A guru’s life can teach as much to a follower as his lectures. The lives of Bhagwan Swaminarayan’s spiritual successors have been recorded, and these biographies also serve as scriptures for devotees. Their lives illustrate the principles and philosophy taught by Bhagwan Swaminarayan, providing an ideal example of spiritual living for all devotees.
Gunatitanand Swami was the first spiritual successor and guru and is recognized as Akshar, the eternal abode of God. He was the mahant of Junagadh mandir for 40 years and led a life of great simplicity. He continuously conducted discourses to explain Bhagwan Swaminarayan’s philosophy. His teachings have been compiled in the Swamini Vato, revered as one of the three main scriptures, along with the Vachanamrut and Shikshapatri, of the Swaminarayan faith. His cremation place, Akshar Deri in Gondal, is regarded as a sacred place of pilgrimage.
Pragji Bhakta , commonly called Bhagatji Maharaj, was the second spiritual successor. He was not a sadhu but a householder from the lowly tailor caste, both of which would have been considered shortcomings anywhere else but in the progressive Swaminarayan faith. His spirituality shone through in spite of insurmountable problems, and he clarified the role of Akshar in Swaminarayan philosophy. For those who understood this philosophy, he promised, “I will take away your robes of illusion and clothe you in robes eternal.”
Shastri Yagnapurushdas , known as Shastriji Maharaj, was the third spiritual successor. He displayed his intellectual and divine powers from childhood. He never compromised on the truth and remained firm in his principles. He left the Vadtal diocese to propagate Bhagwan Swaminarayan’s philosophy of Akshar Purushottam. To further this philosophy, he founded the BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha as a formal organization in 1907 CE. Beginning with just five sadhus and a few devotees, he erected five mandirs and worked tirelessly to spread Bhagwan Swaminarayan’s message. He appointed Yogiji Maharaj and Pramukh Swami Maharaj as the next successors of Bhagwan Swaminarayan’s spiritual lineage.
Sadhu Gnanjivandas was the fourth spiritual successor. He was initiated into the sadhu fold at the age of 16 and was called ‘Yogi’ by everyone because of his transparent divinity and abundant joy. He established special children and youth centers to involve youths with satsang. Yogiji Maharaj initiated many youths into the sadhu fold, forming an educated core for the organization’s spiritual and humanitarian activities. His spontaneous joy, unassuming humility, and unflinching faith in God and the goodness of each individual captivated thousands.
Sadhu Narayanswarupdas is popularly known as Pramukh Swami Maharaj and is also referred to as ‘Swamishri’ by devotees. He is the fifth spiritual successor and President of the BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha. As a sadhu, he leads an austere life without any personal wealth or belongings. His profound love for God rises beyond any borders of nation or race. He is the inspirer of all BAPS spiritual and humanitarian projects, from mandirs in the United States to medical camps in India. His belief in the power of prayer and his affinity for all people are the foundations of his leadership. He has traveled to thousands of villages and towns and sanctified thousands of homes with his visits. He still meets devotees everyday despite his age and continues to personally inspire and lead people towards better lives.