India is a land of spiritual wisdom and devotion. Through the mantra-prayers to Paramatma from Vedic times to the vast array of rituals performed in the bhakti tradition, India possesses an admirable and a rich spiritual heritage.
Bhagwan Shri Swaminarayan propagated the bhakti tradition by introducing the devotional rituals of daily puja, mansi (mental) puja, arti and thal among his devotees. He prescribed to them not take a drop of water or eat anything without first doing the morning puja.
Thereafter, his succession of Gunatit gurus promoted and consolidated these daily bhakti rituals among the devotees through personal practice and discourses.
Devotees who have exemplified this practice of daily puja since the time of Bhagwan Swaminarayan have become beacons of inspiration for all.
We present some inspiring stories of model devotees from the time of Bhagwan Swaminarayan till today.
Bhagwan Swaminarayan drastically reformed Joban Pagi from a feared, hard core dacoit into an ardent devotee. Thereafter, Joban Pagi became a staunch practitioner of daily puja. He never compromised upon his adherence to not taking a grain of food or a drop of water without first performing his daily puja.
Once, Joban Pagi had to go to Petlad for business. Since he could not finish his work that day he stayed the night in Petlad. He had not brought his puja with him. So, the next day, he did not drink a drop of water. He strived for several hours in Petlad to get his work done, but it remained unfinished. So, Joban Pagi travelled to Bochasan to get his work done. He stayed the night at Kashidas Mota’s house. Kashidas offered him food, but Joban Pagi refused because he had not done his puja. Thus, he did not even drink water on the second day. Here, too, he was unable to get his work accomplished, so he proceeded to Anand on the third day. He stayed at his relative’s home, and they also insisted that he take food and water, but Joban Pagi refused. On the following day, the fourth day, Joban Pagi returned to Vartal, took his bath and performed puja. Thereafter, he took food and water.
For more than two days Joban Pagi’s steadfastness in refraining from eating and drinking till he had done his puja did not go unregistered with the all-knowing Shriji Maharaj. Because of his unremitting devotion Maharaj was drawn all the way to Vartal to meet him. Maharaj’s sudden arrival surprised Joban Pagi. On enquiring why he had come unexpectedly, Maharaj replied, “Because you did not give up your niyam I am pleased with you and have come to give you darshan.”
A FIRM PLEDGE
Abhaysinh Darbar, the feudal king of Ganod, was a devotee of Bhagwan Swaminarayan and Aksharbrahman Gunatitanand Swami. His citizens respected him dearly because of his piety and modesty. However, Kalabhai, a resident of Ganod, was envious of him due to his virtuous personality. Once, a British officer came on an official visit to Ganod. At that time Abhaysinhji was absorbed in doing his morning puja. He strictly adhered to his discipline of not attending to his worldly duties prior to completing his daily puja. Kalabhai took this opportunity of sullying Abhaysinh’s name and told the British officer, “Saheb, Abhaysinh is wilful and disrespectful towards you. If you call him here now, he will not obey your order.”
The officer sent one of his men to call Abhaysinh, but the latter was absorbed in puja. So, Abhaysinhji’s attendant told the officer’s servant that he would not be able to come now.
Kalabhai told the British officer, “I was right in saying that he would not come. See, he has not heeded to your order!”
The British officer sent his servant again to call Abhaysinhji, but the latter was yet to finish his puja. When the servant returned without Abhaysinhji the British officer became livid and impatient.
Shortly thereafter, Abhaysinhji completed his puja and, on learning about the British officer’s order, he immediately hurried to him without having a drop of water. The British officer asked irritatingly, “Why didn’t you come when I ordered you to do so?” Abhaysinhji explained, “Saheb, I perform the Swaminarayan puja every morning. I have pledged not to attend to any work till I finish it. When your servant came to call me the first time I was doing my puja. When he came the second time, I was about to finish. And shortly thereafter, I came to you without even drinking a drop of water.”
The British officer was pleased with Abhaysinji’s sincere devotion and faith. He praised Abhaysinhji, “It was proper of you to not have come while doing your puja.” Then the officer reprimanded Kalabhai, “Out of jealousy and malice for Abhaysinh you distorted the matter and told me that he would not obey my command. But that was not true. In reality, Abhaysinh was absorbed in doing Bhagwan’s puja and bhakti.” Kalabhai cowered at the British officer’s rebuke.
By Gunatitand Swami’s grace Abhaysinh’s faith and unflinching bhakti inspired many.
FIRST THINGS FIRST
By the blessings of Shastriji Maharaj, Gulzarilal Nanda served as the acting Prime Minister of India twice. As a disciple of Shastriji Maharaj he was staunch in his practice of daily puja. He turned 100 malas in his daily puja, chanting the name of Swaminarayan. Thereafter, he would read the Shikshapatri, Vachanamrut and Swamini Vato.
Once, 150 prestigious and influential textile mill owners and dignitaries had assembled at Ambalal Sarabhai’s home – a leading industrialist of Ahmedabad. They were waiting for Gulzarilal Nanda to arrive. Nandaji took a little more time in completing his puja that day. Thereafter, he hurried off to the function, without having read the Vachanamrut and Swamini Vato. After the function was over he was invited to have something to eat. But Nandaji refused. After repeated requests to join them Gulzarilal Nanda agreed on one condition, that he would go home to read the scriptures and then return to join them for lunch. All the guests agreed and waited till Nandaji arrived. Everyone was impressed by his steadfast observance of niyams.
A DAY’S FAST
Pramukh Swami Maharaj and Mahant Swami Maharaj have inspired countless devotees to perform daily puja.
Jasbir Singh of Bahrain became a satsangi through the association of Pramukh Swami Maharaj. On 23 August 2000, he took a flight from Bahrain to New York for business.
Since it was Janmashtmi on the day he left, he observed a waterless fast. On reaching New York, he came to know that Pramukh Swami Maharaj was at the New York mandir. Jasbirji went straight for Swamishri’s darshan. So, Swamishri blessed him and told him to take lunch. Jasbir Singh replied, “I can’t, because I have not yet done my puja.” Swamishri blessed him again and appreciated his resolve in fasting for more than one day.
IN HIS FINAL DAYS
Ravi, a member of the BAPS bal mandal in Surat, was hospitalized because of cancer. The doctor instructed him not to take his bath the next morning. Nevertheless, Ravi took his bath, performed puja and offered panchang pranam to his parents. Thereafter, he did mala all day long. At night, he told his father, Arunbhai, “Dad, now there’s no need to worry about me anymore. Shriji Maharaj is standing besides me and he is dressed in chandan clothes. He is caressing my hair and blessing me.” Shortly thereafter, Ravi passed away.
In spite of impending death, Ravi’s resolve to do his puja daily inspired all.