SETTING THE SCENE
In the previous article, we learnt that when Bhagwan Swaminarayan left for Akshardham, the spiritual world, he left behind an enormous legacy of temples, initiated sadhus, thousands of devotees, and volumes of spiritual text and scriptures.
We now introduce the work of Gunatitanand Swamiand and Pragji Bhakta who continued his work of establishing the true identity of Swaminarayan as Purushotam and of Guntatitanand swami as Akshar.
EARLY YEARS - Gunatitanand Swami
Born on 28th Sept 1784, in a village called Bhadra, India he was named Mulji Sharma. Even from a very young age he clearly displayed his connection with Bhagwan Swaminarayan. To his parents’ utter amazement, he would talk about Bhagwan Swaminarayan, what he was doing and where he was – he would make statements like Bhagwan has now left home, or playing in the fields etc.
There were a number of occasions when Bhagwan Swaminarayan came to Bhadra and met with Mulji and told the villagers of his divinity.
Mulji continued to grow up totally oblivious to worldly matters and one day on 29th November 1809, whilst he was on his farm, he had a divine vision of Bhagwan Swaminarayan calling him to join him.”
In January 1810, Bhagwan Swaminarayan organised a huge yagna where thousands were invited and he ordained Mulji as his own abode and named him Gunatitanand Swami. The scale of the yagna was exceptional indicating his closeness with Gunatitanand Swami.
He quickly settled in amongst the groups of sadhus and started travelling around India spreading word of Swaminarayan. His outstanding capacity to narrate and to sing bhajans (spiritual songs) soon won the hearts of many.
Bhagwan Swaminarayan soon built a very large temple in Junagadh and established Gunatitanand Swami as its head. He would encourage all devotees and sadhus to go there at least once a month every year and listen to discourses of Gunatitanand Swami.
Gunatitanand Swami’s legacy lies in his intense devotion and unique connection to Bhagwan Swaminarayan and his many discourses that have now been compiled into a single book - Swamini Vato (Talks of Swami). It is considered to be one of the main scriptures of the Swaminarayan faith.
His other enormous contribution to the Swaminarayan faith was that he passed his knowledge and teachings to Pragji Bhakta who stayed and served him for many years.
At the age of 82 years, Gunatitanand announced that he had served as a head of the temple for 40 years and that he would hand over his work to other sadhus. He travelled to Gondal and eventually passed away to Akshardham. A mandir has since been built on the site where he was cremated as a memorial to him This mandir is referred to as Akshar Deri and is considered as one of the main places of pilgrimage for millions of devotees.
EARLY YEARS – Pragji Bhakta
Born in a village called Mahuva, India on the 20th March 1829, he was called Pragji Bhakta.
As a young child, he would refuse to attend the local school and tell his friends that he did not need to study at school as he was already educated in spiritual matters and encouraged his friends to engage in devotion to God.
Pragji Bhakta spent much of his time at the Swaminarayan mandir in Mahuva, where he met Gopalanand Swami, a senior sadhu. After this initial meeting, Pragji Bhakta became interested in furthering his understanding of Bhagwan Swaminarayan and his philosophy. He developed a close relationship with Gopalanand Swami, who before passing away, told Pragji Bhakta to go to Junagadh and learn from the discourses of Gunatitanand Swami, who he said, is the manifestation of Bhagwan Swaminarayan himself.
Once he was with Gunatitanand Swami who remarked, “Pragji, I am overflowing with knowledge, but I have yet to find a worthy person to receive it.” Hearing this, Pragji asked if he was worthy enough to be taught.
He became an excellent orator in propounding the philosophy of Swaminarayan much to the annoyance of many sadhus who simply could not understand the full glory of Swaminarayan and of Gunatitanand Swami.
On 7th November 1897, Pragji Bhakta passed away in his small hometown of Mahuva, leaving the legacy of continuing spreading the knowledge in the capable hands of Yagnapurushdas Swami.