By Swami Harshananda
Childhood of Svāmi-Nārāyaṇa
Svāmi-Nārāyaṇa lived in A.D. 1781-1830. Svāmi-Nārāyaṇa was the founder of the Svāmi-Nārāyaṇī sect of reformed Vaiṣṇavism. He was born in A. D. 1781 as the second son of Hariprasād Pāṇḍe and Bālādevī in Chapaiyā near Ayodhyā in Uttar Pradesh. He was named as Ghanaśyāma.
Being educated by his father, he showed a remarkable mastery over the religious scriptures at the tender age of six. When he was nine years, both the parents passed away leaving him to the care of his elder brother Rāmapratāpa and aunt Suvāsinī.
Spiritual Journey throughout the Country
At the age of eleven, he renounced his hearth and home. He started roaming about like a mendicant monk. In his sojourn through Nepal, he came across Gopālayogi, a highly evolved spiritual soul. He trained him in the yoga techniques of Patañjali’s aṣṭāṅgayoga. The guru gave him the new name Nīlakaṇṭha brahmacārin.
After visiting Bengal and Orissa, he then traveled towards the south of the Indian peninsula to Kanyākumārī. Returning from there, he proceeded towards Maharashtra and then to Gujarat. He finally landed at the village named Loj. He ended his spiritual journey there.
Sanyāsa of Svāmi-Nārāyaṇa
Very soon he was adopted as a disciple by Svāmi Rāmānanda. Rāmānanda was a well-known Vaiṣṇava saint of that time. He became his favorite. Actually the Svāmi had known through his yogic powers not only about the arrival of this disciple but also about his intrinsic greatness.
On an auspicious day, Rāmānanda gave Nīlakaṇṭha the vows of Bhāgavata religion of devotion to Śrī Kṛṣṇa. He also gave him the sanyāsa. Nīlakaṇṭha now became Svāmi Sahajānanda with an additional name as ‘Nārāyaṇamuni’. Gradually, the name Svāminārāyaṇa became more common and well-known.
Designation as Head of Satsaṅga Sect
Svāmi Rāmānanda took a great care of Svāminārāyaṇa. He groomed him to become the next head of the group or sect he had built up known as the Satsaṅga. The actual abbotship was transferred to him during the last part of the year A.D. 1801.
Svāminārāyaṇa initiated many revolutionary steps to purify the Satsaṅga from inside and spread the Bhāgavata religion extensively, especially in Gujarat. His personal magnetism and divine powers brought to him lakhs of devotees and disciples who remained loyal to him throughout their life. He reformed the lives of many people including the members of a notorious criminal gang known as Khatris.
Types of Svāminārāyaṇa Disciples
His disciples were divided into two categories. They were:
- The Satsaṅgis - Householders and other who were not sādhus or monks, belonged to this category.
- The sādhus - Sādhus or the monastic members belonged to this category.
Svāminārāyaṇa prescribed pañcaśīlas or five rules of conduct for both the groups. The rules for the first group were:
- Abstain from stealing
- Refrain from dultery
- Forego eating flesh
- Desist drinking
- Avoid eating the food offered by persons belonging to castes lower than one’s own
For the second group comprising monks the following rules were prescribed:
- Give up worldly desires and greed
- Do not cater to the tastes of the tongue or the quality of food
- Renounce egoism
- Abstain delusion
This was further buttressed by many more stringent rules. Transgressors were dealt with very severely.
Temples built by Svāminārāyaṇa
Svāminārāyaṇa established six Vaiṣṇava temples in six places as follows:
- Naranārāyaṇa temples in Ahmedabad and Bhuj
- Lakṣmīnārāyaṇa temple at Vaḍatāla
- Madanmohan temple at Dhulera
- Rādhāramaṇa temple at Junāgaḍh
- Gopīnātha temple at Gaḍhaḍā
The image in the Gaḍhaḍā temple resembles him and his spirit had been infused into it.
Philosophy of Svāminārāyaṇa
The philosophy of Svāminārāyaṇa can be briefly stated as follows:
- The highest Truth or God is Akṣaradhāma, the Indestructible Abode or Caitanya or Brahman or Puruṣottama.
- He is the creator, sustainer and destroyer of the universe.
- He incarnates himself as Rāma, Kṛṣṇa and other gods.
- The jīva or the individual soul is different from God and is subjected to the law of karma. They are infinite in number.
- Māyā is the power of God comprising the three guṇas with which He creates the world.
- It is the same māyā that binds the jīva to the body and the world.
- God can be realized by bhakti or devotion and nāmajapa or repetition of the divine name.
- The word ‘Svāminārāyaṇa’ is itself the sacred mantra or divine name that has to be used for repetition.
- In mukti or liberation, the jīva gets a divine, eternal body and lives in the divine abode, serving God.
- Svāminārāyaṇa practically accepts the philosophy of Rāmānuja in his teachings.
- His Vaiṣṇavism accords an important place to all the five gods of traditional religion. They are:
Works by Svāminārāyaṇa
He has left two works for the posterity. They are:
- Śikśāpatrī in 212 ślokas - It is his own work.
- Vacanāmṛtam - It is compilation of his teachings by his disciples.
The preachings of this book can be delineated as follows:
- The first ten ślokas of the Siksāpatrī gives a general introduction.
- The next part comprising the ślokas 11 to 122 describe the sāmānyadharmas or duties common to all persons.
- The last part of ślokas from 123 to 212, deals with the viśeṣadharmas, duties and responsibilities assigned to various groups of people like:
- Religious teachers
- Married women
Revolutions by Svāminārāyaṇa
Some of the revolutionary steps taken by Svāminārāyaṇa included the following:
- Building of a large number of small temples especially in villages
- Allowing women to worship in the temples
- Giving sanyāsa or monastic vows and robes to deserving women
- Appointing ācāryas or pious householder-teachers to guide the householder devotees
Growth of Svāminārāyaṇa Sect
Over the years, the Svāminārāyaṇa sect has grown into a mighty organisation with several branch centers not only in India but many other countries. These centers are undertaking many public service activities including the running of educational institutions, hospitals and various rural welfare schemes.
- Three guṇas are sattva, rajas and tamas.
- He lived in A. D. 1017- 1137.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore