Everything for the sake of Akshar-Purushottam Maharaj
The grand mandir in Sarangpur began to take shape due to the unity, faith and sacrifice of Shastriji Maharaj’s sadhus and devotees. However, some opponents distorted the minds of Limbdi Thakor Saheb, who had given the land for the mandir. They told him that the murtis of Akshar-Purushottam Maharaj should not be installed there. When Thakor Saheb told Shastriji Maharaj about not installing Akshar-Purushottam Maharaj, Swamishri looked with determined eyes and boldly replied, “Thakor Saheb! Whatever hardships and pains I have tolerated have been for the sake of Mahaprabhu Sahajanand Swami and Gunatitanand Swami. And, I have tonsured my head for the sake of Akshar-Purushottam. So, Bapu, my Lord is Shri Sahajanand Swami and Gunatitanand Swami, and their murtis will be installed in the central shrine of the mandir.”
Both Thakor Saheb and Kaka Saheb were stunned on witnessing Swamishri’s powerful form. Subsequently, Thakor Saheb folded his palms and humbly bowed before Swamishri, saying, “Swamiji, do as you think fit. Do not pay any heed to what I’ve said.”
On 8 May 1916 (Vaishakh sud 6) Shastriji Maharaj ritually consecrated the murtis of Shri Akshar-Purushottam Maharaj in the central shrine of Sarangpur Mandir. Loud hails of Akshar-Purushottam Maharaj filled the air. The invitation card for the murti-pratishtha reflects the culmination of the profound faith and efforts of Shastriji Maharaj and his disciples.
Shastriji Maharaj constantly nourished faith in the devotees by writing letters. But whenever antagonists made false criticisms about the Sanstha, the sadhus and devotees would become disturbed and worried. A year after the pratishtha of Sarangpur Mandir Swamishri wrote a letter in this regard to Kothari Bhaktivallabhdas Swami on 29 October 1917 from Purushottampura, “When someone demotes or criticizes us we will be victorious. The reason being, our failings and errors will be rectified and those who censure us will have to bear the sins [of doing so]! Finally, only truth will be victorious… Shriji Maharaj is the ultimate controller of infinite brahmands. Only he knows of those who have a good intellect or a bad one. We should behave and think for the good of all in all ways. To those who trouble us we should help them in return, but never retaliate. Because that is not the path of saintliness (sadhuta)… Presently, Shriji Maharaj and Swami are present before us, so we should do what pleases them. Whatever that has happened till now is due to their firm wish and day by day our growth is also due to their doership.”
Test of Faith
Many challenges came during the mandir construction in Sarangpur, which tested the faith and courage of all.
One day, devotees were hoisting a stone of the middle shikhar amidst chantings of ‘Akshar-Purushottam Maharaj ni jai, Shastriji Maharaj ni jai.’ The 150 mana (three tons) stone was being slowly raised with seven ropes tied to it. When the stone reached half-way a single rope snapped. Before anyone could do anything about it the second, third, fourth and finally the sixth rope snapped. Now the stone was hanging midway on only one rope. Everyone stood aghast. If the stone fell, it would break other sculpted stones lying on the ground. Immediately, Shastriji Maharaj was called and he perceived the situation in split seconds. Swamishri raised his right hand and said, “Now, the stone will not fall!” Then someone softly asked, “Should we slowly bring the stone down?” Swamishri replied with grit, “Why do you want to bring it down? Hoist it!” Then Swamishri turned to Soma Bhagat, who was standing besides him, and said, “Bhagat, climb onto the stone and tie the broken ropes together.”
Soma Bhagat, Aksharpurushdasji and others were Swamishri’s robust sadhus. They easily moved large Porbandar stones without any modern equipments. They served with pride and understanding, believing, “If we die while doing seva for Swamishri then our souls will attain Akshardham.” Thus, without a moment’s delay, the dauntless Soma Bhagat hurried to get onto the stone. Everyone was anxious as to what would happen. They feared that the stone would fall when Soma Bhagat got onto it. While everyone was entangled in doubts and fears Soma Bhagat climbed the mandir with alacrity and with a loud hail of ‘Shastriji Maharaj ni jai’ he jumped onto the stone. The stone lurched due to Soma Bhagat’s impact, and everyone below missed a heartbeat. Only two persons were calm and steady – Shastriji Maharaj and Soma Bhagat! Then in a matter of seconds Soma Bhagat balanced himself on the stone and tied the snapped ropes. All the while Swamishri was standing confidently with his right hand raised and eyes focused on Soma Bhagat. After his task was over Soma Bhagat climbed down and bowed at Swamishri’s feet. Swamishri raised him with both his hands and blessed him with profound joy and love. He then appreciated and praised him, “Glory to Soma Bhagat and honours to your bhakti!”
Today, even after 100 years, the boundless faith and spirit of seva of Soma Bhagat and others are still felt in the air at Sarangpur Mandir.
Pramukh Swamiji's Memories
After the murti-pratishtha rituals were over in 1916 the mandir complex was still incomplete. Only the sanctum-sanctorum (garbhgruh) was ready. Thereafter, work continued for the next four decades, but still there was pending work.
At that time, in 1939, a young sadhu was initiated by Shastriji Maharaj, who would later shoulder Swamishri’s work. The young sadhu was Narayanswarupdasji, popularly known and revered today as Pramukh Swami Maharaj.
After taking diksha he came to Sarangpur when he was 19 years old. At that time work on the mandir dome and stone arches between pillars was going on. Shastriji Maharaj’s living quarters comprised of a hut made of mud and wood. Swamishri built the mandir while living in this ordinary hut. When Narayanswarupdasji arrived, work on the sabha mandap, Shastriji Maharaj’s room and the passage was going on. On recounting the experiences of his times Pramukh Swami Maharaj once shared, “After becoming a sadhu I came to Sarangpur at Swamishri’s behest. During that time construction of the dharmashala was going on. In those times liquid lime was applied on the walls and floors. First, lime was sprinkled, then water was added to it and thereafter the surface was pounded and finally lime was applied over it. Lime was also used for plastering walls and floors. Swamishri engaged everyone in seva. When Vinayakrao Trivedi Saheb, a prominent devotee of Ahmedabad, came Swamishri also told him to pound the floor. The more the lime work was pounded, the stronger the floor became. I too had got the seva of pounding lime.”
On another occasion Pramukh Swami Maharaj narrated, “Shastriji Maharaj wanted the mandir work to begin at 7.30 a.m. daily. But the labourers always came late. After arriving they would smoke bidis and start work later. At 11.30 a.m. they would become restless. It was for these reasons that Shastriji Maharaj always insisted, ‘Never hire labourers.’ So, the sadhus and devotees used to do seva. Purushottambhai from Anand and devotees from Badalpur also worked on site. Keshav Bhagat, Chaturbhujdas, Revandas and others would join in the seva. They would cut stones and give them to the masons and artisans. Thus, along with carpenters and somapuras, we also had devotees and sadhus doing seva. I, too, would climb the scaffolding and hoist stones. Formerly, the stones were raised with ropes in Sarangpur, but later chain pullies were used. In my time pullies were in operation.
“At that time my body was lightweight and I was agile and energetic. So, I could easily move and climb on a scaffold. I had no problem in hoisting or pulling stones. I did that during the construction work in Atladra, in which a chain pulley was used.”
In 1946, Shastriji Maharaj appointed Narayanswarupdas as the kothari of Sarangpur Mandir due to his many humble and meticulous services. Despite 30 years having passed since the mandir’s inauguration, times were still hard for a kothari to run the mandir affairs. In this reference, Pramukh Swami Maharaj once revealed, “I was young when Shastriji Maharaj appointed me as the kothari. I came [to become a sadhu] while I was studying in school. So, I did not have any experience in running the social and administrative affairs. There was Bhaichand Sheth in Sarangpur. Swamishri told me, ‘He is your assistant and will write the accounts. You take care and get the work done from him.’
“In those times people used to donate either four or eight annas or one rupee, and those who were wealthy would donate at the most two to three rupees. Every month we got 25 to 30 rupees in donations. Shastriji Maharaj would receive donations by performing parayans and home visits during his travels in Gujarat. He would send them to Sarangpur.
“The work on the stone arches between the mandir pillars was going on at a snail’s pace. Simultaneously, Swamishri started the construction work of Gadhada Mandir. He had also commenced the construction of the haveli and big entrance gate at the same time. The foundation pit was first dug and later filled by sadhus and devotees. Once this was completed, the masons started their work. This was how Swamishri worked. We could barely manage to pay the wages of workers and artisans. On the other hand building materials, cement and iron had to be purchased. We used to bring the materials on credit from Rajab Alibhai, who had a shop in Botad. We also bought wood on credit from Jasani. Furthermore, Swamishri had started building a mandir in Gadhada. Subsequently, we had to face a lot of difficulties and problems, but Shastriji Maharaj had great courage and confidence. It is understandable that when one has money one can spend and do projects, but when there was no money, no means of monetary inflow, the Bochasan Mandir was incomplete, work in Sarangpur was still going on and work in Gadhada had commenced then how could one cope!
“This was the situation then, but Shastriji Maharaj’s works were such that everyone remained in high spirits. He would infuse courage and confidence in us in the smallest of things and also about money matters. He was born to give and disseminate the knowledge of Akshar-Purushottam. That was why he tolerated untold pains and difficulties in the face of opposition and accomplished his work.”
When Shastriji Maharaj started work on the grand entrance gate of Sarangpur Mandir in 1946, Narayanswarupdasji enthusiastically obeyed his commands to join in the seva. He was lean and agile. He tied a cloth on his head and helped excavate and later fill the foundations. He engaged himself in all types of minor and major sevas regardless of cold or heat and thirst or hunger. As a result he had become a little tanned and thin.
When he served in Atladra the heat from churning the lime had given rise to red spots on his body. Even then he paid no heed to his body and kept on churning the lime required for the construction work.
As kothari of Sarangpur Mandir, one of the many developments he made was building the electric powerhouse. The devotees had written ‘Ko.Na. 1949’, meaning ‘Kothari Narayanswarupdas, 1949’ on the powerhouse, in his memory.
After Shastriji Maharaj’s earthly departure Pramukh Swami continued his efforts for the progress of Sarangpur Mandir under the guidance and blessings of Yogiji Maharaj. Later, to fulfil the wish of Yogiji Maharaj, he built and consecrated a memorial shrine (Yagnapurush Smruti Mandir) to pay tributes to Shastriji Maharaj.
In the last 50 years, Pramukh Swami Maharaj has changed the face of Sarangpur through his unceasing efforts, guidance and blessings.
From 1911, the year the land for Sarangpur Mandir was acquired, to the present day, one observes in all the works of the Gunatit gurus that they have given tangible forms to the wishes of Bhagwan Swaminarayan and thus offered their supreme devotion to him. Today, countless sadhus and devotees sing, “Sadaiva Sarangpurasya ramie, Sumandire hi-Akshardham tulye…” (“Forever Sarangpur is beautiful and its mandir is like Akshardham…”).