Pramukh Swami Maharaj, the spiritual head of Bochasanwasi Shri Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha (BAPS), passed away recently. Apart from a huge sea of devotees, his followers also included Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who paid a teary eyed tribute to the saint by visiting his final resting place in Sarangpur right after 70th Independence Day speech from Red Fort on Monday. Here is all you need to know about this rich and famous religious sect:
1. Swaminarayan Sect known previously as the Uddhav Sampraday, is a Hindu sect propagated by Swaminarayan (also known as Sahajanand Swami). Swaminarayan was handed the leadership of the Uddhav Sampraday by his guru Ramanand Swami to continue to propagate the teachings and philosophy of Vishishtadvaita, which originates from the Sri Sampradaya.
2. Swaminarayan is the central figure in a modern sect of Hinduism known as the Swaminarayan Hinduism, a form of Vaishnavism. Swaminarayan was born Ghanshyam Pande in Chhapaiya, Uttar Pradesh, India in 1781.
3. In 1792, he began a seven year pilgrimage across India, adopting the name Nilkanth Varni. He settled in the state of Gujarat around 1799. In 1800, he was initiated into the Uddhav Sampraday by his guru, Ramanand Swami, and was given the name Sahajanand Swami.
4. In 1802, his guru Ramanand Swami handed over the leadership of the Uddhav Sampraday to him before his death. Sahajanand Swami held a gathering and taught the Swaminarayan mantra. From this point onwards, he was known as Swaminarayan. The Uddhav Sampraday became known as the Swaminarayan Sampraday.
5. After assuming the leadership of the Sampraday, Swaminarayan worked to assist the poor and also worked towards ending the caste system.
6. According to the author Raymond Brady Williams, “Swaminarayan is an early representative of the practice of advocacy of women’s rights without personal involvement with women”. He was against Sati Pratha. He opposed Animal sacrifice.
7. ‘Akshardham’ means the divine abode of God. It is hailed as an eternal place of devotion, purity and peace. The first temple Swaminarayan constructed was in Ahmedabad in 1822, with the land for construction gifted by the British Imperial Government. Apart from India this sec has temples in 11 countries.
8. It is the richest sect of India. According to Raymond Williams, when Swaminarayan died in 1830, the movement had a following of 1.8 million people. In 2001, the original movement had 3.5 million of a total of 5 million followers of the Swaminarayan faith.
9. Terrorists attacked Akshardham Temple in Gandhinagar, Gujarat, on 24 September 2002. In this attack 33 people were killed. Since then security of Akshardham Temples were increased.
10. Delhi Akshardham the complex displays millennia of traditional Hindu and Indian culture, spirituality, and architecture. It is the largest temple of Swaminarayan Sect. According to Guinness World Record Akshardham in New Delhi is the world’s largest comprehensive Hindu temple.