Kanam, a region in central Gujarat, is famous for its rich, peaty soil. During the 19th and 20th century, nonstop rainfall for seven to ten days was a common scene here throughout the monsoon season. However, for the sadhus from the Vartal Swaminarayan Mandir, located in the adjacent Charotar region, such adverse weather conditions in Kanam made it very difficult to travel around. So, Acharya Raghuvirji Maharaj of Vartal, after due thought, decided to permanently assign the Kanam region to Sadguru Upendranand Swami, who usually endeavoured there for spreading satsang. Sadguru Upendranand Swami was a blessed disciple of Aksharbrahman Gunatitanand Swami. By Gunatitanand Swami’s grace, he had eradicated all his inner weaknesses and continually experienced divine bliss in his heart. He propagated Gunatitanand Swami’s glory to several devotees of Kanam; one such devotee was Karunashankar Pandya, a learned Brahmin from the town of Dabhoi in Kanam. Karunashankar too, like Upendranand Swami, had visited Junagadh and personally experienced Gunatitanand Swami’s phenomenal spiritual greatness. In Junagadh, in the presence of Gunatitanand Swami, he had observed that satsang was as lively as in the times of Bhagwan Swaminarayan.
Ullasram Pandya, the central character of this article, was the grandson of this well-known devotee.
Ullasram Dulsukhram Pandya was an early exponent of and an eyewitness to BAPS’s providential rise. While the sun of the 19th century was setting, the dawn of the Akshar-Purushottam doctrine was breaking over the horizon of the new century. Ullasrambhai was a close observer of this momentous change. He championed the movement for the Akshar-Purushottam doctrine in manifold ways. Satsang was his pride and joy. Though satsang had come down to him as a family heritage from his grandfather, Karunashankar Pandya, he was initially unaware of Gunatitanand Swami’s glory. But when he was around eighteen, Shastriji Maharaj entered his life, and Ullasram dedicated the rest of his life in the service of the Akshar-Purshottam movement.
Ullasram was then studying at a high school in Vadodara. Around this time, Shastriji Maharaj too – as a bright young student named Sadhu Yagnapurushdas – was studying Sanskrit grammar in Vadadora under Pundit Rangacharya, a distinguished scholar of the Madhva philosophy. This proximity brought Ullasram closer to Shastriji Maharaj. As a result of this companionship, Ullasram was to develop reverence for Bhagatji Maharaj, become Bhagatji Maharaj’s ardent disciple, and lay the foundation for a future publication of his guru’s biography. His testimony about those years of his life were sourced from the past issues of Swaminarayan Prakash and his speeches. It is as follows:
“I came in touch with Shastriji Maharaj in 1891 CE (Samvat 1947). During those days, a senior sadhu named Murlidhardas and his group of sadhus lived at the Dabhoi Swaminarayan Mandir. Since Murlidhardas was very aged, he could not benefit the devotees of Dabhoi with his spiritual discourses. The devotees therefore sent a Brahmin named Damodar Parot with a letter addressed to Kothari Gordhanbhai and the Acharya of Vartal Mandir requesting them to send a purani to Dabhoi. The kothari and the acharya chose Yagnapurushdas – my guru Shastriji Maharaj – to go to Dabhoi. They suggested to him to stay under Murlidhardas’s commands and deliver discourses to the devotees’ satisfaction.
“During that period, I was studying English at a high school in Vadodara. But I had to return home because of my ill health in the rainy season. My home was just across the street from the Dabhoi Swaminarayan Mandir. Our family benefited immensely from the spiritual discourses and other occasions held there. Every day, during the month of Shravan, my father ritually offered tulasi leaves on the murti of Shri Hari while chanting the one thousand names of God mentioned in the Sarvamangal Vishnu Sahasranam. At that time, the Sarvamangal wasn’t available as thousand separate names but existed in euphonically combined form. So my father requested Shastriji Maharaj to help him separate the names. In the afternoon, my father would go to Shastriji Maharaj’s seat on the upper floor [of the mandir] where he used to contemplate for his evening discourse. While separating the names, Shastriji Maharaj used to talk about the divine powers of Gopalanand Swami, who was also my grandfather Karunashankar’s guru. He also talked about my grandfather’s visit to Junagadh along with Bhagwan Bhikha Patel of Mandala village, and about Gunatitanand Swami’s spiritual prowess that my grandfather experienced while he stayed there for 22 days in 1866 (Samvat 1922). Since my father could not write the separated names from Sarvamangal, I accompanied him as a scribe. In this way I, too, started sitting frequently with Shastriji Maharaj on the upper floor. The sadhus on the ground floor didn’t like this, but as Shastriji Maharaj was helping us in separating the names, they couldn’t forbid us from meeting him.
“Shastriji Maharaj’s nature and enthusiasm were such that he would always discourse to anyone who came to meet him. In the assembly, he would discourse on Bhagwan Swaminarayan being the cause of all incarnations. With fascinating examples and arguments, he would describe Bhagwan Swaminarayan’s glory as extolled by Gopalanand Swami, Gunatitanand Swami, Muktanand Swami and others as well as inspiring episodes from their lives. But in the presence of the local sadhus, he couldn’t talk extensively about Bhagatji Maharaj’s greatness. At noon, because I used to meet him privately for separating the names of the Sarvamangal Stotra, he would describe before me some episodes from Bhagatji Maharaj’s life. They were all so illuminating and telling that I began understanding the glory of Bhagwan Swaminarayan, Gopalanand Swami, and others in the true sense. I already knew about Gopalanand Swami’s greatness to some extent from my father and uncle as Gopalanand Swami was my grandfather’s guru since the time of Bhagwan Swaminarayan. But I wasn’t aware of Gunatitanand Swami’s greatness, which I came to understand then with great delight.
“With Dabhoi being a provincial town of Gaekwad State with government offices, devotees from surrounding villages often came here. Because of the heavy rains during the monsoon season and the inconvenient train schedules, they usually had to stay here for two nights. Most of them chose Dabhoi mandir for staying over. At night, while delivering spiritual discourses, Shastriji Maharaj again narrated many extraordinary episodes that these devotees had never heard of. The devotees felt so happy that they started singing Shastriji Maharaj’s praises wherever they went. They used to say that many sadhu groups have come here, but they had never heard such discourses before.
“After the aforesaid first acquaintance with Shastriji Maharaj at Dabhoi in 1891 CE (Samvat 1947), in 1892 CE (Samvat 1948) I had to stay in Vadodara for my matriculation. During that year, Shastriji Maharaj too came to stay in Vadodara. Four students – Shastriji Maharaj, Sachchidanand Brahmachari, Mayatitanand Brahmachari and Krushnapriyadas – were sent from Vartal to Vadodara to study Sanskrit grammar under Pundit Rangacharya, a distinguished South Indian scholar of the Madhva philosophy. Every morning at nine o’clock, he came to teach them at the Vadodara mandir.