MANDIR IN ATLADARA
Mathurbhai of Atladara was of good upbringing and honest intentions, but due to bad company he had taken to addictions. Still, he frequently visited the small Swaminarayan mandir in the village. And often he told Ranchhod Bhagat, the priest there, “Bhagat! Why don’t you build a bigger mandir?” After some time, Ranchhod Bhagat acquired some land and began to build a bigger mandir. He managed to prepare the foundations, but then ran out of money and support. So the work stopped. Seeing this, Mathurbhai repeatedly commented, “You will not be able to finish this mandir. You need a capable person to help you.” One day, Ranchhod Bhagat told Mathurbhai, “In the entire Swaminarayan Sampradaya, only Shastri Yagnapurushdasji is capable enough of building a mandir to your satisfaction.” Mathurbhai was alerted by this statement and asked who this Shastri was.
Hearing Ranchhod Bhagat describe the glory of Shastriji Maharaj in detail humbled Mathurbhai. He resolved to bring Shastriji Maharaj to Atladara. When Shastriji Maharaj arrived, other local devotees joined Mathurbhai as they showed Shastriji Maharaj the site of the incomplete new mandir. Shastriji Maharaj inspected the foundation and then said, “Only a one-pinnacled mandir is possible on this site. For a three-pinnacled mandir we need the bigger area of land which is located by the roadside.” Then Shastriji Maharaj added, “In the time of Shriji Maharaj, Mulu Metar and Krishna Mali lived there. Shriji Maharaj had visited and sanctified their homes. Let us build a mandir over that sacred area.” With this, Shastriji Maharaj showed them the land. Mathurbhai obtained permission from the residents to acquire the land and built new homes for them at another suitable site.
Shastriji Maharaj performed the groundbreaking ceremony for Atladara mandir on 2 April 1940 (Fagan vad 10, Samvat 1996). The construction work then began in earnest. Shastriji Maharaj delegated responsibilities to the appropriate sadhus and devotees. With the sincere, dedicated efforts of sadhus and devotees over a period of five years, the mandir was ready. Shastriji Maharaj performed the murti-pratishtha on 12 July 1945 (Ashadh sud 3, Samvat 2001), consecrating the murtis of Bhagwan Swaminarayan, Aksharbrahman Gunatitanand Swami and Gopalanand Swami in the central sanctum. In the assembly afterwards, Shastriji Maharaj prophesied, “This mandir in Atladara will become among the best, since this place has been sanctified by Shriji Maharaj. At present it is distant from Vadodara, but in the future it will become one of its suburbs.”
Thus, yet another glorious achievement, the fourth mandir, had been made possible by Shastriji Maharaj’s inspiring leadership.
MARBLE MANDIR IN GADHADA
Shriji Maharaj had lived in Dada Khachar’s court in Gadhada for nearly 30 years, using it as a base for his spiritual travels throughout Gujarat and beyond. Shriji Maharaj wished to build a magnificent mandir on the hillock next to the River Ghela on the outskirts of the village. The land there was jointly owned by Dada Khachar and his uncle, Jiva Khachar. When Shriji Maharaj asked for the land, Dada Khachar agreed to give his part, but Jiva Khachar refused to give his share. As a result, Maharaj’s wish remained unfulfilled.
For many years, Shastriji Maharaj had endeavoured to acquire the land on the hillock so that Maharaj’s wish for a mandir there could be fulfilled. At that time, the land was under the jurisdiction of the Bhavnagar State. Shastriji Maharaj’s efforts to acquire the land had been thwarted by opposing elements, who used their influence with the authorities to prevent the allocation of the land to Shastriji Maharaj. Still, Shastriji Maharaj persevered, never giving up the hope that one day Shriji Maharaj’s wish for a mandir on the hillock would come true.
Revealing his faith in Shriji Maharaj as the all-doer, Shastriji Maharaj said, “Maharaj will effect a change in the government and facilitate the mandir.” And sure enough that is exactly what happened.
In 1947, India gained independence from British rule. Consequently, the numerous small, separate territories, which were governed by different rulers, lost their autonomy and were merged into the new union. Under the new administration, Govindsinh Chudasama, a devotee of Shastriji Maharaj’s, was appointed as the Collector of Gohilvad District. Subsequently, Bhanbhai Khachar, a descendent of Dada Khachar, together with Govindsinh Chudasama proposed to Shastriji Maharaj that he build a mandir on the hillock in Gadhada. Shastriji Maharaj said, “If you help us to acquire the land we will certainly build a mandir there.” With Shastriji Maharaj’s consent, the devotees sought and obtained the necessary permission for the land. At long last Shriji Maharaj’s wish was nearing fulfilment.
Once the land had been acquired Shastriji Maharaj arranged for the traditional Vedic ground-breaking ceremony to be performed on 16 November 1949 (Kartik vad 11, Samvat 2006) by His Highness Krishnakumar Sinhji, the former Maharaja of Bhavnagar, who was then the Governor of Madras. Thus, Shastriji Maharaj’s patient persistence had paid off and now construction of the fifth BAPS mandir inspired by Shastriji Maharaj proceeded at full speed.
The murti-pratishtha was set to take place on 16 May 1951 (Vaishakh sud 10, Samvat 2007).
Swamishri was in Sarangpur and his health was deteriorating. Yet, Swamishri was eager to go to Gadhada. On arrival, he inspected the work in progress and blessed everyone serving there day and night to finish the mandir. Swamishri then asked to see the murtis to be installed. He requested that water from the sacred river Ghela be brought and with it he bathed the murtis. Then he placed a sacred thread around each murti, applied a chandlo and garlanded all the murtis. Finally, he performed the arti and then said, “My ritual is over. The murti-pratishtha has been performed. Now I will not come. Yogi Maharaj will come and perform the arti.” Satisfied that everything was in order, Swamishri said, “Now I will go to Sarangpur and remain there forever.” Nobody grasped the real meaning of Swamishri’s prophetic words.
In Sarangpur, Swamishri’s condition became critical. He requested to be taken to the Rang Mandap (mandir basement). There, with the sadhus and devotees looking on anxiously and praying to Maharaj, a divine glow illuminated the room. Swamishri, while repeating “Swami! Maharaj!” breathed his last and passed away to Akshardham on 10 May 1951 (Vaishakh sud 4, Samvat 2007). Everyone was heartbroken at Swamishri’s departure, but Yogiji Maharaj and Pramukh Swami comforted everyone and helped them to overcome their grief.
The murti-pratishtha in Gadhada was to take place after only six days. Everyone was unsure whether or not to postpone the occasion. But Yogiji Maharaj gave everyone strength and direction, “Swami has not left us at all. He is ever present in the Satsang. It was his wish to hold the murti-pratishtha on the tenth, so he will be pleased only if we fulfil it.” These words encouraged everyone and they recalled Swamishri’s prophetic words, “Yogi will perform the arti.” And so, the auspicious murti-pratishtha ceremony was performed by Yogiji Maharaj as planned.
BASIS OF UNDERSTANDING
Shastriji Maharaj spent much of his time teaching the Akshar-Purushottam Darshan to people, either individually, in groups or in assemblies. However, once, the devotees of Africa wrote to him, requesting that he elaborate upon the reasons why Gunatitanand Swami is Akshar. So, Shastriji Maharaj wrote a comprehensive reply, highlighting what he felt were the salient reasons. The following is a translation of excerpts of the letter written by Shastriji Maharaj on 7 December 1938:
“You had written asking me to let you know of examples from the time of Shriji Maharaj illustrating that Gunatitanand Swami is Mul Akshar.“
When Shriji Maharaj held the Hutashani festival at Rathod Dhadhal’s home in Sarangpur, He recited the verse, ‘Sadguru khele vasant. Koti Krishna jode hãth, koti Vishnu name mãth, koti Brahmã kathe jnãn, koti Shiv dhare dhyãn, Ho Sadguru khele vasant.’ Saying this He asked Muktanand Swami and Anand Swami ‘Who is such a Sadguru?’ Then both said, ‘You are such a Sadguru.’ So, Maharaj said, ‘I am Purushottam Bhagwan, and am worshipped by this Sadguru. And such a Sadguru is this Gunatitanand Swami. He is Mul Akshar.’ The above incident in Sarangpur was narrated by Rathod Dhadhal to Jasa Gor and Nagji Sheth, from whom I have heard the details.
“At Jhinabhai’s darbar in Panchala, Gunatitanand Swami was seated among the 500 paramhansas. Then Maharaj asked Kalyanbhai, ‘Do you know this sadhu?’ He replied, ‘Yes, he is very austere and detached. He understands your true glory.’ Maharaj said, ‘Not just that. He is my Akshardham, where I dwell eternally.’ Thus, Maharaj himself convinced Kalyanbhai. And I heard this incident from Kalyanbhai’s son (Devjibhai).”
In this way, throughout the detailed letter, Shastriji Maharaj described many occasions where Shriji Maharaj, paramhansas and devotees had all identified Gunatitanand Swami as Akshar.
Thus, Shastriji Maharaj never tired in teaching the Akshar-Purushottam Darshan. Until his last breath, he endeavoured to develop this true understanding in all. Shastriji Maharaj’s enthusiasm and determination for the cause of Akshar-Purushottam stemmed from his deep-rooted conviction in the truth revealed by Bhagwan Swaminarayan in the Vachanamrut. Shastriji Maharaj established five mandirs in Gujarat in which he consecrated the murtis of Akshar-Purushottam Maharaj in the central shrine. He accomplished his mission amidst great difficulties, hardships and challenges. With only five sadhus and a handful of devotees he pioneered the Bochasanwasi Shri Akshar-Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha (BAPS) in 1907 CE. Today, Bhagwan Swaminarayan’s unique philosophy of Akshar-Purushottam Darshan, which is based on the Vedas, continues to be lived and taught by Mahant Swami Maharaj. He has expanded upon the efforts of Shastriji Maharaj, Yogiji Maharaj and Pramukh Swami Maharaj and inspired many to understand and live by the divine revelations of Bhagwan Swaminarayan.