Swaminarayan Sampradaya

Swaminarayan Sampradaya, also known as the Swaminarayan faith or the Swaminarayan sect, originating in the state of Gujarat, in which followers offer devotion to and worship Swaminarayan.[1][2]:2[3]

The Swaminarayan faith has a large percentage of Gujarati Hindus who are followers of Swaminarayan.[4]

Beliefs

Foundation

The Swaminarayan Sampradaya originated from the Uddhav Sampradaya, led by Ramanand Swami. In 1800, he initiated Swaminarayan, then known as Nilkanth Varni, into the fellowship and named him, Sahajanand Swami (also called Narayan Muni). Just prior to his death in 1801, Ramanand Swami appointed Sahajanand Swami as his successor. Sahajanand Swami instructed his followers to recite the Swaminarayan mantra, and his fellowship became known as the Swaminarayan Sampradaya. [2]:17-18[5]:xviii[6]:246

Beliefs

The Swaminarayan Sampradaya has its roots in the Vedas. It follows the Vaishnava tradition and to its followers represents a form of Hinduism.[7][8] Swaminarayan built a number of temples during his time and except in Sarangpur, installed Krishna as central deity in each. The faith focusses on salvation through total devotion (or bhakti) to the God developed through virtues (dharma), spiritual wisdom (gnana) and detachment (vairagya).[9][10][11][12]

The Swaminarayan Sampradaya is devotion-focussed and advocates God within the disciplines of virtues. Swaminarayan propagated a philosophy called Vishistadvaita, which says that God is supreme, has a divine form, is the all-doer and is completely independent.[7][8] He simply stated that souls (jiva) 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 ekantik dharma, comprising righteousness, right knowledge, detachment and devotion to that God.[13]

Considered a Vaishnava Bhakti sect following philosophical teachings of Uddhava as per Ramanujacharya. Since its origin, Swaminarayan Sampradaya has been noted by its preservation of Gujarati cultural and linguistic traditions, devotion to the personality of Swaminarayan as supreme deity and the reason of all avtārs, dedication to social service and a strict ethical code including uncompromising segregation of the genders.[14] Monier Williams, on at least one of his visits, had long discussions with Swaminarayan and his followers and did his best to ascertain the way Swaminarayan's principles were preached.[15] He visited the temple in Vadtal in the company of the Collector of Karira during a popular Kartik Purnima festival that took place there and recorded the basics. Those who are initiated into proper worship of Krishna deity are instructed to wear a Tulasi kanti or rosary beads in two rows around their necks, one for Krishna and one for Radha. Followers are also instructed to chant the mantra of śrī-kṛṣṇa sharaṇaṁ mama (great Krishna is my soul's refuge) and wear Urdhva Pundra Tilak markings on their forehead. Daily worship of Krishna in the temple was instructed and the Krishna mantra was central to the Swaminarayan's initiation (diksa). Supreme Being is believed to be referred by various names: Para Brahman, Bhagavan and Purushottama.[15] While no detailed statistical information is available, most of the followers of Swaminarayan share a belief that Swaminarayan is the complete manifestation of Narayana or the supreme person and more superior to other avatars.[16]

Swaminarayan teachings are sometimes categorized as monotheism. Unlike most other Vaishnavite schools such as those of Ramanuja, Madhva and Chaitanya, Swaminarayan, although leaning in preference towards Vishnu/Krishna, did not differentiate between Vishnu and Shiva; moreover, he followed a Smarta approach (scripture-sanctioned deities are viewed as different manifestations of the same Brahman) by instructing his followers to venerate all five deities of the Panchayatana puja with equal reverence.[17][18][19] Verse 84 of Shikshapatri, a key scripture to all followers of the Swaminarayan faith, makes reference to the Smarta-like belief.[20][21]

In making no distinction between Vishnu and Shiva, Swaminarayan, held that Vishnu and Shiva are different aspects of the same God, instead of according Shiva a lower status as Madhva and Ramanuja had done, for example.[18][22] Verse 47 of the Shikshapatri, makes reference to this belief.[23][24]

Swaminarayan in the form of Ghanshyam at a temple in London

Manifestation of Narayana

Durvasa's Curse at Badrikashram

Followers of Swaminarayan believe that it was events that took place at Badarikashram, the abode of Nara Narayana, that led to the incarnation of Swaminarayan. It is believed that Narayana took birth as Swaminarayan due to a curse of sage Durvasa Muni which he accepted at his own will. The curse led to Narayana taking the form of an avatar on Earth to destroy evil and establish ekantik-dharma, religion based on morality, knowledge, detachment and devotion.[25] Important Hindu scriptures such as the Bhagavad Gita and Bhagavata Purana confirm that Narayana descends in human form to destroy evil though there is no direct reference to Swaminarayan. He was a human & then a sage or philosopher. Only the Swaminarayan followers specifically interpret the Visvaksena Samhita, 11th part of the Brahma Purana, as well as the Skanda Purana as giving a direct reference to Narayana taking birth in the form of Swaminarayan.[26][27] None of the Puranas even mention "Swaminarayan". In the liturgy of the sect, the story of the announcement of the coming birth of Krishna in the Bhagavata Purana is similar to the story of the birth of Swaminarayan, and merging of the images and stories of Swaminarayan and Krishna has occurred. Some people believe him to be reincarnation of lord Krishna. Krishna promised to come back in Govardhans & he did in form of Shreenathji. In Vaishnava theology Uddhava, who is considered to be the chief disciple of Krishna, was ordained to spread his message in a future birth, and some groups of Swaminarayan Faith believe that he reappeared as Ramananda Swami to prepare the way for another manifestation of Krishna.[2]:16[28] Swaminarayan 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.[29]:81

Fundamentals of the Swaminarayan philosophy

The basic principle of the philosophy of Swaminarayan is vishistadvaita (qualified non-dualism) as propounded by Ramanujacharya.[30][31][32][33]

  • Dharma (religion): Proper conduct as defined in the revealed scriptures: 'Srutis' and 'Smritis'.[34]
  • Bhakti (devotion): Supreme love of soul combined in the consciousness of the glory of the Supreme God.[35]
  • Jnāna (enlightenment): Awareness of the concepts of the soul, illusion, and God.[32]
  • Vairagya (renunciation): Detachment from all material possessions and absolute attachment towards God – known as 'Vairagya'.[36]
  • Māyā (illusion): Named 'tri-gunatmika' i.e. illusion prevalence in three qualities of sattva, rajas and tamas; To be possessed by māyā is considered to be caught in darkness; God is the lord of māyā; It breeds ego in one for his body and for the relatives of the body.[32]
  • Mukti – (liberation or moksa): Loving worship of God.[32]
  • Ātman – (self): Recognition of the ātman, after which one experiences a transcendental bliss, is achieved through bhakti yoga as outlined in the Bhagavad gita, according to the teachings of Swaminarayan. It 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.[32]
  • 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. It 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).[32]

Some did not understand and rebel against the notion of Swaminarayan's worship of Krishna while Swaminarayan also considered himself to be a manifestation of God.[37] It is believed by his followers that just as Krishna assumed as many forms as the number of divine maidens (gopis) with whom he danced, he may have manifested himself simultaneously in many forms.[38]