Let us then refer briefly to the life story of Swaminarayan for that would help us to understand and appreciate the significance of his philosophic and religious teachings. The original name of Swaminarayan was Sahajananda. By birth, he was a high caste Brahaman. He was born at Chapai, a village 120 miles to the North-west of Lucknow, about the year 1780. He was born to Vaishnava parents, but early in his career he was “disgusted with the manner of life of the so-called followers of Vallabhacharya, whose precepts and practice were utterly at variance, and especially with the licentious habits of the Bombay Maharajas.” He was then determined to denounce these irregularities and expose the vices that had crept into the lives of the Bombay Maharajas. Swaminarayan was a celibate and he “lived an ascetical, yet withal a large-hearted and philanthropic, life” and the showed a great aptitude for learning. In 1800, he left his home and placed himself under the protection of the chief Guru, named Ramananda Swami at a village within the jurisdiction of the Junagarh Nawab. When Ramananda Swami removed to Ahmedabad in 1804, Sahajananda followed him. Soon Sahajananda collected around him a little band of disciples, which rapidly grew “into an army of devoted adherents.” That naturally provoked the wrath of the orthodox Brahmans and magnates of Ahmedabad who began to persecute him. That drove Sahajananda to Jetalpur, 12 miles south of Ahmedabad, which become the focus of a great religious gathering. Thousands of people were attracted by this young religious teacher who now took the name of Swaminarayan. Swaminarayan then retired to the secluded village of Wartal, where he erected a temple to Narayana (otherwise Krishna, or Vishnu, as the Supreme Being) associated with the goddess Lakshmi. From this Central scene of his religious activities, Swaminarayan mounted a strong crusade against the licentious habits of the gurus of the Vallabhacharya sect. His watchword was “devotion to Krishna with observance of duty and purity of life”. The two principal temples of the Swaminarayan sect are at Wartal, which is about four miles to the west of the Baroda railway station, and at Ahmedabad.
In about 1826-27, a formal constitution of the sect appears to have been prepared; it is known as the ‘lekh’ or the document for the apportionment of territory (Deshvibhaga Lekh). By this document, Swaminarayan divided India into two parts by a national line running from Calcutta to Navangar and established dioceses, the northern one with the temple of Nar Narayan at Ahmedabad, and the southern one which included the temple of Lakshminarayan at Wartal. To preside over these two diocese Swaminarayan adopted his two nephews Ayodhyaprasad and Raghuvir respectively. Subordinate to these Gadis and the principal temples, two score large temples and over the thousand smaller temples scattered all over the country came to be built in due course.
The Constitution of the Swaminarayan sect and its tenets and practices are collected in four different scriptures of the faith viz., (1) the “Lekh” to which we have just referred; (2) the “Shikahapatri” which was originally written by Swaminarayan himself in about 1826 A. D.; the original manuscript does not appear to be available, but the Shikshapatri was subsequently rendered into Sanskrit verses by Shatanandswami under the directions of Swaminarayan himself. This Sanskrit translation is treated by the followers of Swaminarayan as authentic. This book was later translate into Gujarati by another disciple named Nityanand. This Shikshapatri is held in high reverence by the followers of the faith as a prayer book and it contains summary of Swaminarayan’s instructions and principles which have to be followed by his disciples in their lives; (3) the “Satsangijiwan” which consists of five parts and is written in Sanskrit by Shathnand during the lifetime of Swaminarayan. This work gives an account of the life and teachings of Swaminarayan. It appears to have been completed in about 1829. Shikshapatri has been bodily incorporated in this work; (4) the “Vachanamrit” which is a collection of Swaminarayan’s sermons in Gujarati. This appears to have been prepared between 1828 and 1830. Swaminarayan dies in 1830.
It is necessary at this stage to indicate broadly the principles which Swaminarayan preached and which he wanted his followers to adopt in life. These principles have been succinctly summarised by Monier Williams. It is interesting to recall that before Monier Williams wrote his Chapter on Swaminarayan sect he visited the Wartal temple in company with the Collector of Kaira on the day of the Purnima, or full moon of the month of Kartik which is regarded as the most popular festival of the whole year by the Swaminarayan sect. On the occasion of this visit Monier Williams had long discussions with the followers of Swaminarayan and he did his best to ascertain the way Swaminarayan’s principles were preached and taught and the way they were practised by the followers of the sect. We will now briefly reproduce some of the principles enunciated by Swaminarayan.
“The killing of any animal for the purpose of sacrifice to the gods is forbidden by me. Abstaining from injury is the highest of all duties. No flesh meat must ever be eaten, no spirituous or vinous liquor must ever be drunk, not even as medicine. My male followers should make the vertical mark (emblematical of the footprint of Vishnu or Krishna) with the round spot inside it (symbolical of Lakshmi) on their foreheads. Their wives should only make the circular mark with red powder of saffron. Those who are initiated into the proper worship of Krishna should always wear on their necks two rosaries made or Tulsi wood, one for Krishna and the other for Radha. After engaging in mental worship, let them reverently bow down before the pictures of Radha and Krishna, and repeat the eight-syllabled prayer to Krishna (Sri Krishan saranam mama, ‘Great Krishna is my soul’s refuge’) as many times as possible. Then let them apply themselves to secular affairs. Duty (Dharma) is that good practice which is enjoined both by the Veda (Sruti) and by the law (Smriti) founded on the Veda. Devotion (Bhakti) is intense love for Krishna accompanied with a due sense of his glory. Every day all my followers should go to the Temple of God, and there repeat the names of Krishna. The story of his life should be listened to with the great reverence, and hymns in his praise should be sung on festive days. Vishnu, Siva, Ganapati (or Ganesa), Parvati, and the Sun; these five deities should be honoured with worship. Narayana and Siva should be equally regarded as part of one and same Supreme Spirit, since both have been declared in the Vedas to be forms of Brahma. On account let it be supposed that difference in forms (or names) makes any difference in the identity of the deity. That Being, known by various names – such as the glorious Krishna, Param Brahma, Bhagavan, Purushottama – the cause of all manifestations, is to be adored by us as our one chosen deity. The philosophical doctrine approved by me is the Visishtadvaita (of Ramanuja), and the desired heavenly abode is Goloka. There to worship Krishna and be united with him as Supreme soul is to be considered salvation. The twice born should perform at the proper seasons, and according to their means, he twelve purificatory rites (sanskara), the (six) daily duties, and the Sradha offerings to the spirits of departed ancestors. A pilgrimage to the Tirthas, or holy places, of which Dwarika (Krishna’s city in Gujarat) is the chief, should be performed according to rule. Almsgiving and kind acts towards the poor should always be performed by all. A tithe of one’s income should be assigned to Krishna; the poor should give a twentieth part. Those males and females of my followers who will act according to these directions shall certainly obtain the four great objects of all human desires – religious merit, wealth, pleasure, and beatitude”.
The Gazetteer of the Bombay Presidency has summarized the teaching embodies in the Shikshapatri in this way :-
“The book of precepts strictly prohibits the destruction of animal life; promiscuous intercourse with the other sex; use of animal food and intoxicant liquors and drugs on any occasion, suicide, theft and robbery; false accusation against a fellow-man, blasphemy; partaking of foods with low caste people; caste pollution; company of atheists and heretics and other practices which might counteract the effect of the founder’s teachings”.
It is interesting to notice how a person is initiated into the sect of Satsangis. The ceremony of initiation is thus described in the Gazetteer of the Bombay Presidency :-
“The ceremony of initiation begins with the novice offering a palmful of water which he throws on the ground at the feet of the Acharya saying : I give over to Swami Sahajanand my mind, body, wealth, and sins of (all) births, ‘Man’, tan, dhan, and janmana pap. He is then given the sacred formula ‘Sri Krishnastwam gatirmama, Shri Krishna thou ar my refuge. The novice then pays at least half a rupee to the Acharya. Sometimes the Acharya delegates his authority to admit followers as candidates for regular discipleship, giving them the Panch Vartaman, formula forbidding lying, theft, adultery, intoxication and animal food. But a perfect disciple can be made only after receiving the final formula from one of the two Acharyas. The distinguishing mark, which the disciple is then allowed to make of his forehead, is a vertical streak of Gopichandan clay or sandal with a round redpowder mark in the middle and a necklet of sweet basil beads”. (Gazetteer of the Bombay Presidency, Vol. (X, Part), Gujarat Population, pp. 538-39.)
Now that we have seen the main events in the life and career of Swaminarayan and have examined the broad features of his teachings, it becomes very easy to decide the question as to whether the Swaminarayan sect constitutes a distinct and separate religion and cannot be regarded as a part of Hindu religion. In our opinion, the plea raised by the appellants that the Satsangis who follow the Swaminarayan sect form a separate and distinct community different from the Hindu community and their religion is a distinct and separate religion different from Hindu religion, is entirely misconceived. Philosophically, Swaminarayan is a follower of Ramanuja, and the essence of his teachings is that every individual should follow the main Vedic injuncitons of a goods, pious and religious life and should attempt to attain salvation by the path of devotion to Lord Krishna. The essence of the initiation lies in giving the person initiated the secret ‘Mantra’ which is : “Lord Krishna, thou art my refuge : Lord Krishna, I dedicate myself to thee”. Acceptance of the Vedas with reverence recognition of the fact that the path of Bhakti or devotion leads to Moksha, and insistence on devotion of Lord Krishna unambiguously and unequivocally proclaim that Swaminarayan was a Hindu saint who was determined to remove the corrupt practices which had crept into the lives of the preachers and followers of Vallabhacharya, and who wanted to restore the Hindu religion to its original glory and purity. Considering the work done by Swaminarayan, history will not hesitate to accord him the place of honour in the galaxy of Hindu saints and religious reformers who by their teachings, have contributed to make Hindu religion ever alive, youthful and vigorous.
It is, however, that there are certain features of the Satsangi followers of Swaminarayan which indicate that the sect is a different community by itself and its religion is not a part of Hindu religion. It is argued that no person becomes a Satsangi by birth and it is only a initiation that the status of Satsangi is conferred on a person. Persons of other religions and Harijans can join the Satsangi sect by initiation. Swaminarayan himself is treated as a God and in the main temple, worship is offered to Swaminarayan pre-eminently; and that, it is argued, is not consistent with the accepted notions of Hindu religion. Women can take Diksha and become followers of Swaminarayan though Diksha to women is given by the wife of the Acharya. Five vows have to be taken by the followers of the Satsang, such as abstinence from drinking, from non-vegetarian diet, from illegal sexual relationship, from theft and from inter-pollution. Separate arrangements are made for Darshan for women, special scriptures are honoured and special teachers are appointed to worship in the temples.
Categories: Hindu History