Swaminarayan – A historical religion, widely known as “Swaminarayan Sampradaya”. This religion is one of the important part of Hinduism, which was founded by Lord Shree Swaminarayan (1781-1830) himself at the end of 18th century in Northern India.
Lord Swaminarayan was born in the village of Chhapaiya, Northern India, near Ayodhya, into a Brahmin family on 2nd April 1781 (Chaitra Sud 9, Samvat 1837) as Ghanshyam Pande. At the age of 11 years, he began a seven-year pilgrimage across India and travelled extensively around India in his Youth.
In 1800, he was initiated into the Uddhav sampradaya by his guru, Swami Ramanand, and settled in an Ashram in Gujarat. As per tradition of the Sampraday he became “Sahajanand Swami”, a name given to him by his Guru. In 1802, at the age of 21, the leadership of sampradaya was handed over to him. With that he founded the “Swaminarayan Sampradaya” (or denomination) to promote his teachings. As Sahajanand Swami he taught the Swaminarayan Mantra to his followers and initiated 3,000 sadhus (monks) too. By this all religious and social activities he is recognized and worshipped as God by his followers. Paramhansas were the highest order sannyasi of the sampradaya, which is a title of honour sometimes applied to Hindu spiritual teachers who are regarded as having attained enlightenment.
Lord Shree Swaminarayan known for his preachings of compassions and tolerance to all living beings through examples. He was also known as a social and moral reformer by the people of Gujarat, and by the British administration in that region. He had enjoyed good relationships with British administration too. He had contributed in abolishion of doodh-piti, the killing of a newborn female baby by drowning her in milk, and sati, the burning of a wife on her husband’s funeral pyre, from society. Lord Shree Swaminarayan advocated learning for people of all sectors of society. He even provided education for women, which was totally unheard of at the time.
Lord Shree Swaminarayan ordered to construct several Hindu temples and he had built six huge temples by himself and installed the idols of various deities such as Narayana in two temples, Laxminarayan Dev, Gopinathji Maharaj, Radha Raman Dev and Lalji. The first Swaminarayan temple was constructed at Ahmedabad in 1822. It was built on 5,000 acres of land given by the government (British Imperal Government).
He conducted the festivals of Vasant Panchami, Holi, and Janmashtami with organization of the traditional folk dance raas. Till today Swaminarayan Sampraday is quite famous for their ways of Celebration of Festivals very gloriously and grandly.
To continue his work of promoting personal morality and moulding spiritual character, he promised to remain ever-present with his followers through an unbroken succession of enlightened gurus. The current acharyas of the Swaminarayan Sampraday are Koshalendraprasad Pande, of the Ahmedabad Gadi, and Rakeshprasadji Pande of the Vadtal Gadi.
There are many texts that were written by Lord Shree Swaminarayan or his followers that are regarded as shastras or scriptures within the Swaminarayan sampraday. Notable scriptures throughout the sampraday include the Shikshapatri and the Vachanamrut. Other important works and scriptures include the Satsangi Jeevan, Swaminarayan’s authorized biography, the Muktanand Kavya, the Nishkulanand Kavya and the Bhakta Chintamani.
In the last century, several organizations (seventy-three or more), such as the Bochasanwasi Shri Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha have been formed by former Swaminarayan Sampraday members who left because of differences in philosophy.
According to the biographer Raymond Williams, when Lord Shree Swaminarayan died, he had followers of 1.8 million people. In 2001, Swaminarayan centers existed on four continents, and the congregation was recorded to be five million, the majority in the homeland of Gujarat.
According to Professor Raymond B. Williams, Swaminarayan Sampraday was criticized because he received large gifts from his followers and dressed and travelled as a Maharaja even though he had taken the vows of renunciation of the world.