Swaminarayan movement

   The Swaminarayan movement is a major world-wide Hindu movement. It is the contemporary expression of a religious revival started by Sri Sahajanand Swami (1781–1830), a monk generally known to his followers as Lord Swaminarayan.
   Sahajanand was born at Chhapaiya, near AYODHYA in northern India. A precocious child, he showed an early inclination to the religious life. Upon his parents’ deaths, when he was 11 years old, he adopted the life of a renunciant and pur-sued his spiritual quest. His seven-year PILGRIMAGE around India ended at Gujarat, where he spent a year with Muktanand Swami, who confirmed that Sahajanand was an incarnation of KRISHNA. Eventually Sahajanand assumed leadership of the devotees of Muktanand Swami.
   Sahajanand began to reform the movement by recruiting a group of young SANNYASIS (renun-ciants) who were dedicated to his vision of uplifting humankind and involved themselves in various social service activities. He imposed five rules on the sannyasis: they were to avoid greed, worldly desires, attachments, and ego and live a life of celibacy. He also started holding large ceremonies called Vishnu Yajna with the goal of abolishing the popular sacrifice of animals. His actions attracted a large following throughout Gujarat. The non-sannyasi (householder) mem-bers were asked to avoid alcohol and intoxicating drugs, meat, food from improper sources, stealing, and debauchery.
   Sahahanand authored the Shikshapatri, a work summarizing a code of conduct for his followers. As the movement expanded, followers began to affirm that Sahajanand was the incarnation of Lord Purushottama Narayana (i.e., Krishna).
   Swaminarayan promoted a form of BHAKTI YOGA, the devotional path to God. He and the movement he founded believe God to be a person and focus their primary attention on Vishnu/
   Krishna. Nevertheless, they fall within the larger scope of traditional Hinduism by affirming a phi-losophy of unity in diversity and acknowledging the common history and language of Hinduism.
   Swaminarayan has been followed as head of the movement by a succession of leaders: Guna-titanand Swami (1785–1867), Bhagatji Maharaj (1829–97), Shastriji Maharaj (1865–1951), Yogiji Maharaj (1892–1971), and Pramukh Maharaj (b. 1921). In 1907 Shastriji Maharaj founded the Bochsanwasi Shri Akshar Purusottam Sanstha, which gave the movement its present corporate structure. He also exported the movement outside India, to East Africa. Later, in the 20th century, Pramukh Swami Maharaj carried the movement to the West, establishing the first center in En gland and subsequently overseeing the vast international Swaminarayan (1781–1830), monk and founder of Swaminarayan movement, pointing to Lord Vishnu spread of the movement through the post–World War II Indian DIASPORA.
   At the beginning of the 1970s, Yogiji Maha-raj sent four monks to America in response to a request from some immigrants from Gujarat. In 1972 the group who assembled in response to their visit established a center and purchased a temple on Long Island, New York. Pramukh Swami Maharaj in 1974 made the first of what were to be many journeys to the United States. He installed a group of deities for the community and has held similar ceremonies across North America in subsequent visits.
   Today, international headquarters for the movement is in Ahmedabad, India. The group supports several institutions of higher learning such as the Pramuch Swami Medical College, the School of Architecture at S. P. University, and the Pramukh Swami Science College, all in Gujurat. Internationally the movement has a following in Tanzania, Uganda, South Africa, Australia, Belgium, Germany, England, Canada, the United States, Singapore, and Thailand. Worldwide there are more than 3,000 centers.
   Further reading: H. T. Dave, Life and Philosophy of Shree Swaminarayan (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1974); Sadhu Shantipriyadas, Mandir Traditions and Belief (Amdavad, India: Swaminarayan Aksaharpith, 1998); Sadhu Vivekjivandas and Sadhu Amrutvijaydas, Basic Concepts of Swaminarayan Satsang (Amdavad: Swami-narayan Aksaharpith, 2002); Raymond Brady Williams, A New Face of Hinduism: The Swaminarayan Religion (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984).

Encyclopedia of Hinduism. . 2007.

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