Like a tiny seed flourishing into a giant banyan tree the history of the BAPS Swaminarayan Mandir, Sarangpur, is an extraordinary story of human commitment and divine grace.
The mandir land and the whole village of Sarangpur had the privilege of being blessed by the visits and prayers of Bhagwan Swaminarayan, Aksharbrahman Gunatitanand Swami, 500 paramhansas and Brahmaswarup Bhagatji Maharaj. Awash with their divine blessings, the saga of Sarangpur Mandir, from acquiring the land to the making of the mandir, includes events of paramount effort, hardship, sacrifice and devotion.
The historic story of its creation started in 1910.
At the request of the local devotees in Sarangpur, Bhima Sheth, Nagji Sheth, Rukhad Khachar, Oghad Khachar and others, Shastriji Maharaj came to Sarangpur. Everyone pressed Swamishri, “Build a mandir here as soon as possible, and fulfil the dream of Shriji Maharaj.” Their request resonated with Shastriji Maharaj’s goal of building mandirs enshrined with the murtis of Akshar-Purushottam Maharaj.
But the biggest question was how to begin? Swamishri did not have money, stones and people to start off with. In other words, he had no resources at all to build a mandir in Sarangpur. In addition, there was stiff opposition against him and his work.
Despite all of this, Shastriji Maharaj proposed that a small hari mandir be established in Sarangpur for a few sadhus to stay. The devotees happily agreed and decided to purchase the house of Pitha Khachar. The price was Rs. 1,400. The house was bought with donations from Bhudarbhai Patel of Nagasar (Rs. 500), Jhaverilal Mehta of Nadiad (Rs. 500) and Ramchandrabhai Thakar of Nadiad (Rs. 400).
When the house was bought, Shastriji Maharaj’s opponents ridiculed him that with the Bochasan Mandir still incomplete how would he build another mandir? But the pages of history were to prove otherwise.
Acquiring Land for Sarangpur Mandir
India was under British rule at that time, and Sarangpur came under the jurisdiction of the reigning officials of Limbdi region. This meant that to build a mandir in Sarangpur the land had to be acquired from the authorities in Limbdi – which was a very challenging task.
During that time Shastriji Maharaj visited the town of Limbdi. The principle Diwan of Limbdi, Shri Jhaverbhai Nathabhai Amin, came for Swamishri’s darshan. He was deeply impressed by Swamishri’s divine personality. On learning about Swamishri’s plan to build a mandir in Sarangpur he said, “Swami, if you want to build a shikharbaddh mandir in Sarangpur I will tell Thakor Saheb of Limbdi, Maharana Dolatsinhji, to give you land.” Then Shastriji Maharaj described the incident of Bhagwan Swaminarayan riding his Rojho horse in Sarangpur and stated, “I want that sanctified land which lies to the south of the village.”
In this way Thakor Saheb agreed with the request of Diwan Jhaverbhai. Then, Jhaverbhai explained the matter to his tax officer Meghabhai Darbar in Swamishri’s presence.
Immediately thereafter, Shastriji Maharaj returned to Sarangpur. Soon, the Limbdi state land plotting official came to Sarangpur. Swamishri told the officer to demarcate and peg the land sanctified by Bhagwan Swaminarayan. The size of the marked land came to 24 acres, and in addition to that Swamishri had another eight acres peg-marked. The eight acres belonged to Shermiya Bapumiya of Dholka. The first kothari (administrator) of Sarangpur Mandir, Shri Prabhudasbhai Devshibhai, was a dedicated devotee. He had all the legal documents for the land registered under the Sanstha’s name. Thus, the land was documented for the purpose of building a mandir of Akshar-Purushottam Maharaj. For this accomplishment, Thakor Saheb Dolatsinhji Jaswantsinhji’s name became etched forever in the documents.
The historic event of acquiring the land occurred quietly and without any fanfare at 1.00 p.m. on 10 October 1911. It marked a divine and grand auspicious beginning of a milestone project.
Spirit of Dedication and Sacrifice
After acquiring land for the mandir Shastriji Maharaj wished to perform its foundation-stone laying ceremony (shilanyas) in a special way. He wanted to undergird the mandir foundation with the spirit of spiritual sacrifice. An incident that bears witness to this is as follows.
Once, Shastriji Maharaj was discoursing to a few devotees in the house of Pitha Khachar. Before him were Chhaganbhai Gagabhai Khatri of Limbdi, Merubha Darbar of Chachana, Bapubha of Adval and others. Then Swamishri addressed Chhaganbhai, “Today, I wish to raise funds for the construction of Sarangpur Mandir, and I would like you to make a pledge for dharmado.”
Since Chhaganbhai was of ordinary financial means he humbly requested, “Swami, of what significance will my contribution be for a project of such giant magnitude. The building of the mandir will require a lot of money, so how can my meagre contribution help in accomplishing the mandir?” Swamishri smiled and replied, “In spite of whatever you believe I want you to pledge some amount.” Chhaganbhai submitted to Swamishri and told him, “You write whatever you think to be appropriate. I will fulfil it by any means. You are everything for me.”
Shastriji Maharaj was greatly pleased with his faith and dedication, and he took a pen and paper and wrote Chhaganbhai’s name and
Rs. 35 next to it. Chhaganbhai was perplexed, thinking, “How can such a trifle amount enable one to complete the mandir?” Before he could voice his thoughts, the all-knowing Shastriji Maharaj revealed, “Chhaganbhai, why do you think so? Every single rupee of faithful devotees like yourself is equivalent to one crore (10 million) rupees for me. And the mandir will be completed with such donations.” And then Shastriji Maharaj gracefully looked upon Chhaganbhai and raised his hand towards the sky. Instantly, Chhaganbhai saw a beautiful, golden mandir studded with gems and golden pots shining atop the shikhars. He could not guage whether he was dreaming or experiencing samadhi. Chhaganbhai remained immersed in the divine darshan. Then, a few minutes later, Chhaganbhai opened his eyes and saw Shastriji Maharaj and the devotees seated before him.
Chhaganbhai prostrated at Swamishri’s feet and said, “Swami, you are the living form of God. Everything becomes possible when you so wish or desire. It is a privilege that you have accepted my seva, otherwise, you do not need any one of us.” Shastriji Maharaj simply smiled and cast his divine glance upon him. Swamishri thus declared that the mandir would be built with stones acquired through the dedication and sacrifice of devotees.
Divine Plans of a Divine Seer
About a hundred years earlier Bhagwan Swaminarayan had willed that a mandir be built in Sarangpur. But what was his concept of the mandir? Only one who had realized him and had an unbroken communion with him could know of it. Brahmaswarup Shastriji Maharaj had realized Bhagwan Swaminarayan and this fact revealed itself from time to time during the mandir-building project.
It was mind-boggling for many to even visualize what a mandir complex spread over 32 acres would look like when the first donor had pledged merely Rs. 35! But Shastriji Maharaj had divine insight. So, his vision and plans were divine. A devotee suggested to Shastriji Maharaj, “Let the planning for this mandir be done by Kora and Bhatt, a renowned architecture firm in Mumbai. To this, Swamishri replied, “There is no need for it.” And then he took a pencil and drew the plans for the entire complex on an ordinary piece of paper.
Once, when the local Collector saw the plans of Sarangpur Mandir made by Shastriji Maharaj, he was awestruck. He opined, “This plan is for a mandir costing Rs. 300,000. And you do not have any money at all!” In response, Shastriji Maharaj replied with faith and gusto, “Sir, that too will be acquired.”
For the mandir construction Shastriji Maharaj engaged a few sompuras (architects): Bhagwanbhai Sompura of Vadhvan, Liladharbhai Sompura, Vajeshankar Sompura and Muljibhai Mistry, who were all impressed by Swamishri’s divine insight.
Unique Enthusiasm in serving Akshar-Purushottam
Once the land was acquired in 1911, Shastriji Maharaj confidently embarked upon the mandir construction work with only a handful of selected sadhus and devotees. They included Nirgundas Swami, Purushottamdas Swami, Bhaktivallabhdas Swami, Aksharpurushdas Swami, Haridas Swami, Kothari Prabhudas, Kothari Shankar Bhagat, Harikrishnadas Swami and a few others. Additionally, at that juncture, the joining of seven sadhus, who had left the Junagadh Mandir, with Shastriji Maharaj marked a watershed event. Among the seven sadhus, the services rendered by 19-year-old Jnanji Swami (later known as Yogiji Maharaj) were amazing. They all plunged headlong with grit into the mandir construction seva, regardless of day or night and hunger or thirst.
The first step in the mandir building project was to clean and fence the land. At Shastriji Maharaj’s behest everyone started removing thorns, stones, shrubs and weeds, and planted cacti to make a fence. Some of the sadhus would walk to neighbouring villages to beg for alms. Then, every evening all would assemble at the home of Pitha Khachar and engage in singing bhajans and listening to katha.
The inspiring force behind their back-breaking seva was their passion and devotion for the Akshar-Purushottam upasana and guru Shastriji Maharaj. Swamishri travelled extensively, visiting villages and quietly bearing untold hardships for the sake of establishing upasana. He regularly punctuated his village tours with visits to Sarangpur. On arriving there, he would happily join the sadhus and devotees in the mandir construction work. When on site, one would find him with a cloth wrapped tight around his waist and another cloth wound over his head. During winter time he would tie his upper cloth with a knot to ward off the biting cold. When Shastriji Maharaj laboured for preparing the mandir-foundation pit he would press his teeth together and mightily strike the ground with a pickaxe. Subsequently, a large clod would be dislodged and mud would fly onto his body and clothes. After every strike Swamishri would exclaim aloud, “Bring the metal tubs [for carrying the mud away].” And all would briskly run to do the seva.
Many times the sadhus and devotees tried to restrain Swamishri from doing such laborious seva. To this, Swamishri replied with passion and pride, “Such seva of Akshar-Purushottam Maharaj can only be got if one has great merits, whereas those who have little merits do not get it.” And so saying, he would become absorbed in doing seva.
In Yogiji Maharaj's Words
Yogiji Maharaj once described Shastriji Maharaj’s monumental spirit of seva, “I have seen Shastriji Maharaj’s personal efforts in building mandirs. Once, prominent businessmen from Una town arrived in Sarangpur. They knew Swamishri because he had delivered discourses in Una about 25 to 30 years ago. When they arrived, the foundation work [for Sarangpur Mandir] was going on. At that time Swamishri used to stay in the Kachariya room. They came to his residence.
“The mandir foundations were only partly filled. So, at 7.00 a.m., that day, Swamishri tied a cloth over his head, got hold of a pickaxe and took about five to ten sadhus with him. I was standing on the verandah of Swamishri’s residence. The businessman asked me, ‘Where is Shastriji Maharaj?’ I replied, ‘The one who just left.’
‘But, he was carrying a pickaxe!’
‘Yes, that was Shastriji Maharaj.’
‘Really, the one who was carrying the pickaxe was Shastriji Maharaj!’
‘Yes, but why did you fail to recognize him?’
“Then I took them to Swamishri. Swami was in a field, giving instructions about which stones to use. The businessmen prostrated to Swami and said, ‘We met you on our way, but since you were carrying a pickaxe we took you to be an ordinary sadhu.’
“When the Kachariya house was being built Swami used to trample on the wet clay that was required for construction. The potter would be sitting on the plinth and Swami would give him a ball of clay and say, ‘Here, take this ball.’ The potter would apply the clay on the wall with his hands and Swami would keep supplying him with more. Subsequently, Swami’s feet would be soiled with clay. He would wet the clay again and mix it with mud. This could not be done without trampling it with his feet. Swami did this seva himself. This was how Swami did the mandir work; without concern for his body.”
In another incident, Yogiji Maharaj addressed a satsang assembly, saying, “In the beginning, Shastriji Maharaj himself would carry a pickaxe on his shoulder and dig the mandir foundation pit. At 5.00 p.m. he simply ate grams, salt and rotla. Buttermilk was not available. Sometimes, we used to beg for buttermilk in Sarangpur village. However, when Bhimji Kothari came to know that the villagers had given buttermilk to the sadhus, he had it stopped and ordered that the bandiyas [outcasts] should not be given buttermilk. The mandir was accomplished by begging and eating rotla. Everyone persevered with faith and patience. When Shastriji Maharaj made the Bochasan and Sarangpur mandirs there were no [devotees to help him] from Africa and Mumbai. The mandirs were built with the help of [a few devotees like] Ashabhai and Motibhai and through begging of alms.”
(Swaminarayan Prakash, June-2016)