Bochasanwasi Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha
BAPS Logo with the symbol of Akshar Deri
|Motto||"In the joy of others lies our own." – Pramukh Swami Maharaj|
|Formation||5 June 1907|
|Purpose||Educational, Philanthropic, Religious studies, Spirituality|
|Headquarters||Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India|
|Coordinates||23°02′N 72°35′E / 23.03°N 72.58°ECoordinates: 23°02′N 72°35′E / 23.03°N 72.58°E|
77+ million followers
|Mahant Swami Maharaj|
|Bochasanwasi Swaminarayan Sanstha (BSS)|
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Bochasanwasi Akshar Purushottam Sanstha (IAST: Bocāsanvāsī Akshar Purushottam Sansthā), often abbreviated as BAPS (formerly Bochasan Swaminarayan Sanstha or BSS), is a worldwide religious and civic organization within the Swaminarayan branch of Hinduism. BAPS was established as a formal organization on 5 June 1907 by Shastriji Maharaj. It was formed on the founder's doctrinal stand that Swaminarayan had promised to remain manifest in the person of Akshar, a term used to describe his chief devotee and Swaminarayan's abode.:55 Due to the organizational emphasis on the doctrine, also spelled as the "Akshar Purushottam" doctrine, it essentially forms part of the organization's middle name. The fundamental beliefs of BAPS include the spiritual guidance through Akshar as the Gunatit Guru who is believed to be in close proximity to Swaminarayan and the necessity to identify with the living Guru as a means to acquire oneness with Akshar and offer pure worship to Swaminarayan. Gunatitanand Swami is recognized in BAPS as the foremost Akshar in the lineage of Gunatit Gurus. He was succeeded by Bhagatji Maharaj, Shastriji Maharaj, Yogiji Maharaj, Prumukh Swami Maharaj and Mahant Swami Maharaj.
As a global Hindu minority organization, BAPS actively engages in a range of endeavors aimed at spirituality, character-building, and human welfare. The activities span religious, cultural, social, and humanitarian domains. Through these activities, it aims to preserve Indian culture, ideals of Hindu faith, family unity, selfless service, interfaith harmony and peaceful coexistence. 55,000 volunteers and 3,850 temples serve 3,850 communities around the world.
As part of its efforts towards community outreach, BAPS also engages in a host of humanitarian and charitable endeavors, by which its volunteers serve neighbors and communities. Through the BAPS Charities non-profit aid organization, BAPS has spearheaded a number of projects around the world in the arenas of healthcare, education, environmental causes, and community-building campaigns.
The mandir, known as a Hindu place of worship, serves as a hub for the spiritual, cultural, and humanitarian activities of BAPS. The organization has about 1,100 mandirs and a total of 3,300 volunteer-run centers spanning five continents. In the tradition of the Bhakti Movement, Swaminarayan and his spiritual successors began erecting mandirs to provide a means to uphold proper devotion to God on the path towards moksha, or ultimate liberation.:440 BAPS mandirs thus facilitate devotional commitment to the Akshar Purushottam Upasana, in which followers strive to reach the spiritually perfect state of Aksharbrahman, or the ideal devotee, thereby gaining the ability to properly worship Purushottam, the Supreme Godhead.:7–13
The offering of bhakti, or devotion to God, remains at the center of mandir activities. In all BAPS Swaminarayan mandirs, murtis, or sacred images of Swaminarayan, Gunatitanand Swami, BAPS guru's and other deities, are enshrined in the inner sanctum. After completion of prana pratishta or life-force installation ceremonies, the deities are believed to reside in the murtis, and are thus subjects of direct worship through sacred daily rituals.:240 In many mandirs, murtis are adorned with clothes and ornaments and devotees come to perform darshan, the act of worshiping the deity by viewing the sacred image.:131, 140 Aarti, which is a ritual of waving lit lamps in circular motions to illuminate the different parts of the murti while singing a song of praise, is performed five times daily in shikharbaddha mandirs and twice daily in smaller mandirs. Additionally, food is offered to the murtis amidst the singing of devotional songs three times a day as part of the ritual of thaal, and the sanctified food is then distributed to devotees.:140 Daily readings of and discourses on various Hindu scriptures also take place in the mandir.:132 Many mandirs are also home to BAPS sadhus, or monks.:50 On weekends, assemblies are held in which sadhus and devotees deliver discourses on a variety of spiritual topics. During these assemblies, bhakti is offered in the form of call-and-response hymns (kirtans) with traditional musical accompaniment. Religious assemblies also take place for children and teenagers of various age ranges.:62 Throughout the year, mandirs celebrate traditional Hindu festivals. Assemblies with special discourses, kirtans, and other performances are arranged to commemorate Rama Navami, Janmashtami, Diwali, and other major Hindu holidays.:138–147 Members of the sect are known as Satsangi's. Male Satsangi's are generally initiated by obtaining a kanthi at the hands of a sadhu or senior male devotee while females receive the vartman from the senior women followers.
In addition to being focal points of religious activity, BAPS mandirs are also centers of culture.:21 Many forms of traditional Indian art have their roots in Hindu scriptures and have been preserved and flourished in the setting of mandirs.:220 Many BAPS mandirs outside of India hold Gujarati classes to facilitate scriptural study, instruction in traditional dance forms in preparation for performances in festival assemblies, and music classes where students are taught how to play traditional instruments such as tabla. Many devotees view the mandir as a place for transmission of knowledge of Hindu values and their incorporation into daily routines, family life, and careers.:418–422
Apart from classes teaching about religion and culture, mandirs are also the site of activities focused on youth development. Many centers organize college preparatory classes, leadership training seminars and workplace skills development workshops. Many centers host women's conferences aimed at empowering young women. They also host sports tournaments and initiatives to promote healthy lifestyles among children and youth. Many centers also host parenting seminars, marriage counseling, and events for family bonding.
BAPS mandirs and cultural centers serve as hubs of several humanitarian activities powered by local volunteers. Mandirs in the US and UK host an annual walkathon to raise funds for local charities such as hospitals or schools. Many centers also host annual health fairs where needy members of the community can undergo health screenings and consultations. During weekend assemblies, physicians are periodically invited to speak on various aspects of preventative medicine and to raise awareness on common conditions. In times of disaster, centers closest to the affected area become hubs for relief activity ranging from providing meals to reconstructing communities.
The organization's second mandir was built in Sarangpur, which also hosts a seminary for BAPS sadhus.:112
As a consequence of the Indian emigration patterns, mandirs have been erected in Africa, Europe, North America, and the Asia-Pacific region.:13–14 The BAPS mandir in Neasden, London was the first traditional Hindu mandir built in Europe.:11–12 The organization's sixth and largest North American shikharbaddha mandir was inaugurated in 2014 in the New Jersey suburb of Robbinsville Township, and is the world's largest Hindu temple.
BAPS has a total of 34 shikharbaddha mandirs around the world, with another 9 under construction. In addition to its shikharbaddha madirs, BAPS has over 1,100 other mandirs spread over five continents, including around 70 mandirs in North America (United States and Canada) and 12 mandirs in Europe.
BAPS has constructed three large temple complexes dedicated to Swaminarayan called Akshardham, which in addition to a large stone-carved mandir has exhibitions that explain Hindu traditions and Swaminarayan history and values. Akshardham temple complexes have been built in India in New Delhi and Gandhinagar, Gujarat, and one in the United States at Robbinsville Township in Central New Jersey.
Doctrinal origins (1799–1905)
The History of BAPS as an organization begins with Shastriji Maharaj's desire to propagate the mode of worship:186 as revealed by Swaminarayan in his original teachings.:7 During Swaminarayan's own time, his group's spread had been curbed by opposition from Vaishnava sampradayas and others hostile to Swaminarayan's bhakti teachings.:363 Due to the hostility of those who found Swaminarayan's growing popularity and teachings unacceptable, sadhus and devotees during Swaminarayan's time tempered some of the public presentation of his doctrine, despite their own convictions, to mitigate violence towards their newly formed devotional community.:364 The original doctrine taught by Swaminarayan continued to be conveyed in less public fora, but with the passage of time, Shastriji Maharaj sought to publicly reveal this doctrine, which asserted that Swaminarayan and his choicest devotee, Gunatitanand Swami, were ontologically, Purushottam and Akshar, respectively.:186 However, when Shastriji Maharaj began openly discoursing about this doctrine, hereafter the Akshar-Purushottam doctrine, he was met with opposition from some quarters within the Vartal diocese.:55:365 As the opposition against him grew violent,:365 Shastriji Maharaj was left with no choice but to leave:54–56 Vartal to escape violent physical assaults.:363–365 Thus, Williams notes, the very basis for separation from the Vartal diocese and raison d’être for the formation of BAPS was this doctrinal issue.:55
Revelation of Doctrine
Swaminarayan is viewed as God (Purushottama) by BAPS followers.:362 Thus, his writings and discourses form the foundation for BAPS’ theological tenets.:342 Regarding Swaminarayan's philosophy, Akshar plays a fundamental role in the overall scheme of ultimate liberation.:33 To that end, Swaminarayan indicated that those who wish to offer pure devotion to God (Purushottama):364 and are desirous of Moksha should imbibe the qualities of the Gunatit Guru [Satsangijivanam Volume IV/72:1,2]. As Akshar, embodied as the Gunatit Guru, epitomizes ideal devotion:87 transcending Maya. Swaminarayan's philosophical stand that liberation is unattainable unless one "identifies oneself with Akshar (a synonym of Brahman) and offers the highest devotion to Purushottam" is also found in various Hindu scriptures [Mundaka Upanishad 3/2:9, Shrimad Bhagavatam I/1:1, Bhagvad Gita XVIII/54]. It follows that the doctrine that Shastriji Maharaj propagated, as Kim observes, "did not result in the rejection of any scriptures; instead, it was the beginning of a distinctive theology which added a single but powerful qualification, [that Akshar plays] in the form of the living guru".:318
BAPS devotees also believe that Swaminarayan propagated the same doctrine through the mandirs he built.:364 From 1822 to 1828, Swaminarayan constructed a total of six shikharbaddha mandirs in Gujarat; in each he installed the murtis of a principal deity coupled with their ideal devotee in the central shrine: Nar-Narayan in Ahmedabad (1822) and Bhuj (1823), Lakshmi-Narayan in Vartal (1824), Madan-Mohan in Dholera (1826), Radha-Raman in Junagadh (1828), and Gopi-Nath in Gadhada (1828).:364–365
As Kim notes, "For BAPS devotees, the dual murtis in the original Swaminarayan temples imply that Swaminarayan did install a murti of himself alongside the murti of his ideal bhakta or Guru".:364 Thus, Shastriji Maharaj, was simply extending that idea by enshrining the murti of Swaminarayan along with Gunatitanand Swami, his ideal devotee, in the central sanctum.:364 However, many within the Vartal and Ahmedabad dioceses did not subscribe to this view, and this became one of the main points of disagreement that led to the schism.:55
Shastriji Maharaj explained that as per Swaminarayan's teachings, God desired to remain on earth through a succession of enlightened gurus.:317 In many of his discourses in the Vachanamrut (Gadhada I-71,:147–148 Gadhada III-26:630–631 and Vadtal 5:534) Swaminarayan explains that there forever exists a Gunatit Guru:363 (perfect devotee) through whom Swaminarayan manifests on earth:92 for the ultimate redemption of jivas.:178
Shastriji Maharaj noted that Swaminarayan had "expressly designated" the Gunatit Guru to spiritually guide the satsang (spiritual fellowship) while instructing his nephews to help manage the administration of the fellowship within their respective dioceses.:317:610
Numerous historical accounts:89 and texts written during Swaminarayan and Gunatitanand Swami's time period identify Gunatitanand Swami as the embodiment of Akshar. Followers of BAPS believe that the Ekantik dharma that Swaminarayan desired to establish is embodied and propagated by the Ekantik Satpurush – the Gunatit Guru.:327, 358 The first such guru in the lineage was Gunatitanand Swami.:90 Shastriji Maharaj had understood from his own guru, Bhagatji Maharaj, that Gunatitanand Swami was the first Gunatit Guru in the lineage.
Historically, each Gunatit Guru in the lineage has continued to reveal his successor; Gunatitanand Swami revealed Pragji Bhakta (Bhagatji Maharaj), who in turn revealed Shastriji Maharaj, who pointed to Yogiji Maharaj, who revealed Pramukh Swami Maharaj, the Guru, thus continuing the lineage of Akshar.:89–90 Most recently, Pramukh Swami Maharaj revealed Mahant Swami Maharaj as the next and current Guru in the lineage.
Propagation of Doctrine by Bhagatji Maharaj
Although Bhagatji Maharaj was originally a disciple of Gopalanand Swami, he instructed him to seek the company of Gunatitanand Swami if he desired to attain the Gunatit state. Through his association with Gunatitanand Swami, Bhagatji Maharaj understood that the doctrine of Akshar-Purushottam was the true doctrine propagated by Swaminarayan.
In 1883, Shastriji Maharaj met Bhagatji Maharaj in Surat. Recognizing Bhagatji Maharaj's spiritual caliber, Shastriji Maharaj began spending increasing amounts of time listening to Bhagatji Maharaj's discourses, and soon, he accepted Bhagatji Maharaj as his guru.:21 Over time, Shastriji Maharaj also became a strong proponent of the Akshar-Purushottam Upasana.:55 After Bhagatji Maharaj died on 7 November 1897, Shastriji Maharaj became the primary proponent of the doctrine of Akshar-Purushottam.:55 He believed that the construction of mandirs guided by this doctrine was urgently needed to facilitate followers’ practice of this understanding of Swaminarayan devotion.:363
Foundation and early years (1905–1950)
In this regard, Shastriji Maharaj persuaded Acharya Kunjvihariprasadji to consecrate the murtis of Akshar (Gunatitanand Swami) and Purushottam (Swaminarayan) in the Vadhwan mandir.:21 Shastriji Maharaj's identification of Gunatitanand Swami as the personal form of Akshar was already a paradigm shift for some that led to "opposition and hostility":363 from many within the Vadtal diocese.:357–390 Moreover, the installation of Gunatitanand Swami's murti next to Swaminarayan in the Vadhwan Mandir, led to further hostility and opposition from many sadhus of the Vadtal temple who were determined to prevent the murti of Gunatitanand Swami from being placed [along with Swaminarayan in the central shrine].:55 Although several attempts were made on his life following this event,:365 Shastriji Maharaj maintained his reluctance to leave Vadtal.:21 Since Bhagatji Maharaj had promised him that even if he was cut into pieces, he would sew him together, and therefore should not ever leave Vadtal. Seeing the unrelenting threat to Shastriji Maharaj's life, Krishnaji Ada, a respected lay leader of the Swaminarayan Sampraday, advised him to leave for his own safety, as per the teachings of Swaminarayan in the Shikshapatri Verse 153–154.:21 Acknowledging the commands of Swaminarayan in the Shikshapatri,:21 Shastriji Maharaj decided to leave:54–56 the Vartal temple to preach in the surrounding regions until the temple became safe again.:21
On 12 November 1905, Shastriji Maharaj left the Vadtal temple with five sadhus and the support of about 150 devotees.:13 However, he did not consider himself to be separating from Vadtal as he instructed his followers to continue their financial contributions to and participation in the temples of the Vartal diocese.:365 See Shastriji Maharaj: Formation of BAPS
- Mandirs to facilitate doctrinal practice
On 5 June 1907 he consecrated the murtis of Swaminarayan and Gunatitanand Swami in the central shrine of a shikharbaddha mandir he was constructing in the village of Bochasan in the Kheda District of Gujarat.:91 This event was later seen to mark the formal establishment of the Bochasanwasi Akshar-Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha,:364 which was later abbreviated as BAPS. The Guajarati word Bochasanwasi implies hailing from Bochasan, since the organization's first Mandir was in this village.
Shastriji Maharaj continued to consolidate and spread the Akshar-Purushottam teachings of the nascent BAPS and spent the majority of 1908–15 discoursing throughout Gujarat, while continuing construction work of mandirs in Bochasan and Sarangpur. As recognition of Shastriji Maharaj's teachings continued to spread throughout Gujarat, he acquired a loyal and growing group of devotees, admirers, and supporters, many of whom were formerly associated with the Vartal or Ahmedabad diocese of the Swaminarayan Sampradaya.:365 Over the next four decades, Shastriji Maharaj completed four more shikharabaddha mandirs in Gujarat (Sarangpur - 1916, Gondal - 1934, Atladra - 1945, and Gadadha - 1951).:365
Kim notes that these temples, in essence, represented the fundamental doctrine that Shastriji Maharaj wished to propagate based on Swaminarayan's teachings: "the ultimate reality [Purushottam] and the means, in the form of the Guru, which [enables a] devotee to offer eternal devotion to the ultimate reality".:365 Thus, this historical period marked a "focused emphasis" on building shikharabaddha mandirs as a means of conveying Swaminarayan doctrine.
On 12 August 1910 Shastriji Maharaj met his eventual successor, Yogiji Maharaj, at the house of Jadavji in Bochasan.:16 Yogiji Maharaj was a resident sadhu at Junagadh Mandir (Saurãshtra),:183 where Gunatitanand Swami had served as mahant.:17 Yogiji Maharaj regarded Gunatitanand Swami as Akshar and also served the murti of Shri Harikrishna Maharaj which had previously been worshipped by Gunatitanand Swami.:17 As he already believed in the doctrine being preached by Shastriji Maharaj, Yogiji Maharaj left Junagadh on 9 July 1911 with six sadhus to join Shastriji Maharaj's mission.:186
On 7 November 1939, 17-year-old Shantilal Patel(who would become Pramukh Swami Maharaj) left his home and was initiated by Shastriji Maharaj into the parshad order, as Shanti Bhagat, on 22 November 1939, and into the sadhu order, as Sadhu Narayanswarupdas, on 10 January 1940. Initially, he studied Sanskrit and Hindu scriptures and served as Shastriji Maharaj's personal secretary. In 1946, he was appointed administrative head (Kothari) of the Sarangpur mandir.
In the early part of 1950, Shastriji Maharaj wrote several letters to 28-year-old Shastri Narayanswarupdas expressing a wish to appoint him as the administrative president of the organization. Initially, Shastri Narayanswarupdas was reluctant to accept the position, citing his young age and lack of experience and suggesting that an elderly, experienced sadhu should take the responsibility. However, Shastriji Maharaj insisted over several months, until, seeing the wish and insistence of his guru, Shastri Narayanswarupdas accepted the responsibility. On 21 May 1950 at Ambli-Vali Pol in Amdavad, Shastriji Maharaj appointed Shastri Narayanswarupdas as the administrative president (Pramukh) of BAPS.:11 He instructed Shastri Narayanswarupdas, who now began to be referred to as Pramukh Swami, to ennoble Satsang under the guidance of Yogiji Maharaj.
Development and Organizational Formation (1950–1971)
After the death of Shastriji Maharaj on 10 May 1951, Yogiji Maharaj became the spiritual leader, or Guru, of the organization while Pramukh Swami continued to oversee administrative matters as president of the organization.:60 Yogiji Maharaj carried Shastriji Maharaj's mission of fostering the Akshar-Purushottam doctrine by building temples, touring villages, preaching overseas and initiating weekly local religious assemblies for children, youths and elders. In his 20 years as guru, from 1951 to 1971, he visited over 4,000 cities, towns and villages, consecrated over 60 mandirs and wrote over 545,000 letters to devotees.:9
- Youth Movement
This period of BAPS history saw an important expansion in youth activities. Yogiji Maharaj believed that in a time of profound and rapid social ferment, there was an imminent need to save the young from ‘degeneration of moral, cultural and religious values’.:219 To fill a void in spiritual activities for youths, Yogiji Maharaj started a regular Sunday gathering (Yuvak Mandal) of young men in Bombay:217 in 1952.:167 Brear notes, "His flair, dynamism and concern led within ten years to the establishment of many yuvak mandals of dedicated young men in Gujarat and East Africa".:217 In addition to providing religious and spiritual guidance, Yogiji Maharaj encouraged youths to work hard and excel in their studies. Towards realizing such ideals, he would often remind them to stay away from worldly temptations. A number of youths decided to take monastic vows.:187 On 11 May 1961 during the Gadhada Kalash Mahotsav, he initiated 51 college-educated youths into the monastic order as sadhus.:168 Mahant Swami initiated as Sadhu Keshavjivandas was one of the initiates.
- East Africa
Satsang in Africa had started during Shastriji Maharaj's lifetime, as many devotees had migrated to Africa for economic reasons. One of Shastriji Maharaj's senior sadhus, Nirgundas Swami, engaged in lengthy correspondence with these devotees, answering their questions and inspiring them to start satsang assemblies in Africa. Eventually, in 1928, Harman Patel took the murtis of Akshar-Purushottam Maharaj to East Africa and started a small center.:20 Soon, the East Africa Satsang Mandal was established under the leadership of Harman Patel and Magan Patel.:20
In 1955, Yogiji Maharaj embarked on his first foreign tour to East Africa.:217 The prime reason for the visit was to consecrate Africa's first Akshar-Purushottam temple in Mombasa. The temple was inaugurated on 25 April 1955.:168 He also travelled to Nairobi, Nakuru, Kisumu, Tororo, Jinja, Kampala, Mwanza and Dar es salaam.:168 His travels inspired the local devotees to begin temple construction projects. Due to the visit, in a span of five years, the devotees in Uganda completed the construction of temples in Tororo, Jinja and Kampala and asked Yogiji Maharaj to revisit Uganda to install the murtis of Akshar-Purushottam Maharaj. The rapid temple constructions in Africa were helped by the presence of early immigrants, mainly Leva Patels, who came to work as masons, and were particularly skilled in temple building.
As a result, Yogiji Maharaj made a second visit to East Africa in 1960 and consecrated hari mandirs in Kampala, Jinja and Tororo in Uganda.:50 Despite his failing health, Yogiji Maharaj at the age of 78 undertook a third overseas tour of London and East Africa in 1970.:169 Prior to his visit, the devotees had purchased the premises of the Indian Christian Union at Ngara, Kenya in 1966 and remodeled it to resemble a three-spired temple. Yogiji Maharaj inaugurated the temple in Ngara, a suburb of Nairobi in 1970.
In 1950, disciples Mahendra Patel and Purushottam Patel held small personal services at their homes in England. Mahendra Patel, a barrister by vocation, writes, "I landed in London in 1950 for further studies. Purushottambhai Patel...was residing in the county of Kent. His address was given to me by Yogiji Maharaj". Beginning 1953, D. D. Meghani held assemblies in his office that brought together several followers in an organized setting. In 1958, leading devotees including Navin Swaminarayan, Praful Patel and Chatranjan Patel from India and East Africa began arriving to the UK. They started weekly assemblies at Seymour Place every Saturday evening at a devotee's house. In 1959, a formal constitution was drafted and the group registered as the "Swaminarayan Hindu Mission, London Fellowship Centre". D.D. Megani served as Chairman, Mahendra Patel as Vice-Chairman and Praful Patel the secretary. On Sunday, 14 June 1970, the first BAPS temple in England was opened at Islington by Yogiji Maharaj. In this same year he established the Shree Swaminarayan Mission:189 as a formal organization.
- United States
Yogiji Maharaj was unable to travel to the United States during his consecutive foreign tours. Nonetheless, he asked Dr. K.C. Patel, a chemistry instructor at Brooklyn College, to begin satsang assemblies in the United States. He gave Dr. Patel the names of twenty-eight satsangi students to help conduct [satsang] assemblies.
In 1970, Yogiji Maharaj accepted the request of these students and sent four sadhus to visit the U.S. The tour motivated followers to start satsang sabhas in their own homes every Sunday around the country. Soon, K.C. Patel established a non-profit organization known as BSS under US law. Thus, a fledgling Satsang Mandal formed in the United States before the death of Yogiji Maharaj in 1971.
Growth and Global Expansion (1971–2016)
After Yogiji Maharaj’s death, Pramukh Swami Maharaj became both the spiritual and administrative head of BAPS in 1971. He was the fifth spiritual Guru of the BAPS organization. Under his leadership, BAPS has grown into a global Hindu organization and has witnessed expansion in several areas. His work has been built on the foundations laid by his gurus – Shastriji Maharaj and Yogiji Maharaj.
- Personal Outreach (1971–1981)
Immediately upon taking helm, Pramukh Swami Maharaj ventured on a hectic spiritual tour in the first decade of his role as the new Spiritual Guru. Despite health conditions—cataract operation in 1980—he continued to make extensive tours to more than 4000 villages and towns, visiting over 67,000 homes and performing image installation ceremonies in 77 temples in this first decade. He also embarked on a series of overseas tours beginning in 1974 as the Guru. Subsequent tours were made in 1977, 1979, and 1980.
Overall, he embarked on a total of 27 international spiritual tours between 1974 and 2007. His travels were motivated by his desire to reach out to devotees for their spiritual uplift and to spread the teachings of Swaminarayan.
- Festivals and Organization (1981–1992)
The personal outreach (vicharan) of the earlier era (1971–81) by Pramukh Swami Maharaj through traveling to villages and towns, writing letters to devotees, and giving discourses contributed to sustaining a global BAPS community.
The Gujarati migration patterns in the early 1970s, globalization factors and economic dynamics between India and the West saw the organization transform into a transnational devotional movement. Organizational needs spanned from transmitting cultural identity through spiritual discourses to the newer much alienated generation in the new lands, temple upkeep and traveling to regional and local centers to disseminate spiritual knowledge. As a result, this era saw a significant rise in the number of sadhus initiated to maintain the organizational needs of the community – both in India and abroad. Furthermore, having access to a greater volunteer force and community enabled the organization to celebrate festivals on a massive scale which marked the arrival of a number of milestone anniversaries in the history of the organization, including the bicentenary of Swaminarayan, bicentenary of Gunatitanand Swami, and the centenary of Yogiji Maharaj. Some effects of the celebration included a maturation of organizational capacity, increased commitment and skill of volunteers, and tangentially, an increased interest in the monastic path.
The Swaminarayan bicentenary celebration, a once in a life-time event for Swaminarayan followers, was held in Amdavad in April 1981. On 7th March 1981, 207 youths were initiated into the monastic order. In 1985 the bicentenary birth of Gunatitanand Swami was celebrated. During this festival, 200 youths were initiated into the monastic order.
The organization held Cultural festivals of India in London in 1985 and New Jersey in 1991. The month-long Cultural Festival of India was held at Alexandra Palace in London in 1985. The same festival was shipped to US as a month-long Cultural Festival of India at Middlesex County College in Edison, New Jersey.
Migrational patterns in the 70s led to a disproportionate number of Hindus in the diaspora. Culturally, a need arose to celebrate special festivals (Cultural Festival of India) to reach out to youths in the diaspora to foster understanding and appreciation of their mother culture in a context accessible to them. To engage the youths, festival grounds housed temporary exhibitions ranging from interactive media, dioramas, panoramic scenes and even 3D-exhibits.
By the end of the era, owing to the success of these festivals and the cultural impact it had on the youths, the organization saw a need to create a permanent exhibition in the Gandhinagar Akshardham Temple complex in 1991.
In 1992, a month-long festival was held to both celebrate Yogiji Maharaj's centenary and to inaugurate a permanent exhibition and temple called Swaminarayan Akshardham in Gandhinagar. The festival also saw 125 youths initiated into the monastic order bringing the total number of sadhus initiated to more than 700 in fulfillment to a prophecy made by Yogiji Maharaj.
- Mandirs and Global Growth (1992–2007)
In the third leg of the era, the organization saw an unprecedented level of mandir construction activities taking place in order to accommodate the rapid rise of adherents across the global Indian diaspora. Initially, beginning with the inauguration of Swaminarayan Akshardham in Gandhinagar in 1992. A number of Shikharbaddha mandirs (large traditional stone mandirs) were inaugurated in major cities; Neasden (1995), Nairobi (1991), New Delhi (2004), Swaminarayan Akshardham (2005), Houston (2004), Chicago (2004), Toronto (2007) and Atlanta (2007).
The philosophy of BAPS is centered on the doctrine of Akshar Purshottam Upasana, in which followers worship Swaminarayan as God, or Purshottam, and his choicest devotee Gunatitanand Swami, as Akshar.:73 The concept of Akshar has been interpreted differently by various Swaminarayan denominations, and one major reason for the separation of BAPS from the Vartal diocese has been attributed to doctrinal differences in the interpretation of the concept of Akshar. Both the Vadtal and Ahmedabad dioceses of the Swaminaryan sampradaya believe Akshar to be the divine abode of the supreme entity Purushottam.:73 The BAPS denomination concurs that Akshar is the divine abode of Purushottam, but they further understand Akshar as "an eternally existing spiritual reality having two forms, the impersonal and the personal":73 Followers of BAPS identify various scriptures and documented statements of Swaminarayan as supporting this understanding of Akshar within the Akshar Purushottam Upasana.:95–103 BAPS teaches that the entity of Akshar remains on earth through a lineage of "perfect devotees", the gurus or spiritual teachers of the organization, who provide "authentication of office through Gunatitanand Swami and back to Swaminarayan himself.":92 Followers hold Mahant Swami Maharaj as the personified form of Akshar and the spiritual leader of BAPS.
The Swaminarayan ontology comprises five eternal entities: Jiva, Ishwar, Maya, Brahman, and Parabrahman. The entities are separate and distinct from one another and structured within a hierarchy. Encompassing the entities of both Swaminarayan and his ideal devotee, this hierarchy emphasizes the relationship between Akshar and Purshottam.:65
Parabrahma- At the top is Parabrahman. Parabrahman is the highest reality, God. He is understood as Sarva karta (all-doer), Sarvopari (transcendent), Sakar (having a form), and Pragat (present on the earth).:318 He is also one and unparalleled, the reservoir for all forms of bliss and eternally divine. Parabrahman is also referred to as Purshottam and Paramatma, both of which reflect his supreme existential state.:319 Furthermore, Parabrahman is the only unconditioned entity upon which the other four entities are contingent.:78
Brahma- Subservient to Parabrahman is Brahman, also known as Akshar, which exists simultaneously in four states. The first state is in the form of the impersonal Chidakash, the divine, all-pervading substratum of the cosmos. Another form of Akshar is the divine abode of Parabrahman, known as Akshardham.:319 Muktas, or liberated jivas (souls), also dwell here in unfathomable bliss and luster which is beyond the scope of human imagination. The other two states of Akshar are personal, which manifest as the ideal servant of Purshottam, both within his divine abode of Akshardham and simultaneously on earth as the God-realized saint.:320
Maya- Below Brahman is maya. Maya has three main qualities of sattva, rajas, and tamas (These influences encompass the spectrum of maya, ranging from goodness, passions, and darkness, respectively) that it utilizes to create the physical world. Maya entangles Ishwar and Jiva and causes them to form an attachment to both their physical bodies and the material world.:320 This attachment denies them liberation, and only through contact with the personal form of Brahman can they overcome the illusion created by maya and attain liberation.
Ishwar- Ishwars are conscious spiritual beings that are responsible for the creation, sustenance, and destruction of the cosmos, at the behest of Parabrahman.:320 They have greater power than the jivas and are infinite in number. They are the deities that are above jiva, but are also subject to maya.
Akshar Purshottam Upasana
In 1907, Shastriji Maharaj consecrated the images of Akshar and Purshottam in a temple's central shrine in the village of Bochasan as sacred, marking the formation of the BAPS fellowship as a formally distinct organization. However, the fundamental beliefs of the sampraday date back to the time of Swaminarayan. One revelation of Gunatitanand Swami as Akshar occurred in 1810 at the grand yagna of Dhaban, during which Swaminarayan initiated Gunatitanand Swami as a sadhu. On this occasion, Swaminarayan publicly confirmed that Gunatitanand Swami was the incarnation of Akshar, declaring, "Today, I am extremely happy to initiate Mulji Sharma. He is my divine abode – Akshardham, which is infinite and endless." The first Acharya of the Vartal diocese, Raghuvirji Maharaj, recorded this declaration in his composition, the Harililakalpataru (7.17.49-50). Under Shastriji Maharaj, considered the manifest form of Akshar at the time, the fellowship continued the traditions of the Akshar Purshottam Upasana. He focused on the revelations of Gunatitanand Swami as Swaminaryan's divine abode and choicest devotee.
The Akshar Purushottam Upasana refers to two separate entities within the Swaminarayan ontology.:65 These two entities are worshipped in conjunction by followers of BAPS in accordance with the instructions laid down in the Vachanamrut. According to BAPS, Swaminarayan refers to Akshar in the Vachanamrut, with numerous appellations such as Sant, Satpurush, Bhakta and Sadhu, as having an august status that makes it an entity worth worshipping alongside God.:453–455 For example, in Vachanamrut Gadhada I-37, Swaminarayan states: "In fact, the darshan of such a true Bhakta of God is equivalent to the darshan of God Himself" Moreover, in Vachanamrut Vartal 5, Swaminarayan states: Just as one performs the mãnsi puja of God, if one also performs the mãnsi puja of the ideal Bhakta along with God, by offering him the prasãd of God; and just as one prepares a thãl for God, similarly, if one also prepares a thãl for God's ideal Bhakta and serves it to him; and just as one donates five rupees to God, similarly, if one also donates money to the great Sant – then by performing with extreme affection such similar service of God and the Sant who possesses the highest qualities…he will become a devotee of the highest calibre in this very life. Thus, in all BAPS mandirs the image of Akshar is placed in the central shrine and worshipped alongside the image of Purushottam.:86 Furthermore, BAPS believes that by understanding the greatness of God's choicest devotee, coupled with devotion and service to him and God, followers are able to grow spiritually. This practice is mentioned by Swaminarayan in Vachanamrut Vartal 5: "by performing with extreme affection such similar service of God and the Sant who possesses the highest qualities, even if he is a devotee of the lowest type and was destined to become a devotee of the highest type after two lives, or after four lives, or after ten lives, or after 100 lives, he will become a devotee of the highest caliber in this very life. Such are the fruits of the similar service of God and God's Bhakta."
- Metaphysical ends
As per the Akshar Purushottam Upasana, each jiva attains liberation and true realization through the manifest form of Akshar. Jivas who perform devotion to this personal form of Brahman can, despite remaining ontologically different, attain a similar spiritual standing as Brahman and then go to Akshardham.:319–320 It is only through the performance of devotion to Brahman that Parabrahman can be both realized and attained.
- Akshar as a living entity
According to the Akshar Purushottam Upasana, the personal form of Akshar is forever present on the earth through a lineage of spiritual leaders, or gurus. It is through these gurus that Swaminarayan is also held to forever remain present on the earth.:55 These gurus are also essential in illuminating the path that needs to be taken by the jivas that earnestly desire to be liberated from the cycle of rebirth.:65 This lineage begins with Gunatitanand Swami (1785–1867), a sadhu who lived conterminously with Swaminarayan. Members of BAPS point to numerous historical anecdotes and scriptural references, particularly from the central Swaminarayan text known as the Vachanamrut, as veritable evidence that Gunatitanand Swami was the manifest form of Akshar.:76 Swaminarayan refers to this concept specifically in the Vachnamrut chapters of Gadhada I-21, Gadhada I-71, Gadhada III-26, Vadtal 5.:92 Following Gunatitanand Swami, the lineage continued on through Bhagatji Maharaj (1829–1897), Shastriji Maharaj (1865–1951), Yogiji Maharaj (1892–1971), and Pramukh Swami Maharaj (1921–2016). Today Mahant Swami Maharaj is said to be the manifest form of Akshar.
According to BAPS doctrines, followers aim to attain a spiritual state similar to Brahman which is necessary for ultimate liberation.:291 The practices of BAPS Swaminarayans are an idealistic "portrait of Hinduism.":6 To become an ideal Hindu, followers must identify with Brahman, separate from the material body, and offer devotion to god It is understood that through association with Akshar, in the form of the God-realized guru, one is able to achieve this spiritual state.:325 Followers live according to the spiritual guidance of the guru who is able to elevate the jiva to the state of Brahman.:295 Thus devotees aim to follow the spiritual guidance of the manifest form of Akshar embedding the principles of dharma (righteousness), gnana (knowledge), vairagya (detachment from material pleasures) and bhakti (devotion unto God) in to their lives.:358 The basic practices of the Swaminarayan sect are based on these four principles. Followers receive jnana through regularly listening to spiritual discourses and reading scriptures in an effort to gain knowledge of God and one's true self. Dharma encompasses righteous conduct as prescribed by the scriptures. The ideals of dharma range from practicing non-violence to avoiding meat, onions, garlic, and other items in their diet. Swaminarayan has outlined the dharma of his devotees in the scripture the Shikshapatri.:456 He has included practical aspects of living life such as not committing adultery to respecting elders, gurus, and those of authority.:333 Devotees develop vairagya in order to spiritually elevate their jivas to a Brahmic state. This entails practices such as fasting every eleventh day of each half of each lunar month and avoiding worldly pleasures by strongly attaching themselves to God.:326 The fourth pillar, bhakti, or devotion is at the heart of the BAPS faith community. Common practices of devotion include daily prayers, offering prepared dishes (thal) to the image of God, mental worship of God and his ideal devotee, and singing religious hymns. Spiritual service, or seva, is a form of devotion where devotees serve selflessly "while keeping only the Lord in mind.":343
Followers participate in various socio-spiritual activities with the objective to earn the grace of the guru and thus attain association with God through voluntary service.:97 These numerous activities stem directly from the ideals taught by Swaminarayan, to find spiritual devotion in the service of others.:319–320, 389 By serving and volunteering in communities to please the guru, devotees are considered to be serving the guru.:389 This relationship is the driving force for the spiritual actions of devotees. The guru is Mahant Swami Maharaj, who is seen as embodiment of selfless devotion. Under the guidance of Mahant Swami Maharaj, followers observe the tenets of Swaminarayan through the above-mentioned practices, striving to please the guru and become close to God.
BAPS Charities (formerly BAPS Care International) is an international non-religious, charitable organization that originated from the Bochasanwasi Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha (BAPS) with a focus on serving society. Their history of service activities can be traced back to Swaminarayan, who opened alms houses, built shelters, worked against addiction, and abolished the practice of sati and female infanticide with the goals of removing suffering and effecting positive social change. This focus on service to society is stated in the organization's vision, that "every individual deserves the right to a peaceful, dignified, and healthy way of life. And by improving the quality of life of the individual, we are bettering families, communities, our world, and our future. BAPS Charities carries out this vision through a range of programs addressing health, education, the environment, and natural disaster recovery. The organization's worldwide activities are funded through donations and are led by a community of over 55,000 volunteers who are mostly members of BAPS. The volunteers work with local communities and other charities and the organization's activities are mainly based out of their mandirs.
To prevent and alleviate bodily suffering and to foster good health and physical well-being, BAPS Charities engages in numerous health-focused activities. The organization operates 16 hospitals and clinics serving over 600,000 people annually, with its most recent hospitals opening in Ahmedabad in 2012 and in Vadodara in 2013. Additionally, BAPS Charities organizes health fairs run by volunteer medical professionals where visitors can undergo screening tests, increase health awareness, participate in consultations, and receive treatment. Supporting the goals of Michelle Obama's "Let's Move" campaign which is working to end childhood obesity, BAPS Charities recently launched a health awareness initiative in the United States focused on educating parents and children on benefits of a vegetarian diet. To support biomedical research, the Toronto chapter of BAPS Charities donated $100,000 raised from walk-a-thons for Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children's Research and Learning Tower Campaign. In India, the organization has carried out anti-addiction campaigns led by several thousand children who spent their summer vacations traveling through cities and villages persuading people to give up their addictions with personal appeals and presentations on the dangers of addictive behaviors.
With a goal of improving educational opportunities and outcomes for younger generations, BAPS Charities funds scholarships, operates 10 schools and 8 colleges in addition to supporting other schools and running hostels. Through volunteer-led classes, the organization is working towards achieving 100 percent literacy in villages in India. In Africa, BAPS Charities has been active in providing children in need with school uniforms, school supplies, and food and in addition to helping improve school facilities. In North America, BAPS Charities also organizes annual seminars for professional development where workshops help youth develop interpersonal skills, public speaking, management skills.
BAPS Charities manages several programs designed to protect and improve the environment. Volunteers across the world have raised ecological awareness and promoted conservation by employing energy-efficient technologies and organizing large-scale tree planting campaigns and recycling programs. In India, the organization also leads campaigns to improve water supply and conservation and arranges camps to teach better animal husbandry. In Gujarat, BAPS along with other religious sects, professional associations, and civil rights groups expressed support for the Sardar Sarovar Dam project in the 1990s, citing its prospect of generating hydropower, irrigation, potable water, and flood management. Although some groups criticized the project for its effect of displacing area residents, BAPS sponsored initiatives to relocate and aid the affected communities.
Relieving human suffering in times of humanitarian emergencies remains an important component of BAPS Charities’ work. Within hours after the 2001 Gujarat earthquake, BAPS volunteers began providing victims with daily hot meals, clean water, and clothing and assisted with debris removal and search and rescue missions; the organization also adopted more than 10 villages in which they rebuilt the entire community, including all infrastructure and thousands of earthquake-resistant homes. With the help of donations from volunteers in India and abroad, the organization helped rebuild the area's communities by constructing schools, hospitals, and other buildings. After Hurricane Katrina struck the United States Gulf Coast region, BAPS Charities volunteer teams supplied hot food, water, emergency supplies, and relocation aid for victims. The organization partnered with UNICEF to provide medicine, clean water, and temporary housing for children affected by the 2010 Haiti earthquake.
Along the continuum of humanitarian activities, BAPS Charities also organizes initiatives with the goal of effecting positive social change and promoting a stronger sense of community. The organization recently donated $250,000 to the National September 11 Memorial & Museum in New York City to educate future generations about the importance of ahimsa, or non-violence, and the consequences of hatred. In India, BAPS Charities has organized numerous activities to help promote gender equality and improve the lives of women. Programs include campaigns against marriage dowries and domestic violence and seminars offering vocational guidance and self-employment training. Caring for the elderly and disabled is also a core value promoted by the organization. In the United Kingdom, BAPS Charities has an outreach program in place where children with chaperones regularly visit assisted living facilities and homes in their communities to spend time with the elderly residents.
Notable projects and achievements
BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha is a charitable Non-governmental organization. The organization is recognized as a non-governmental organization, that holds general consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council.
- In November 2005, the President of BAPS, Pramukh Swami Maharaj – along with the President of India, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh, and the Leader of Opposition, Lal Krishna Advani- inaugurated "Swaminarayan Akshardham", a 100-acre (0.40 km2) site in Delhi. Akshardham includes a 141 ft (43 m) high monument constructed entirely of stone, two exhibition halls highlighting Indian culture and values, Delhi's first large format movie theater, gardens, and a temple (mandir). On December 17, 2007 in Ahmadabad, Gujarat, India's Delhi Akshardham was named the largest Hindu temple in the world by Guinness Book of World Records representative Mr. Michael Whitty. The Temple, built on banks of the Yamuna River, was accused of lacking the environmental clearance and first culprit in Yamuna bed violation.
- Neasden Temple BAPS constructed what was at the time the world's largest traditional Hindu temple outside India. BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, London <http://www.mandir.org>, also popularly known as the Neasden Temple) was opened in 1995. Constructed entirely from Marble and Limestone, the temple is popular amongst tourists seeking a unique place to visit in London. On 8 July 2000, the Managing Editor of Guinness Book of Records, Tim Footman and Andrew W. Dowsey presented Pramukh Swami with certificates marking his entries into the world famous record book. The first certificate presented to him was for building and inspiring the largest traditional Hindu mandir outside India. The second certificate marked a record 355 temple consecration ceremonies performed by Pramukh Swami between April 1971 and May 2000.
- In 1999 BAPS opened its first traditional temple in Africa at Nairobi, Kenya. The mandir in Nairobi is unique in that the interior is constructed entirely from intricately carved wood.
- In 2004 BAPS broke its own record when it opened the largest Hindu temple outside India near Chicago, USA. Based upon the Neasden Temple, the mandir in Chicago is the USA's second traditional Swaminarayan Temple. The mandir in Houston was the first. A similar, slightly smaller temple, it was opened in Texas, a month prior to the opening of the one in Chicago.
- July 2007 saw BAPS break its own record with the opening of the mandir in Toronto. The first traditional stone temple in Canada, and the largest such structure outside India. Just over a month later, in August 2007, the mandir in Atlanta was inaugurated, breaking the record broken the previous month in Toronto. The mandirs in Atlanta and Toronto are the two largest Hindu temples outside India.
- BAPS financed and produced the 2004 large format film, Mystic India, which retraces the 12,000 km barefoot journey throughout 18th century India undertaken by Neelkanth Varni at the age of 11.
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- Organization Information
- Mandirs and Monuments
- Swaminarayan Akshardham, New Delhi
- Swaminarayan Akshardham, Gandhinagar Gujarat
- BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, London
- Shri Swaminarayan Mandir Houston
- Shri Swaminarayan Mandir Chicago
- BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Sanstha Chino Hills, California
- BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, Toronto Canada