BAPS Temple Founder and Successors:
PRAMUKH SWAMI MAHARAJ
MAHANT SWAMI MAHARAJ
Bhagwan Swaminarayan’s life and work have not only influenced communities in Gujarat, India, but have also affected changes around the world. He reestablished the Hindu Sanatan Dharma, the cleansing traditions and the impurity rituals that had gone through time. Their contributions have been hailed by Hindus and dignitaries of other religions as true transformers of the lives of millions of people. It has improved social norms and, more importantly, the innate nature of people, eliminating lust, anger, greed and envy. Bhagwan Swaminarayan was not a simple social worker; He was God incarnate. Bhagwan Swaminarayan did not simply reform the society; He carried it spiritually with faith, virtue and integrity. Your life and your work speak for themselves.
In one of Gunatitana and Swami’s first encounters with Bhagwan Swaminarayan, Bhagwan Swaminarayan introduced him as his ideal devotee, the embodiment of Aksharbrahma. Born under the name of Mulji Sharma in Bhadra, Gunatitanand Swami met Bhagwan Swaminarayan at the age of 15 in Piplana.
From an early age, Mulji Sharma had an intense connection with God, which was strange and unusual for his age group. In one incident, Mulji Sharma’s father, Bholanath, commented on his son’s behavior, saying there would be enough time to worship God when he was older. When Mulji Sharma heard this, he began to observe the behavior of the elderly in his village. He realized that, instead of devoting his time to devotion, many of them chatted or occupied their time with inactive tasks. In response to his father’s comment, he noted that devotion to God can not be a habit that manifests itself later in life and should rather be nurtured and appreciated from childhood. Observations like this one state that Mulji Sharma is very young.
Ten years after meeting Bhagwan Swaminarayan for the first time, Mulji Sharma received the sadhu diksha and was renamed Gunatitanand Swami. Mulji Sharma received the diksha in the presence of a large Yagna in which Bhagwan Swaminarayan spoke of his ideal and eternal state of Aksharbrahma.
Bhagwan Swaminarayan inaugurated six mandates during his life. After opening a mandir at Junagadh, he appointed Gunatitanand Swami as mahant. Gunatitanand Swami stayed in Junagadh for forty years. From there, he worked to spread the philosophy of Bhagwan Swaminarayan and guide the faithful. Bhagwan Swaminarayan has continually emphasized that sadhus and older worshipers should spend time with Gunatitanand Swami. Throughout his life, Bhagwan Swaminarayan has referred to the greatness of Gunatitan and Swami on many occasions. It was at this time that Bhagwan Swaminarayan established the importance of his legacy in gunatit sadhu for future generations.
After the death of Bhagwan Swaminarayan, Gunatitanand Swami continued to spread his philosophy and bring devotees to adopt spiritually pure lifestyles. Although Gunatitanand Swami were the masters of a great mandir, he constantly served others. Once, a sadhu met the mandir Junagadh and saw Gunatitanand Swami sweep in the courtyard. He asked Gunatitanand Swami where he could find the maud of the mandir. Gunatitanand Swami were asked to wait inside and the guy would find him there. After the bath, Gunatitanand Swami met the sadhu and introduced themselves as the mahant. The sadhu expressed the disbelief that the mandir’s mahant was engaged in such servile tasks. It was at this point that the sadhu recognized that the true qualities of selfless service could be found in Gunatitanad Swami.
The legacy of Gunatitanand Swami lies in his intense dedication and unique connection with Bhagwan Swaminarayan. Before passing away, Swamini Vato was compiled. Swamini Vato is a collection of observations of Gunatitanand Swami and parts of the discussions he used to have. It is considered one of the main writings of the Swaminarayan faith.
At the age of 82, Gunatitanand Swami died in Gondal. Since then, a mandir was built on the site where his body was cremated as a monument to Bhagwan Swaminarayan’s first spiritual successor. This mandir, known as Akshar Deri, is considered a place of pilgrimage for millions of faithful. Yogiji Maharaj assured the faithful that anyone who performed a mahapuja at Akshar Deri would receive his wishes.
Born as Pragji Bhakta in Mahuva, Bhagatji Maharaj was the second spiritual successor of Bhagwan Swaminarayan. As a child, he encouraged his friends to devote himself to devotion to God and was a model for others in the village, young and old. Pragji Bhakta spent much of his time in Swaminarayan’s mandir at Mahuva, where he met Gopalanand Swami, a paramhansa of Bhagwan Swaminarayan. After this first meeting, Pragji Bhakta became interested in expanding his understanding of Bhagwan Swaminarayan and his philosophy. He developed a close relationship with Gopalana and Swami who, before dying, told Pragji Bhakta to go to Junagadh and stay with his guru, Gunatitanand Swami.
Pragji Bhakta immediately recognized the greatness of Gunatitanand Swami as spiritual leader and as Asharbrahma. Pragji Bhakta was extremely dedicated to Gunatitanand Swami and continues to be a prominent example of following a guru’s agenda. There are innumerable incidents in Pragji Bhakta’s willingness to do everything possible to serve Gunatitanand Swami and his followers. In one incident, Gunatitanand Swami said that the mango trees of a particular plantation were drying out and drying up. Without being explicitly asked, Pragji Bhakta was responsible for watering each of the 300 trees with four containers filled with water from the local river. This is just one example of the kind of commitment Pragji Bhakta made to the wishes of his guru, implicitly or explicitly expressed.
Throughout the life of Gunatitanand Swami, Pragji Bhakta has become one of his most devoted disciples. Gunatitanand Swami often referred to Pragji Bhakta as containing the qualities that made him Akshar, the incarnation of the ideal devotee of Bhagwan Swaminarayan. After the death of Gunatitanand Swami, Pragji Bhakta became Bhagwan Swaminarayan’s second spiritual successor and spent his life spreading Bhagwan Swaminarayan’s philosophy amid the insults and abuses of evil and envious critics.
Shastriji Maharaj was the third spiritual successor of Bhagwan Swaminarayan and formalized BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha. Born under the name of Dungar Bhakta in Mahelav, he was known from an early age because of his deep belief in Bhagwan Swaminarayan, his philosophy and his spiritual successors.
The true conviction of Shastriji Maharaj manifested itself in the way he lived his life, even as a child. One night he went out to the farm at night. Although all the children in the town were afraid to walk down the dimly lit road to the fields, Dungar Bhakta was not worried. When his father asked him why he was not afraid, Dungar Bhakta replied that he had nothing to fear if he sang the Swaminarayan mantra.
Dungar Bhakta has shown a keen sense of intelligence from an early age. At age 10, he was offered free education with the promise that he would become a British government official after graduation. Dungar Bhakta rejected the offer, unimpressed by the banal status he offered.
Dungar Bhakta was determined to become a sadhu from his first encounter with the itinerant sadhus of Swaminarayan sanstha. His father, Dhoribhai, did not want to let him become a sadhu despite his many requests. Finally, at the age of sixteen, Dhoribhai gave Dungar Bhakta permission to become a sadhu after realizing it was the only wish of his son.
As soon as Dungar Bhakta arrived at the mandir in Surat, he devoted himself to the service of the Mandir and his followers. Shortly after, he received the sadhu diksha and was called Sadhu Yagnapurushdas. He continued to serve the mandir and his guru and began to study the scriptures in Sanskrit. Sadhu Yagnapurushdas received the diksha of Swami Vignananand. After the death of Swami Vigananand, Sadhu Yagnpurushdas remained in the service of Bhagatji Maharaj. He completed his studies on the scriptures and became known for his speeches on the philosophy of Akshar Purushottam. He continued to excel in advanced levels of scripture study.
Despite growing opposition from opponents to this purity and philosophical clarity, Sadhu Yagnapurushdas continues to spread the philosophy of Akshar Purushottam. His belief in the philosophy of Akshar Purushottam and the faith in his guru’s words were firm and unshakeable. He wanted to install the murtis of Akshar and Purushottam in the center of a shikharbaddha mandir. Resistance against his ideas grew and he finally agreed to leave Vadtal Mandir. He left with only five sadhus and a handful of worshipers.
Sadhu Yagnapurushdas continued to spread the philosophy of Akshar Purushottam throughout Gujarat and decided to build a mandir in Bochasan in which he could install the murtis of Akshar and Purushottam without resistance. He began to be known as Shastriji Maharaj because of his unparalleled knowledge of Hindu scriptures. It was not easy for Shastriji Maharaj to build the mandir in Bochasan. Shastriji Maharaj and his sadhus continued to be beaten and threatened. However, in 1907, Shastriji Maharaj opened a mandir in Bochasan, marking the beginning of the current BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha.
After opening the mandir in Bochasan, Shastrji Maharaj traveled to Sarangpur, where he met a devotee who donated land for the construction of a second mandir in Sarangpur. Shastriji Maharaj and his sadhus continued to face difficult circumstances but triumphantly opened the Mandir of Sarangpur in 1916. In addition to building commandos, Shastriji Maharaj began spreading the philosophy of Akshar Purushottam of Gujarat in other parts of India and even east of Africa.
In the following years, orders were opened in Gondal, Atladra and Gadhada. Sanstha grew rapidly and Shastriji Maharaj appointed Sadhu Narayanswarupdas, 28, as President of Sanstha. In 1951, after appointing Yogiji Maharaj as his spiritual successor, Shastriji Maharaj died in Sarangpur at the age of 86.
Yogiji Maharaj, the fourth spiritual successor of Bhagwan Swaminarayan, was known for his patient and playful nature. He brought the philosophy of Akshar Purushottam from India to Africa and London. He was a visionary, inspirer and initiator of the weekly activities of the children and youth of the organization. His positive attitude and his captivating smile captured the hearts of thousands of people. Chinmayananda Swami, from the Chinmaya Mission, said, “His face reflected the anand or divine joy expressed in the Upanishads.”
Yogiji Maharaj was born Jinabhai in Dhari in 1892. As a child, he taught his friends how to properly perform darshan and puja and became a priority for him. He showed honorable virtues from the beginning of his childhood. Once, in fifth grade, the principal of his school fatally injured one of his classmates. When the police came to investigate, no one told the truth; Students, teachers and other administrators protected the principal. Jinabhai, at the age of eleven, spoke bravely against the principal and told the truth to the police. Even on a daily basis, Jinabhai encouraged other students to study hard and discourage their classmates from cheating.
One day, Sadhu Krishnacharandas, a sadhu initiated by Gunatitanand Swami, visited Dhari. When he met Jinabhai, he was impressed by his dedication to Bhagwan Swaminarayan and invited him to become a sadhu. Jinabhai quickly accepted and left Dhari soon after. Then he stayed at Junagadh Mandir and performed the seva there. In 1911, he received the sadhu diksha and his name was Sadhu Gnanjivandas. He then joined Shastriji Maharaj to spread the philosophy of Akshar Purushottam.
Shastriji Maharaj and his sadhus experienced many difficulties as they continued to establish controls of Akshar Purushottam, gave speeches and traveled. Despite this, Sadhu Gnanjivandas stayed with his guru and continued tirelessly to help build mandirs and spread the philosophy of Akshar Purushottam. Patiently, he tolerated constant beatings, insults and hostility.
For now, Sadhu Gnanjivandas was affectionately known as Yogjii Maharaj. Yogiji Maharaj, despite his growing role in Sanstha, has never lost his original passion for serving others. Every day he got up at four in the morning and made more than 300 rotas to serve the other sadhus and devotees. Then he spent the rest of the day building mandirs, giving lectures or serving other ways.
Yogiji Maharaj has always put his guru, Shastriji Maharaj and Bhagwan Swaminarayan above all else. Once, he traveled to visit the faithful. It was 4 o’clock in the afternoon and he could not find water to offer it to the Thakorji murti. Finally, after two hours, he saw a river and immediately stopped the ox-driver. He offered water to the murti and prayed for forgiveness even though there was no water available without guilt.
His selfless and unconditional love has captured the hearts of young people. He initiated more than 51 educated young people from Africa, India and the UK as sadhus to dedicate their lives to serving Bhagwan Swaminarayan and society. Some of these sadhus were doctors, lawyers, engineers and academics. This brought about a rebirth in the sadhu samaj through the Hindu dharma Sanatan. From these sadhus, Pujya Mahant Swami, Pujya Doctor Swami, Pujya Bhaktipriya Swami, Pujya Tyagvallabh Swami, Pujya Ishwarcharan Swami, and Pujya Viveksagar Swami obtained their blessings and continued to serve the society under the guidance of their guru Pramukh Swami Maharaj for more than 50 years now!
Yogiji Maharaj’s belief in the Swaminarayan mantra was unshakable. Once in Akshar Deri’s Mandir at Gondal, Yogiji Maharaj was sitting under a tree and bitten by a venomous snake. All the other sadhus and devotees went to call a doctor, but Yogiji Maharaj stopped them by telling them that the sting would be healed simply by singing the Swaminarayan mantra. Yogiji Maharaj asked the sadhus to take him inside the mandir where everyone sang the mantra of his recovery. Twelve hours later, Yogiji Maharaj was completely cured of the effects of the snake bite.
Yogiji Maharaj was named the mahant of Gondal mandir where he remained until Shastriji Maharaj named him his spiritual successor before passing in 1951. As the spiritual leader of BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha, Yogiji Maharaj Abroad. He has opened five offices in East Africa and one in London. He also sent four sadhus to North America and also noted that Pramukh Swami would be going to the United States in a few years to open a temple.
Yogiji Maharaj emphasized the importance of regular satsang for each age group. He started the weekly Sunday sabha in every mandir and BAPS center. He also began the Bal, Kishore and Yuka mandates, which proposed special assemblies for young people.
Yogiji Maharaj died in 1971 in Mumbai after appointing Pramukh Swami Maharaj as his spiritual successor.
Pramukh Swami Maharaj:
Pramukh Swami Maharaj was the fifth spiritual successor of Bhagwan Swaminarayan. He led by example; His humility, his faith in Bhagwan Swaminarayan and his compassion have inspired millions of devotees and more than 1,000 sadhus to maintain a moral and spiritual lifestyle. It was the simple life of a single person, ignoring celebrity and recognition. His greatness lies in his ability to relate to the common man. He understood the problems that people face in their daily lives and identified with their pain. His success is not measured by the rewards he have received or the recognition he have accumulated. On the contrary, it is measured by the number of lives he has transformed.
The guru in the Hindu tradition is the gateway to the moksha. He is the light that guides the life of his disciples. They came to him for everything: spiritual enlightenment, moral development and even worldly advice. And the guru listens.
Pramukh Swami Maharaj listened to millions of people around the world and shared his sorrows. He gave them the courage to overcome personal fights. He consoled and advised on trivial matters, such as where to place a well in his estate or where to establish a manufacturing plant, and on important issues, such as how to secure the moksha. Pramukh Swami Maharaj led BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha for many decades, effectively administering his spiritual, cultural, personal development and humanitarian activities.
Pramukh Swami Maharaj lent his ears to millions of individuals around the world and shared their sorrows. He gave them the courage to overcome personal battles. He comforted and advised on mundane issues, such as where to place a well in their field or where to set up manufacturing plant, and on significant matters, such as how to secure moksha. Pramukh Swami Maharaj steered the reins of the BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha for many decades, effectively administering its spiritual, cultural, personal development and humanitarian activities.
Mahant Swami Maharaj:
His Holiness Mahant Swami Maharaj (Swami Keshav Jivan Dasji) was the sixth and current spiritual guru of the Baps Swaminarayan Sanstha.
HH Mahant Swami Maharaj was born on September 13, 1933 in Dahiben and Manibhai Narayanbhai Patel (Bhadarva vad 9, Samvat 1989) in Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh, India. A few days later, Brahmaswarup Shastriji Maharaj, the founder of BAPS, went to Jabalpur, where he blessed the newborn and named him Keshav. His family also affectionately called him Vinu.
Manibhai was originally from Anand in Gujarat and settled in Jabalpur on business. Vinubhai spent his formative years in Jabalpur, completing his primary and secondary studies in an English college. He was exceptionally bright and finished grade 12 at Christ Church Boys’ Senior Secondary School in Jabalpur. From that time, he returned with his parents to his hometown, Anand, where he enrolled in the Faculty of Agriculture. Despite his deep inner spirituality, he keen intelligence was inclined to rational and logical reasoning. Only a great spiritual master could penetrate his reasoning and awaken in him the spiritual spark. In 1951-52, he made contact with His Holiness Yogiji Maharaj, the spiritual successor of Brahmaswarup Shastriji Maharaj. Impressed by the spiritual charisma and selfless love of Yogiji Maharaj, he traveled with Yogiji Maharaj during his summer vacation. Yogiji Maharaj’s love has attracted the young Vinubhai.
Vinubhai graduated from Anand in agriculture and, thanks to his association with Yogiji Maharaj, was inspired by the path of renunciation. In 1957 Yogiji Maharaj gave him the parshad diksha and renamed him Vinu Bhagat. Yogiji Maharaj then told him to accompany him in his vicharan to take care of his daily correspondence and other services.
In 1961, on the occasion of Kalash Mahotsav of BAPS Swaminarayan Mandir in Gadhada, Yogiji Maharaj gave diksha bhagwati (saffron) to 51 school children. Among them, Vinu Bhagat was called Swami Keshavjivandas. Subsequently, Yogiji Maharaj commissioned the 51 newly initiated Sadhus to study Sanskrit in Mumbai. Swami Keshavjivandas was named as his boss (“mahant”) in Dadar Mandir. Therefore, over time, he became respectfully known as Mahant Swami.
His extraordinary virtues of austerity, self-control, dedication, humility and service have earned him the blessings and joy of Yogiji Maharaj and Pramukh Swami Maharaj. In 1971, after the earthly departure of Yogiji Maharaj, he devoted himself entirely to Pramukh Swami Maharaj, the new guru, with the same dedication and loyalty to the guru Yogiji Maharaj. His exposure to the pure and spiritual holiness of Pramukh Swami Maharaj began in 1951, when he first met him. Since 1971, according to the wishes and instructions of His Holiness Pramukh Swami Maharaj, he has traveled constantly to India and abroad to inspire and strengthen satsang in countless devotees. He also served at the Sanstha mega festivals, as part of activities for children and youth, Akshardham projects and other satsang activities.
The profound discourses of HH Mahant Swami have enlightened innumerable devotees and supporters and motivated them to adopt pious and addiction-free lives. His holiness and devotion to Bhagwan Swaminarayan and the gurus Yogiji Maharaj and Pramukh Swami Maharaj have left a lasting impression on countless devotees.
On July 20, 2012, in the presence of high-ranking Sadhus in Ahmedabad, Pramukh Swami Maharaj revealed Mahant Swami as his spiritual successor. After the departure of Pramukh Swami Maharaj on August 13, 2016, Mahant Swami became the sixth guru in the Bhagwan Swaminarayan tradition of Gunatit Parampara. HH Mahant Swami Maharaj now chairs as guru and spiritual guide of countless devotees and directs the global socio-spiritual activities of BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha.