Svāmīnārāyaṇa Saṁpradāya | Swaminarayan Sampradaya

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1. Svāmīnārāyaṇa Saṁpradāya

Svāmīnārāyaṇa Saṁpradāya, also known as the Svāmīnārāyaṇa faith or the Svāmīnārāyaṇa tradition, started in the state of Gujarat, in which followers offer devotion to and worship Svāmīnārāyaṇa.

The Svāmīnārāyaṇa faith has a large percentage of Gujarati Hindus who are followers of Svāmīnārāyaṇa.

2. Foundation

The Svāmīnārāyaṇa Saṁpradāya originated from the Uddhava Saṁpradāya, led by Rāmānanda Svāmī:

In 1800, he initiated Svāmīnārāyaṇa, then known as Nīlakaṇṭha Varṇi, into the fellowship and named him, Sahajānand Svāmī (also called Nārāyaṇa Muni).

Just prior to his death in 1801, Rāmānanda Svāmī appointed Sahajānand Svāmī as his Successor.

Sahajānand Svāmī instructed his followers to recite the Svāmīnārāyaṇa Mantra (Svāmīnārāyan), and his fellowship became known as the Svāmīnārāyaṇa Saṁpradāya.

3. Beliefs

The Svāmīnārāyaṇa Saṁpradāya has its roots in the Vedas:

It follows the Vaiṣṇava tradition and to its followers represents a form of Hinduism. Svāmīnārāyaṇa built a number of temples during his time and except in Sarangpur, installed Kṛṣṇa as central deity in each.

The faith focuses on salvation through total devotion (or bhakti) to the God developed through virtues (dharma), spiritual wisdom (jñāna) and detachment (Vairāgya).

The Svāmīnārāyaṇa Saṁpradāya is devotion-focussed and advocates God within the disciplines of virtues:

Svāmīnārāyaṇa propagated a philosophy called Viśiṣṭādvaita, which says that God is Supreme, has a divine form, is the all-doer and is completely independent.

He simply stated that Souls (Jīva) never merge or dissolve into God and neither are they part of God, but are always subservient to God.

Redemption consists in the realisation of Ekānta dharma, comprising righteousness, right knowledge, detachment and devotion to that God.

Since its origin, Svāmīnārāyaṇa Saṁpradāya has been noted by its preservation of Gujarati cultural and linguistic traditions, devotion to the Personality of Svāmīnārāyaṇa as Supreme Deity and the reason of all Avatārs, dedication to Social Service and a strict ethical code including uncompromising Segregation of the Genders.

Monier Williams, the famous western Sanskrit teacher of 19th century, on at least one of his visits, had long discussions with Svāmīnārāyaṇa and his followers and did his best to ascertain the way Svāmīnārāyaṇa's principles were preached:

He visited the temple in Vadtal in the company of the Collector of Karīra (plant) during a popular Kārtik Pūrṇimā festival that took place there and recorded the basics:

Those who are initiated into proper worship of Kṛṣṇa deity are instructed to wear a Tulasī Kānti or rosary beads in 2 rows around their necks, one for Kṛṣṇa and one for Rādhā.

Followers are also instructed to chant the mantra of Śrī Kṛṣṇa Śaraṇam mama (great Kṛṣṇa is my Soul's refuge) and wear Ūrdhva Puṇḍra (Tilāk) markings on their forehead.

Daily worship of Kṛṣṇa in the temple was instructed and the Kṛṣṇa mantra was central to the Svāmīnārāyaṇa's initiation (Dīkṣā).

Supreme Being is believed to be referred by various names: Para Brahman, Bhagavān and Puruṣottama.

While no detailed statistical information is available, most of the followers of Svāmīnārāyaṇa share a belief that Svāmīnārāyaṇa is the complete manifestation of Nārāyaṇa or the Supreme Person and more superior to other Avatars.

Svāmīnārāyaṇa teachings are sometimes categorized as monotheism:

Unlike most other Vaiṣṇava schools such as those of Rāmānuja, Mādhva and Chaitanya, Svāmīnārāyaṇa, although leaning in preference towards Viṣṇu/Kṛṣṇa, did not differentiate between Viṣṇu and Śiva;

- moreover, he followed a Smārta approach (scripture-sanctioned deities are viewed as different manifestations of the same Brahman) by instructing his followers to venerate all 5 deities of the Pañcāyatana puja with equal reverence.

Verse 84 of Śikṣāpatrī, a key scripture to all followers of the Svāmīnārāyaṇa faith, makes reference to the Smārta-like belief.

In making no distinction between Viṣṇu and Śiva, Svāmīnārāyaṇa, held that Viṣṇu and Śiva are different aspects of the same God, instead of according Śiva a lower status as Mādhva and Rāmānuja had done, for example; Verse 47 of the Śikṣāpatrī, makes reference to this belief.

4. Manifestation of Nārāyaṇa

Followers of Svāmīnārāyaṇa believe that it was events that took place at Badarikāśrama, the abode of Nara Nārāyaṇa, which led to the incarnation of Svāmīnārāyaṇa:

It is believed that Nārāyaṇa took birth as Svāmīnārāyaṇa due to a curse of sage Durvāsā Muni which he accepted at his own will:

The curse led Nārāyaṇa to taking the form of an Avatār on Earth to destroy evil and establish Ekānta-dharma, religion based on morality, knowledge, detachment and devotion.

Important Hindu scriptures such as the Bhagavad Gītā and Bhāgavata Purāṇa confirm that Nārāyaṇa descends in human form to destroy evil, though there is no direct reference to Svāmīnārāyaṇa.

The Svāmīnārāyaṇa followers specifically interpret the Viṣvaksena Saṁhitā, 11th part of the Brahma Purāṇa, as well as the Skanda Purāṇa as giving a direct reference to Nārāyaṇa taking birth in the form of Svāmīnārāyaṇa:

None of the Purāṇas even mention "Svāmīnārāyaṇa".

In the liturgy of the tradition, the story of the announcement of the coming birth of Kṛṣṇa in the Bhāgavata Purāṇa is similar to the story of the birth of Svāmīnārāyaṇa, and merging of the images and stories of Svāmīnārāyaṇa and Kṛṣṇa has occurred.

Some people believe him to be reincarnation of lord Kṛṣṇa. Kṛṣṇa promised to come back to Govardhana & he did in form of Śrī Nāthajī.

In Vaiṣṇava theology Uddhava, who is considered to be the chief disciple of Kṛṣṇa, was ordained to spread his message in a future birth, and some groups of Svāmīnārāyaṇa Faith believe that he reappeared as Rāmānanda Svāmī to prepare the way for another manifestation of Kṛṣṇa.

Svāmīnārāyaṇa is said to have intimated that he was a manifestation of God Supreme in a meeting with the Reginald Heber, the Lord Bishop of Calcutta, in 1825.

5. Fundamentals of the Svāmīnārāyaṇa philosophy

The basic principle of the philosophy of Svāmīnārāyaṇa is Viśiṣṭādvaita (qualified non-dualism) as propounded by Rāmānujācārya. The main principles are:

1. Dharma (religion): Proper Conduct, as defined in the revealed scriptures: 'Śruti' and 'Smṛiti'.

2. Bhakti (devotion): Supreme love of Soul combined in the Consciousness of the glory of the Supreme God.

3. Jñāna (enlightenment): Awareness of the concepts of the Soul, illusion, and God.

4. Vairāgya (renunciation): Detachment from all material possessions and absolute attachment towards God – known as 'Vairāgya'.

5. Māyā (illusion): Named 'tri-guātmika' i.e. illusion prevalence in 3 qualities of Sattva, Rajas and Tamas; To be possessed by Māyā is considered to be caught in darkness; God is the lord of Māyā. From Illusions the Ego arise and attachment to one’s own body and material things.

6. Mukti – (liberation or Mokṣa): Loving worship of God.

7. Ātman – (self): Recognition of the Ātman, after which one experiences a transcendental bliss, is achieved through Bhakti yoga as outlined in the Bhagavad Gītā, according to the teachings of Svāmīnārāyaṇa:

Ātman is the Source of Energy and is the real Knower; It pervades the entire body and is the essence that differentiates matter and life; in character it is inseparable, impenetrable, indestructible and immortal.

8. Paramātman – (Supreme Soul): It is omnipresent within the Souls, just as Soul is present in the body; it is independent and is the one who rewards the Phala (fruits of karma) to the Souls.

Paramātman is the source of infinite material universes and the First Cause. It has no prior causes, and is the inherent cause of all effects (i.e. law of causality or karma).

Some did not understand and rebel against the notion of Svāmīnārāyaṇa's worship of Kṛṣṇa while Svāmīnārāyaṇa also considered himself to be a manifestation of God:

It is believed by his followers that just as Kṛṣṇa assumed as many forms as the number of divine maidens (Gopīs) with whom he danced, he may have manifested himself simultaneously in many forms.

6. Scriptures

Svāmīnārāyaṇa propagated general Hindu texts. He held the Bhāgavata Purāṇa in high authority.

However, there are many texts that were written by Svāmīnārāyaṇa or his followers that are regarded as Śāstras or scriptures within the Svāmīnārāyaṇa sect:

Notable scriptures throughout the sect include:

a. the Śikṣāpatrī and
b. the Vāchanamrita.

Other important works include:

the Satsangi Jīvan, Niṣkulānand Kavya, Bhakta Cintāmaṇi, and Guṇatitānand Svāmī's sermons known as the Svāmīni Vato.

7. Śikṣāpatrī

Svāmīnārāyaṇa wrote the Śikṣāpatrī on 11 February 1826.

While the original Sanskrit manuscript is not available, it was translated into Gujarati by Nityānandā Svāmī under the direction of Svāmīnārāyaṇa and is revered in the sect.

The local newspaper summarised it as a book of Social Laws that his followers should follow.

A commentary on the practice and understanding of Dharma, it is a small booklet containing 212 Sanskrit verses, outlining the basic tenets that Svāmīnārāyaṇa believed his followers should uphold in order to live a well-disciplined and moral life.

The oldest copy of this text is preserved at the Bodleian Library of Oxford University and it is one of the very few presented by Sahajānand Svāmī himself.

Āchārya Tejendraprasad of Ahmedabad has indicated in a letter that he is not aware of any copy from the hand of Sahajānand older than this text.

8. Vāchanamrita

Svāmīnārāyaṇa's philosophical, social and practical teachings are contained in the Vāchanamrita, a collection of dialogues recorded by 5 prominent saints (Muktānand Svāmī, Gopalānand Svāmī, Nityānandā Svāmī, Śūkānand Muni, & Brahmānand Svāmī) from his spoken words.

The Vāchanamrita is the scripture most commonly used in the Svāmīnārāyaṇa tradition:

It contains views on dharma (moral conduct), jñāna (understanding of the nature of the self), Vairāgya (detachment from material pleasure), and bhakti (pure, selfless devotion to God), the 4 essentials Hindu scriptures describe as necessary for a Jīva (Soul) to attain Moksha (salvation).

9. Membership

When Svāmīnārāyaṇa died in 1830, the movement had 1.8 million followers, and in 2001, this number was estimated to be 5 million.

Householder members of the Svāmīnārāyaṇa Saṁpradāya are known as a Satsaṅgis and are expected to maintain integrity in their actions while avoiding meat, intoxicants like alcohol, theft, gambling, and adultery.

10. Svāmīnārāyaṇa Paramahaṁsas

Tradition maintains that Svāmīnārāyaṇa initiated 500 ascetics as Paramahaṁsas in a single night.

Paramahaṁsa is a title of honour sometimes applied to Hindu spiritual teachers who are regarded as having attained Enlightenment. Paramahaṁsas were the highest order of Sannyāsi in the sect.

These Paramahaṁsas practiced strict restraint and spread the message of purity to many people.

Notable Svāmīnārāyaṇa Paramahaṁsas include:

1. Muktānand Svāmī was initiated by Rāmānanda Svāmī, Muktānand Svāmī was instrumental in Svāmīnārāyaṇa's entry into the Uddhava Saṁpradāya:

He wrote the Svāmīnārāyaṇa Ārati and literary works such as Muktānand Kavya, and co-wrote co-authored the Vāchanamrita.

Svāmīnārāyaṇa sometimes called Muktānand Svāmī the "Mother of Satsaṅg".

2. Gopalānand Svāmī arranged for the image of Hanumān to be installed in the Sarangpur temple and co-authored the Vāchanamrita.

3. Guṇatitānand Svāmī was the Mahant of the Junagadh Temple: He contributed spreading the Svāmīnārāyaṇa Saṁpradāya in that region for over 40 years.

His works are compiled in the book Svāmīni Vato.

4. Brahmānand Svāmī was a notable Poet who wrote almost a thousand poems and co-wrote the Vāchanamrita. His works are compiled in the Brahmānand Kavya, a copy of which is preserved in the British Museum in London.

He was also distinguished in architecture – as evident in the temple buildings in Muli, Vadtal and Junagadh.

5. Premānand Svāmī was a poet and a singer. He compiled the Cheshta Pād and Vandu Pād among other works:

The Cheshta Pād is recited daily at all Svāmīnārāyaṇa temples, describes Svāmīnārāyaṇa's daily routine and habits.

Vandu Pād describes the features and appearance of Svāmīnārāyaṇa.

6. Niṣkulānand Svāmī wrote the Bhakta Cintāmaṇi, which describes the life of Svāmīnārāyaṇa, his activities, sermons, theories and obstacles faced by him.

He also wrote 22 other scriptural works on various subjects, such as Puruṣottama Prakāśa and Yamdaṇḍa, and poems which are compiled in Niṣkulānand Kavya.

7. Nityānandā Svāmī wrote several important works, such as the Hari Dīgvijay and the Hanumān Kavacha, produced the first Gujarati translation of the Śikṣāpatrī which was approved by Svāmīnārāyaṇa, and co-authored the Vāchanamrita.

Succession of Svāmīnārāyaṇa

In 1826, Svāmīnārāyaṇa appointed 2 of his nephews as Āchārya, or administrators, to oversee 2 Gadis or dioceses:

Ayodhyaprasad, son of his elder brother Rāmpratap, became Āchārya of the Nar Nārāyaṇa Deva Gadi (Ahmedabad diocese),

and Rāghuvīrji, son of his younger brother Ichcharam, became Āchārya of the Lakṣmī Nārāyaṇa Deva Gadi (Vadtal diocese).

In the 20th century, several controversies involving the Ācāryas led to litigation resulting in restrictions on the Ācāryas’ authority along with schisms and the formation of new groups within the Svāmīnārāyaṇa Saṁpradāya.

12. 2 Monasteries

Svāmīnārāyaṇa outlined the divisions of the dioceses and the succession of Ācāryas in a short document, entitled The Lekh (Deś Vibhāga Lekh) in 1827.

The current Ācāryas are Kośalendraprasad Pande, of the Nar Nārāyaṇa Deva Gadi, and Nrigendraprasad Pande, of the Lakṣmī Nārāyaṇa Deva Gadi.

Within the tradition, there have been territorial disputes over the Vadtal temple and other assets since the conflict of 1902:

The conflict between the Deva faction, led by ascetics, that maintains that the temple is nobody's ancestral property and the Āchārya faction, led by the former Āchārya of Vadtal, has seen some tensions in recent years.

These divisions and their devotees have been involved in many conflicts, Guru overthrows and murders, rebellions of factions, accusations of sexual misconduct, after the passing of Svāmīnārāyaṇa. No wonder – several separate breakaway organizations have formed since, some with a better success.

13. Bocāsanvāsī Akṣara Puruṣottama Svāmīnārāyaṇa Sansthā (BAPS)

Bocāsanvāsī Akṣara Puruṣottama Sansthā (BAPS) was formed in 1907, by Yajñapuruṣdās (Śāstriji Mahārāj), on the principle that Svāmīnārāyaṇa was to remain on earth through a lineage of Akṣarbrahmā Gurus.

The doctrinal difference in the interpretation of Akṣara (Akṣarbrahmā) was one of the major reasons for the separation of BAPS from the Vartal diocese.

Based on the Akṣara-Puruṣottama Darśana, followers believe Svāmīnārāyaṇa manifests through a lineage of Akṣarbrahmā Gurus,

beginning with Guṇatitānand Svāmī followed by Bhagatji Mahārāj, Śāstriji Mahārāj, Yogiji Mahārāj, Pramukh Svāmī Mahārāj, and Mahant Svāmī Mahārāj as of August 13, 2016.

14. Śrī Svāmīnārāyaṇa Gadi Sansthān

The followers of the Śrī Svāmīnārāyaṇa Gadi Sansthān believe that Gopalānand Svāmī was the spiritual successor to Svāmīnārāyaṇa.

This difference in belief of succession led to the creation of Svāmīnārāyaṇa Gadi in 1941.

The current leader of the Svāmīnārāyaṇa Gadi is Āchārya Puruṣottampriyādās. Muktajīvan Svāmī nominated Puruṣottampriyādās as his successor and heir on Wednesday 28 February 1979.

Muktajīvandās Svāmī left the Ahmedabad Gadi to form the Manināgar Śrī Svāmīnārāyaṇa Gadi Sansthān in the 1940s, claiming Gopalānand Svāmī was the spiritual successor to Svāmīnārāyaṇa.

Muktajīvandās Svāmī took responsibility in 1942 CE and established Śrī Svāmīnārāyaṇa Temple in Manināgar, Ahmedabad, India as the headquarters of the Svāmīnārāyaṇa Gadi Faith.

15. Svāmīnārāyaṇa Mandir Vasna Sansthā

The group's founder is Devnandandās Svāmī.

Svāmīnārāyaṇa Mandir Vasna Sansthā also known as SMVS is an organization within the Svāmīnārāyaṇa Saṁpradāya which spreads teaching of Svāmīnārāyaṇa.

SMVS was formed on 2 February 1987 by Devnandandās-ji Svāmī, respectfully addressed as Bapji by his devotees and followers.

16. Guṇatit Samāj

The Yogi Divine Society was established in 1966, by Dadubhai Patel and his brother, Babubhai, also known as Kākājī and Pappājī, after they were excommunicated from BAPS by Yogiji Mahārāj:

The brothers were expelled after Dadubhai was questioned for his activities in East Africa, which included recruiting young women to become ascetics and fundraising to support these efforts. 

Following his removal, he started a mission in Vidyanāgar where he initiated the young women as ascetics.

After Dadubhai’s death in 1986, an ascetic named Hariprasad became the leader of the Yogi Divine Society.

The Yogi Divine Society became known as the Guṇatit Samāj and consists of several wings:

a) Yogi Divine Society,
b) The Anūpam Mission,
c) The Guṇatit Jyoti.