Born on Magshar sud 8, Samvat 1978, 7th December 1921, in Chansad, a village near Vadodara, Pramukh Swami Maharaj was named Shantilal by his parents, Motibhai and Diwaliba. The name truly befitted him, for he was shy, meek and shant - peaceful natured. Staunch disciples of Shastriji Maharaj, the whole family lived a pure and pious life. While the neighbourhood was steeped in addictions, this family sincerely observed the tenets of the Shikshapatri, even avoiding grains on Ekadashi. Eight-year-old Shantilal too observed farar.
Suffused with bhakti from childhood, Shantilal often entertained thoughts of visiting sacred places in the Himalayas such as Haridwar and Rishikesh. This yearning stemmed from hearing their glory, recited by sannyasins from Uttar Pradesh, who often visited the village's Satyanarayan mandir. In the nearby Hanuman mandir, an ascetic named Haridas too, often narrated stories of such tirths to Shantilal. Twenty-four years later, on 23rd February 1972, an aged Haridas accidentally met Pramukh Swami Maharaj in Baripara, in the Kanam district. The sadhus with Swami informed him that Swami now headed Shastriji Maharaj's sanstha. Rheumy-eyed Haridas reminisced, "When I was in Chansad, Shastriji Maharaj often came there. I remember a young lad named Shantilal. The boy was a gem and Shastriji Maharaj recognised a gem when he saw one. He initiated the lad as a sadhu. If that sadhu is in your sanstha, convey my regards to him."
When the sadhus revealed that Pramukh Swami was Shantilal, Haridas's heart danced with joy.
Shantilal excelled in studies. Though he showed little interest in roaming around or enjoying fruits and snacks that children normally relish at that age, he loved cricket. On Aso vad Ekadashi, Samvat 1995 (1939 CE), he set off to Vadodara to buy some cricket paraphernalia with a few friends. Hardly reaching the village outskirts, he received a letter from Shastriji Maharaj instructing him to become a sadhu. Without any qualms he left home. His friends grieved as if a great calamity had befallen them.
On his way to Bochasan, Shantilal met Shastriji Maharaj, Yogiji Maharaj and Nirgundas Swami at Vasad station. Thirty years later Yogiji Maharaj recalled this momentous union. Celebrating Pramukh Swami's 48th birth anniversary with immense fervour in Mumbai, he recalled, "Shastriji Maharaj, Nirgun Swami and myself were returning from Kanam. Pramukh Swami met me. I remarked to Shastriji Maharaj, "The muktaraj from Chansad is here." He was wearing a black coat. He studied in the 4th English standard."
On Kartik sud Ekadashi Samvat 1996 (1940 CE), the auspicious Deva Prabodhini Ekadashi, Shastriji Maharaj initiated Shantilal with bhagvati diksha in Akshar Deri, Gondal. Shastriji Maharaj named him, Narayanswarupdas, since, in his own words, "He is Narayan's form."
After diksha, Narayanswarupdas studied Sanskrit, initially in Bhadran, then Khambhat. During this period Shastriji Maharaj arranged for the pandit's monthly fees. As for food, Swami begged alms, cooked for himself and his companion sadhu, fetched water from nearby and washed utensils. In 1940, when Shastriji Maharaj stayed in nearby Borsad for a month, Swami walked everyday to have his darshan. His zeal for guru's darshan never ebbed. Once in the summer's scorching mid-afternoon heat, he rushed barefooted across the dry bed of the river Bhogavo to have Swami's darshan, in a lodging on the other side of town. Despite the hot sand beneath his soles, Swami would run a few paces till the singeing became unbearable. He'd then place his upper robe on the sand and stand on it, momentarily soothing his burning soles. Then he'd race across repeating the procedure. In this manner he crossed the wide riverbed and reached Shastriji Maharaj.
In Samvat 2003 (1947 CE), Shastriji Maharaj appointed him as Kothari (head) of the Sarangpur mandir. Despite being the Kothari, he zealously helped in the labour work; lifting and carrying stones and mortar for construction. His slim frame enabled him to alight easily from one scaffolding to another. He thrived on seva. His meek, straightforward, empathising and peaceful nature easily endeared him to the workers and the villagers. They so venerated him that they begged him to become Sarpanch (head) of the village too, in which case they'd quit searching for another candidate. They fondly called him "Naran Swami," while Shastriji Maharaj lovingly called him, `Naranda' - short for Narayanswarupdas.
In 1950, when Swami was only 28 years-old, Shastriji Maharj ceremoniously appointed him as Pramukh - head - of the sanstha, by draping a saffron chaadar (cloth) on him. Voicing his joy, Shastriji Maharaj said, "Just as Sadguru Ramanand Swami appointed the young Sahajanand Swami as head of the Satsang, I appoint in my place, Sadguru Shastri Narayanswarupdas as head of the sanstha. ...Just as you obey my commands, similarly from now on, I command you all to obey Sadguru Shastri Narayanswarupdas's commands and accept his leadership." (Ref.festival - Pramukh Varni Din for details). Henceforth he became known as Pramukh Swami.
After Shastriji Maharaj's return to Akshardham, Pramukh Swami sincerely obeyed and served Yogiji Maharaj. Years later he reminisced that his views never differed from those of Yogiji Maharaj. For this he often suffered, inviting wrath and insults from dissenters. They even threatened to do away with him. Yet Swami remained unfazed, his unalloyed devotion to the guru not faltering the slightest. Yogiji Maharaj's Amrut Mahotsav - 75th birth anniversary celebration, illustrates this well. In 1967, everyone wished to celebrate it in Gujarat proper, with its ample supply of water and greater number of devotees. However, to Yogiji Maharaj, his beloved Gondal mandir remained unequalled. Well aware of this, Swami fervently plunged into the festival's preparation. He calmly tolerated the inevitable, acrimonious wrath from others, who voiced their concern about the lack of water in Gondal.
With faith in Shriji Maharj and blessings from Yogiji Maharaj, Swami persevered unflaggingly for the festival's total success. His overload of seva never allowed him more than 2 to 3 hours of sleep per day. No seva was too menial for him. Lack of able-bodied young sadhus obligated him to manage virtually all departments; lodging and bedding facilities for devotees, catering, procuring a good water supply, efficient sewage and waste disposal, cleaning, reading the katha, as well as managing the assembly programs. Often he would be seen running hither and tither, trundling a two-wheeled cart, collecting the leaf-dishes used by devotees for meals.
During the Bhadra mandir's construction he toiled in the sandy bed of the nearby river Und, to lay a water pipeline from a bore-well, stretching all the way to the mandir in the village. Harsh physical seva was nothing new to him. During Shastriji Maharaj's time he relentlessly tortured his body while constructing the mandirs in Atladara, Sarangpur and Gadhada. The ruddy spot on his nose is a remnant from the aftermath of exothermic heat from lime which ravaged his whole body during the seva in Atladara. Hearing of this serious illness, Shastriji Maharaj arrived and touched all the blistered areas. They all healed miraculously, leaving the nasal patch.
Towards the end of his life, Yogiji Maharaj often uttered that, "Pramukh Swami is my Sarvasva" - whole and soul. After his return to Akshardham in 1971, Pramukh Swami set a gruelling pace in his Satsang activities. His most striking feature was his personal visits counselling devotees in their homes, in villages and towns. From the statistics one can surmise that his super human records will probably be difficult to match by any world leader, religious or otherwise. Until the last count in 1995, he visited over 250,000 homes in over 15,000 villages, towns and cities. He read and replied over 450,000 letters, continuing an average daily of 50 even today.
the Good of Others
During the torrid summer, he invariably arranged his programs in Gujarat, rather than Mumbai where it is far cooler. The same applies for winters, spending them in Saurashtra and Kutchch, where temperatures may dip below 10º C, than in Mumbai, with winter temperatures seldom below 20-25º C.
Despite his personal physical ailments, he continues touring, obeying the Vedic injunction for sadhus to keep moving. He has often fulfilled the wish of devotees and admirers alike, who yearned to have his darshan in their critical or terminal illness either at home or in hospital. Even if this meant changing his personal schedule or back-tracking his route.
Such selfless efforts have boosted the Satsang tremendously. An obvious consequence of this is the need for mandirs, which Swami has constructed at an unprecedented rate. From January 1971 to January 2000 he consecrated 355 mandirs, establishing a unique record endorsed by the Guinness World Records. In consecrating the 13 exquisite Vedic Shikharbaddh mandirs (see list at the end) of stone and marble, he has revived the traditional Vedic architectural and sculpting techniques. This in itself establishes a record since no spiritual leader or king in world history has constructed so many traditional monuments of worship, during his own lifetime. The Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in London has already attained international acclaim and awards, including a Guinness World Record.
The Akshardham complex in Gandhinagar is dedicated to Bhagwan Swaminarayan and Hindu Dharma's ideals. Inaugurated in November 1992, its fame in India draws 2.5 million visitors annually. Echoing the sentiments of these visitors, Mr. Bill Clinton, the former US president, on his visit to Akshardham on 5th April 2001, observed, "I know that Akshardham is not only a unique place in India but in the whole world. It is even more beautiful than what I had imagined. Taj Mahal is definitely beautiful, but this place, along with beauty has a beautiful message!"
In addition to all these activities, mandirs, and Akshardham in Gandhinagar, Pramukh Swami Maharaj has fulfilled Yogiji maharaj's wish for "a mandir in the banks of The Yamuna" by creating Akshardham in New Delhi, which he inaugurated on 6 november 2005 in the presence of President APJ Abdul Kalam, P.M. Manmohan Singh, and Leader of the opposition L. K. Advani. Akshardham New Delhi, with its intricately carved monument surrounded by green landscapes and exhibitions on India heritage and culture, has become a landmark icon.
Rapport with God
Swami replied, "By keeping God with us in whatever we do, this experience prevails."
This rapport and unalloyed love for God enables him to touch the hearts of people everywhere; whether it is rushing aid to victims in: the Morbi Dam disaster (1979), Maharashtra earthquake (1993), Orissa supercyclone (1999), California earthquake (1994), Nairobi bomb blast (1998), Gujarat earthquake 2001, or to run cattle camps in the severe droughts of 1987-8 and 2000-1.
To propagate the Satsang activities at home or abroad, in the face of adversities and unmitigated circumstances, Swami never compromises these vows. For instance, even as the spiritual head of such an internationally acclaimed sect, he did not have Rs.50 to pay for the seat reservations, once on his way to Mumbai, much to the astonishment of the T.C.
Hence Pujya Hansaprakashdasji of the Avadhut Mandal in old Haridwar once observed, "Our Pramukh Swamiji is so staunch in his principles. He travels at home and abroad to propagate Hindu Culture and Dharma. Yet he strictly observes the vows regarding money and brahmacharya stipulated by Bhagwan Swaminarayan. Such character is the ornament of a true sadhu."
Plaudits and praises by leading ascetics about other ascetics are rarely voiced. If they do offer their opinion; it is after years of shrewd scrutiny, with a microscope so to speak. Once, ascetic, the late Jain acharya, Pujya Munishri Sushilkumarji of the World Fellowship of Religion once said, "Buddha and Tirthankar, Ram and Krishna, Kabir and Nanak, and other sadhus and avatars have uplifted Bharat. Now people await for someone [similar] to lead Hindu Dharma. One who boosts familial, spiritual, social and political values. By Paramatma's grace we have such a person. His name is: Pramukh Swami."
of Celebrating Pramukh Swami's Birth Anniversary
Another popular verse glorifies the Guru, "Guru Govind dono khade..." to the extent that he is offered obeisance first, then Paramatma; for it is the Guru who shows the way to Paramatma.
In Vachanamrut Vartal 5, Bhagwan Swaminarayan commands devotees to offer equal and intensely loving service to God and his Sadhu. For if a devotee is destined to attain moksha in a 100 births, he can instead, achieve it in this very birth, by serving Paramatma and His Sadhu equally.
Upanishad (6/23) similarly proclaims:
i.e. as one reveres the murti of Paramatma, one should offer devotion to the Guru. So decree the wise sages. Therein one obtains everything there is to obtain.
Therefore just as we celebrate the descent of all the avatars, it is equally justified to celebrate the spiritual guru's birth anniversary.
Pramukh Swami Maharaj's Maxims:
|| Pramukh Swami Maharaj Janmotsav ||
© 1999, Bochasanwasi Shree Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha, Swaminarayan Aksharpith