gujarat (Charotar), conduct padhramanis and parayans, and would send the donations received to Sarangpur.
In Sarangpur, the local people would not give us even buttermilk. There was a lot of opposition and this work was done amid that opposition. We went to Lathidad for chhash (buttermilk) and Botad for jholi (alms). In Botad, an old woman would go ahead of us shouting, “They are 'bandias', so don’t give them anything.” Still, the sadhus begged for alms and from whatever we got, meals for the sadhus and labourers were cooked.
When Sarangpur Mandir was being built, Yogiji Maharaj went around a lot to beg for alms. He would beg the whole day and bring juvar flour, millet flour, magdal, about 20-30 kg, and then food could be cooked. That was the situation in Sarangpur. The food came from begging alms and money donations were used for the construction.
Swami delegated the responsibility for Sarangpur to me, but I did not know anything. Bhaichand Sheth would teach me. Once, I became overwhelmed. The account books didn’t tally – a difference of 2-3 anas. I thought that this was not right. If there are errors then what would happen? So, I didn’t want to continue. Then Shastriji Maharaj came and explained, and things worked out.
Slowly, the mandir work got done. Thakorji was consecrated, but the stone arches and other work continued slowly.
After the golden jubilee celebration (Shastriji Maharaj’s 85th birthday) in Atladra, Shastriji Maharaj stayed at Nandaji’s bungalow in Mumbai and gave discourses.
He had begun the work for Gadhada at the time. In Sarangpur, he began construction of the haveli and the main gate. The foundations were dug and filled by sadhus and devotees, then the masons began to work – this was his method. The labourers had to be paid, and building materials, cement, steel had to be bought. In Botad was Rajab Alibhai, a Muslim. Even today his descendants are there. We bought materials from him on credit. Another, named Jasani, supplied wood on credit. On the one hand we had no money to pay the labourers’ wages and also no money to pay for the materials. And the work for Gadhada was also started by Swami. All these difficulties piled up, but Shastriji Maharaj had great courage.
When you have money, you can do it with great fanfare, but with no money or income, the Bochasan Mandir incomplete and Sarangpur Mandir in progress, he started a third. Shastriji Maharaj sent the donations to Gadhada. Meanwhile, in Sarangpur, I ran up a hefty debt. The payment for stones, cement and wood was left. I wrote to Swami about the debt and that all the money was going to Gadhada. I was overwhelmed with worry. My worries increased. I stalled the suppliers but even after a year there was no money. So my worries increased.
I was troubled that we could not pay the suppliers, and still had to go to them to get more materials. It was embarrassing even to go. So I thought, let me go to Gondal. From there I went to Dwarika. There at the Gomti and everywhere, people asked for money. We said we were sadhus, so let us bathe free of cost. Then we went to Bet Dwarika and Bhadra. We had darshan at Gunatitanand Swami’s birthplace and bathed in the Und. Then we went to Rajkot and returned to Gondal. In this way about 15-20 days passed. Swami’s letter arrived. I told him, “Because of this I went on a yatra.” That was the situation then, but because of Shastriji Maharaj’s work, everyone was motivated. He gave encouragement in even the smallest things and also regarding money. His birth was for spreading the Akshar-Purushottam doctrine. So, no matter what the opposition did, he continued his work.