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Vasant Panchami

Vasant Panchami

Maha sud 5 is known as Vasant Panchami. 'Vasant' means spring. Since every season has a 'gestation' period of 40 days, the true onset of spring occurs 40 days after Vasant Panchami.

Vasant is the period between the time when the sun enters the Meen rashi (Pisces) till entry into Vrushabh (Taurus).

There is no scriptural story associated with this festival. It is celebrated more in welcoming the blooming of nature after the winter's dormancy.

Kalidas lauds Vasant as 'Ruturaj' - king of seasons, in his 'Raghuvamsha'. In the Gita, Lord Krishna considers Vasant as one of this 'vibhutis' (forms): 'Rutunaam Kusumaakaraha'.

In the Swaminarayan Sampradaya, Vasant Panchami marks a glorious occasion, celebrating four significant events; the advent of the Shikshapatri and the births of Nishkulanand Swami, Brahmanand Swami and Shastriji Maharaj (Shastri Yagnapurushdas).

Nishkulanand Swami
Born in Samvat 1822 (1766 CE) in Latipur near Jamnagar, Lalji Suthar - his pre-diksha name - was a carpenter, prior to joining Lord Swaminarayan's retinue of Paramhansas. Though totally detached from mundane life, he married under parental coercion. After toiling during the day, he walked 3 'gaun' (7 km) every night to a Shiva shrine. Here he gained till daybreak, spiritual wisdom from Mulji Sharma (Aksharbrahm Gunatitanand Swami), who arrived from Bhadra. This continued for many years.

In Samvat 1843 (1787 CE) he accepted as guru, Ramanand Swami, a saintly sadhu of Saurashtra. Some years later, in 1799, when Lord Swaminarayan arrived in Loj as Neelkanth, Ramanand Swami commanded his followers to go to Loj for Neelkanth's darshan. Mystified by such an injunction, especially since Neelkanth was only an 18-year-old, Lalji Suthar inquired about the teenager's importance. Ramanand Swami replied, "Just as Krishna supercedes all incarnations, he is even greater." Such glory then prompted him to visit Loj. After having Neelkanth's darshan, Lalji Suthar's awe for Him increased. Neelkanth blessed him that he would attain vairagya equal to that of Shukdevji.

In Samvat 1860 (1804 CE), Lord Swaminarayan wished to visit devotees in Kutch. To cross the Rann of Kutch, He needed a guide familiar with the desert terrain. Choosing Lalji Suthar, they crossed safely to Adhoi. Here the Lord commanded him to beg alms from his in-laws, where his wife and children then resided! This perplexed him since it would be humiliating and socially stigmatic to beg at his in-laws. Gleaning this the Lord offered to transform his appearance to obviate recognition. Removing Lalji's hair and moustache the Lord gave him a cap and an 'alfi' - one-piece robe worn by sannyasis! Lalji thus became a renunciate named Nishkulanand Swami.

On reaching the in-laws, his wife, instantly recognising him, was shocked. Therefore she fetched their two little sons and ushered them to their father, hoping this would crush Lalji's ascetic aspirations. On the contrary, Swami remained undaunted and said, "The Lord has arrived on the outskirts and is hungry. If you wish salvation, cook some rotlas (thick chapatis). His wife obeyed. Pleased with his immutable detachment, Lord Swaminarayan blessed him.

A master poet, Nishkulanand Swami composed striking verses of vairagya easily grasped by lay people. Some of his verses of supreme vairagya, have become popular in Gujarat. These include:

Tyaga na takey re vairagya vina Janani jivo re Gopichandani
Mey hun aadi anadi …

Besides vairagya and staunch observance of the sadhu's vows, his unalloyed bhakti for Lord Swaminarayan has been praised by Gunatitanand Swami in the 'Swamini Vato'. Endowed with such vairagya, he declined the Mahantship of Gadhada, opting instead a mandir in Dholera, located in an austere and semi-arid region. Here he embellished the mandir with intricate stone carvings.

His outstanding attribute was his prolific and powerful poetry, unabashedly espousing Lord Swaminarayan's glory as the supreme incarnation in 23 works. 'Nishkulanand Kavya and Bhaktachintamani are two of his eminent works.

Brahmanand Swami
The most versatile genius among Lord Swaminarayan's Paramhansas, Brahmanand Swami was born as Ladudan Barot on Maha sud 5, Samvat 1828 (1776 CE), in Khan, a village near Mount Abu in Rajasthan. A prodigy from childhood, he once composed and sang poems for the local king, at the age of 15. This so impressed the king that he granted finance for Ladudan to study poetry, music and other arts in a famous institute in Bhuj.

Here Ladudan mastered many faculties, including Shataavadhan and Sahasraavadhan. These latter two involve answering 100 and 1000 questions, respectively, in an uninterrupted sequence. Like Nishkulanand, his supreme mastery lay in poetry, especially in composing instant poetry. With his poetry he earned accolades and riches from the Maharajas of Dhrangadhra, Jamnagar and Bhavnagar and the Nawab of Junagadh.

Prior to returning home, he accepted a challenge from the Maharaja of Bhavnagar, to visit Gadhada, to expose the fraud of a 'so-called God named Swaminarayan', using his intellectual flair and erudition. On having Lord Swaminarayan's darshan, all his intellectual aspirations melted. He instantly composed a kirtan of his experience, extolling the Lord's glory:
'Aajni ghadi re dhanya aajni ghadi,
Men nirakhya Sahajanand dhanya aajni ghadi..'

He then requested the Lord to initiate him as a sadhu. When Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad of Vadodara heard of this, he sent a most lucrative offer as his royal bard. However, Swami flatly declined, sending a poem in reply.

His poetic excellence was acclaimed all over Gujarat then. The historian, K.M.Munshi noted, "His poetic style was superb …. And he excelled all poets of the period save Dayaram."

Swami composed 19 texts and over 8000 padas in Gujarati, Hindi, Vraj, Chaarani, Kutchi and Rajasthani, in 72 different raags and 27 chhandas. It is strikingly rare for a poet to possess such awesome poetic versatility. When the mid-20th century poet Dula Kaag of Saurashtra extolled Brahmanand Swami's verses based on chhandas such as Charchari, Chandraavala and Ranaki to Rabindranath Tagore, the philosopher was greatly stupefied.
Besides being a master poet, he was a celibate of the highest calibre, to the extent that Lord Swaminarayan has praised him in the Vachanamrutam. By his lofty brahmacharya he once calmed a full-blooded stallion belonging to the Nawab of Junagadh, by just touching the horse. Since then the stallion could not be used as a stud!

Lord Swaminarayan also entrusted him to construct Shikharbaddh mandirs. Despite scant resources, manpower and stone, he successfully constructed huge mandirs of exquisite grandeur, thus reviving Hindu Dharma's nearly extinct techniques. He built these mandirs in Amdavad, Vadtal, Bhuj and Junagadh. These stone monuments, along with his verses, today remain striking testimonies of his unmatched versatility.

On Maha sud 5, Samvat 1882 (1826 CE) Lord Swaminarayan presented to mankind a scripture distilling the essence of the Hindu Dharma, known as the Shikshapatri.

Comprising 212 Sanskrit verses in couplets, it incorporates 3618 scriptural tenets from 360 scriptures. This sacred text, considered as a manual of mankind, imbues a virtuous life leading to shanti at heart. Lord Swaminarayan describes it as "Sarvajivahitaavaha" - benevolent to all creatures on earth.

Based on Hindu Dharma's eternal and fundamental pillars of 'Satya' (Truth), 'Ahimsa' (non-injury), 'Brahmacharya' (celibacy) and Asteya' ( ), it enjoins practical and prudent precepts to upgrade an individual's life. This incorporates: bhakti rituals and festivals, personal hygiene, ahimsa and vegetarianism, ecologically sound habits, managing one's wealth, scriptural study and veneration to the Panch Devas, elders, sadhus and sacred places. Further, it enjoins spiritual tenets by succinctly defining important philosophical parameters that a Jiva needs to inculcate for salvation. After defining Dharma, Jnan, Vairagya and Bhakti, it espouses the fundamental belief of Lord Swaminarayan's philosophy in only one verse (116):

"Nijaatmaanam brahmarupam dehatraya vilakshanam,
Vibhaavya tena kartavya bhaktihi Krishnasya sarvada."

i.e. identify one's Atma, above the three bodies, with Aksharbrahman and then offer worship to Lord Purushottam.

In such a remarkably short treatise, the Shikshapatri encompasses an ocean of tenets replete with spiritual import that is perhaps unmatched by any other scripture.

Shastriji Maharaj
The birth of Shastriji Maharaj marked a major turning point in the history of the Swaminarayan Sampradaya. Born in Mahelav near Anand, on Maha sud 5, Samvat 1921 (1865 CE), he was blessed by Gunatitanand Swami at the age of one. Spiritually precocious, he vowed to become a sadhu from childhood. In Samvat 1939 (1883 CE) Acharya Viharilalji Maharaj of Vartal arranged a special yagna to initiate him as a sadhu, naming him Yagnapurushdasji.

He then studied Sanskrit. During this period his saintliness impressed everyone in the sect, including Kothari Gordhandas, the head of the Vartal Mandir. The Kothari even declared, "Amongst the 2000 ascetics in Vartal, there is nobody so staunch in his vows of brahmacharya and sainthood as Shastri Yagnapurushdas".

Swami accepted Bhagatji Maharaj, a householder and the foremost disciple of Gunatitanand Swami, as guru. From him he imbibed the subtle wisdom of sainthood and profound meanings of the Vachanamrut. The momentous occasion in his life occurred when Bhagatji Maharaj gave an exegesis on the philosophy of Akshar and Purushottam, in which he extolled the glory of Gunatitanand Swami as Aksharbrahma. Since this presented a new realm for Shastriji Maharaj, to confirm it, he approached other eminent sadhus and householders still living, who had heard of this principle from the lips of Bhagwan Swaminarayan Himself. After obtaining their testimonies, he too zealously propagated the philosophy of Akshar and Purushottam, of worshipping Purushottam with Aksharbrahma Gunatitanand Swami, His choicest devotee. Hitherto, only Bhagwan Swaminarayan was offered worship. This principle of 'Bhakta-Bhagwan' worship has been eternal in the Hindu Dharma, exemplified by: Uma-Mahesh(Shiva-Parvati), Sita-Ram, Radha-Krishna and Nar-Narayan.

Towards this end, Shastriji Maharaj even managed to have the murtis of Akshar and Purushottam consecrated in the Wadhwan mandir. This disturbed some elements in the sampraday, who began to harass and persecute him. Swami tolerated everything silently.
Finally after several attempts on his life, he left Vartal on Kartik vad 1, Samvat 1962 (13th Nov.1905), with only 5 sadhus and about 150 devotees. He then founded the Bochasanwasi Shri Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha (BAPS). Within a year he built a mandir in Bochasan and consecrated the murtis of Akshar and Purushottam in the central shrine in June 1907. This fulfilled Bhagwan Swaminarayan's prophecy to Kashidas of Bochasan, as Nilkanth, that He would reside here with His choicest devotee.

In the next 45 years, in the face of relentless persecution by the old sampradaya, and with a scarcity of man, money and stone, he amazingly constructed four more mandirs in Sarangpur, Gondal, Atladra and Gadhada, in which he consecrated the murtis of Akshar and Purushottam in the central shrines. The mandir in Gadhada crowned his mission, for it was constructed solely of gleaming white marble on top of a hill.

During his tenure, a saintly sadhu named Sadhu Jnanjivandas (Yogiji Maharaj) joined him from the old sect's mandir in Junagadh, Swami appointed him the mahant of the Gondal mandir. In 1950, he appointed a saintly 28-year-old sadhu named Shastri Narayanswarupdas as the Head of BAPS sanstha. One years later Shastriji Maharaj departed for Akshardham, leaving the spiritual successorship to Yogiji Maharaj.

Other than the Swaminarayan Sampraday, Vasant Panchami is of importance in Bengal, where Saraswati, the goddess of learning is offered worship with great festivity.

| Vasant Panchami |
© 1999, Bochasanwasi Shree Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha, Swaminarayan Aksharpith