Sahajananda Swami, the main exponent of the Swaminarayana fellowship was born in Chhapaiya near Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh to a Sarvariya Brahmin family. The precise year of his birth accepted unanimously by western academics and the tradition alike designate 3rd April 1781 A.D. as Sahajananda Swami’s birth date, coinciding with the birth date of Lord Rama, considered the sixth incarnation of Sri Visnu.
Sahajananda Swami born to Hariprasad Pande and Premvati Pande was named Ghanshyam as a child. At an early age he showed great brilliance and desire to imbibe the teachings of the scriptures and did so under the tutelage of his father. At the age of seven, Ghanshyam was initiated with the sacred thread.
By the age of eleven, Ghanshyam had lost both parents due to old age. Although saddened by the loss, the young prodigy knew his calling for spirituality and religion was beckoning and thus left home starting his sacred journey.
Due to the ascetic appearance on his travels, he was known by the name of Nilkantha Varni. Nilkantha though young in age journeyed the length of India, initially visiting the revered sites of the north moving towards the south whilst visiting the sacred shrines of the east, finally concluding his journey and settling at the age of eighteen in the city of Dwarka, east India.
In 1800 in the village of Lojpur, within the Junagadh district, Nilakantha was accepted by Ramananda Swami, a follower of the Ramanuja philosophy and the leader of the Uddhava Sampradaya, as a disciple and was formally ordained as a renunciate named Sahajananda Swami.
Seeing the remarkable characteristics of young Sahajananda, Ramananda appointed the young prodigy at the age of twenty one as the leader of the Uddhava sampradaya. Unfortunately shortly after appointing Sahajananda and moving the establishment to Faneni, Ramananda Swami left his material body.
After the demise of his spiritual preceptor, Sahajananda Swami introduced reforms within the sect which he felt necessary to revolutionize the fellowship. He created social centres which recognised peoples’ spiritual and social needs and thus started the process of distributing free food and developing wells and ponds in places where water was scarce.
One notable and fundamental change Sahajananda Swami made which digressed from his lineage of Vishishtadvaita Vedanta of Ramanuja, was instead of chanting the authorized mantra of ‘Om Namo Narayanaya’, this was changed to ‘Om Swaminarayana’ or popularly now chanted as ‘Jai Swaminarayana’. The tradition claims that whilst devotees were chanting, they had realizations which equated Swami Sahajananda as a divine being, thus transforming the ascetic to a divine entity and paving the future name of the ascetic to Lord Swaminarayana. This is a marked difference from previous vaishnava traditions who may’ve claimed divinity of their respective acharya as divine but only as a subsidiary to the divine rather than the divine itself.
From this point on, Swaminarayan ever faithful to his vows, transformed his identity and took on the role of a religious leader rather than an ascetic and as such accepted a greater degree of contact with the outside world, which constantly sought his guidance.
For many years beginning from his appointment as leader of the sect in 1802 till 1830, Swaminarayana preached his philosophy tirelessly around Gujarat. Though living an exemplifyable life, under his leadership and vision the organization gained considerable pace.
Whilst ordering the construction of numerous temples, preaching and writing the shikshapatri, a socio-philosophical treatise for the followers of the Swaminarayana faith, he established two seats of leadership, in Ahmedabad and Vadtal, which would be the driving force for future development of the Swaminarayana faith. He placed these seats under the leadership of Ayodhyaprasad, the son of his elder brother Ramapratap and Raghuvira, the son of his younger brother Icharam respectively, who he adopted as his own children.
In his lifetime, Lord Swaminarayana constructed six major temples in Ahmedabad, Bhuj, Vadtal, Junagadha, Dholera and Gadhada. He was a great social and spiritual reformer, and converted many to the Swaminarayana faith, it is suggested that around his disappearance his followers consisted of 200 ascetic monks, and according to Raymond Williams an estimate of around 1.8 million followers.
Tradition narrates that Lord Swaminaryana shed his mortal coil on 1st June 1830 and left the human world for Akshardham, the supreme abode of the Lord. He was soon cremated at Lakshmi Wadi in Gadhada, his funeral rites were performed by Raghuvira and his most senior disciples Gopalananda Swami and Gunatitananda Swami.
The copyright of the article The Life of Swaminarayana is owned by the Jigyasa Team. Permission to republish in print or online must be granted by the author in writing.