Swaminarayan Sampradaya

Brahmswaroop Shastriji Maharaj



Shastriji Maharaj was the 3rd spiritual successor to Bhagwan Swaminarayan after Gunatitanand Swami and Bhagatji Maharaj. Shastriji Maharaj’s birth name was Dungar Bhakta. He was born into a satsangi family on Vasant Panchmi (a day marked in India as the start of Spring) in January 1865; he shares the same birthday as Brahmanand Swami and Nishkulanand Swami (senior paramhansa of Shreeji Maharaj). Dungar Bhakta was born in a village called Mahelav, which is close to Vidhyanagar.



When he was a baby, Dungar was blessed by Shuk Muni (a senior paramhansa of Shreeji Maharaj) who proclaimed, “This child is a very pious devotee from his past birth and in the future he will renounce the world, (and) become a sadhu...” He was also blessed by Gunatitanand Swami himself, who said, “(He) will one day become a sadhu, spread the doctrine of supreme devotion of Shreeji Maharaj and will support and develop the sampraday.”


As a child, Dungar preferred not to play normal games with other children, but rather to make temples out of clay (a premonitional activity to his future mission). He would install the murti of God, offer thal and aarti and showed his immense devotion to God. Dungar Bhakta always liked to listen to stories about God from the sadhus at the Vadtal Swaminarayan mandir. He would gather together loose manuscripts from the scriptures discarded by the sadhus, learn and recite them as if he were a learned scholar.


Later, Dungar came into contact with Vignananand Swami who was based in Surat. Vignananand Swami had stayed with Shreeji Maharaj and was a very virtuous saint. Both the young aspirant and the learned sadhu were instantly drawn to each other. Dungar wanted to stay in the company of Vignananand Swami and become a sadhu, but his father would not let him. After sometime his father realised that Dungar would only be happy if he were to give his consent for him to become a sadhu.


Dungar was very saintly and intelligent, it wasn’t long before it was agreed to give him diksha (vows to become a fully pledged sadhu with saffron robes). It was decided that a yagna (sacrifice) would be held in honour of a deceased senior sadhu and at which Dungar would also be given diksha. That is why Dungar was given the name Yagnapurushdasji Swami. It was customary at such occasions to prepare the horoscope of the newly initiated sadhu. The astrologer told the assembly, “This sadhu is a manifestation of God in the form of a yogi...He will be a great saint”.


Devotee of Bhagatji Maharaj


Often festivals were held at Vadtal where sadhus would give talks on God and on spiritual matters. There Yagnapurushdasji’s attention was drawn to a tailor who had a band of sadhus with him. The young saint was amazed that this tailor was both sewing clothes and preaching at the same time. Bhagatji Maharaj being omniscient immediately responded, “A gnani (spiritually wise) has innumerable visions.” Yagnapurushdasji was even more surprised that the tailor apparently knew his thoughts.


The young Swami was drawn towards the talks of Pragji Bhakta (Bhagatji Maharaj) because his talks were about manifest God and God-realised saints who are capable of redeeming people; he had never heard these types of talks before. Yagnapurushdasji learnt about the identity of Gunatitanand Swami as the manifest Akshar Brahm. With his intuitive intellect, Yagnapurushdasji fully grasped and imbibed the essence of the Akshar Purushottam philosophy. With the permission of Vignanand Swami, Bhagatji Maharaj became the guru to Yagnapurushdasji Swami.


SHASTRIBhagatiji promised to teach Yagnapurushdasji brahmvidhya (spiritual knowledge), but the young sadhu was also to maintain his studies of sanskrit and the scriptures. He became an expert in both and was soon known as Shastri Yagnapurushdasji in recognition of his learned status, and hence was later known as Shastriji Maharaj; he was by now as a great leader saint in the satsang.


When Bhagatji Maharaj’s mission was complete, he met Shastriji at Akshar-Deri (where Gunatitanand Swami was cremated) in Gondal. Bhagatji prophesized that a mandir would be built there. He then told Shastriji Maharaj “You have completed your study of the scriptures and I too have taught you Brhmavidhya. Henceforth you will teach others to live blissfully as you have learnt to.” Bhagatji Maharaj returned home to Mahuva, soon after he became ill and he left his physical form. Shastrji Maharaj was away at the time and was overcome with grief that he was not with his guru to serve him at his time of ill health, but Bhagatiji Maharaj appeared to him saying that he had not left him at all and that he would always be with him.


Influence of Jaga Swami


Jaga Swami was a householder and a cobbler, but he was a great devotee of Gunatitanand Swami, he was in constant communion with God and was a Gunatit Saint in his own right. As part of Bhagatji Maharaj’s group he used to preach about the glory of Gunatitanand Swami and Shreeji Maharaj.


Jaga Swami blessed Shastriji Maharaj and now in the absence of Bhagatji Maharaj fulfilled a mentoring role. They enjoyed a close and affectionate relationship. Swamiji had requested Shastriji to install the murtis of Maharaj and Gunatitanand Swami at Junagadh, but at that time it was impossible for Shastriji to do so. Jaga Swami had then told him, “It is the wish of Maharaj that the worship of Akshar Purushottam should be established, therefore you must take up this work.” Shastriji Maharaj promised that he would do so.


Creation of the Akshar Purushottam Sanstha


Armed with the spiritual knowledge and purification he gained from Bhagatji Maharaj, and the agna from Jaga Swami to establish worship of Akshar Purushottam, Shastriji Maharaj started his mission.


His first opportunity arrived when there was a split in the Amdavad Nar Narayan Swaminarayan diocese. Upon the demise of the leader of the Amdavad seat, the rightful successor was bypassed and a three year old boy was put in his place! This caused a divide and the followers of the true successor sought help from Shastriji Maharaj to set up their own mandir in a town called Vadhvan. Shastriji Maharaj agreed to help by raising funds but upon the condition that Akshar Purushottam murti be placed in the main shrine of the temple. In the end the murtis of Maharaj and Gunatitanand Swami were placed in the second shrine instead, but this is where the first ever Akshar Purushottam murti were installed.


This caused immediate uproar and fear in both Vadtal and Amdavad. People felt that Shastriji Maharaj would dominate the whole satsang and that he would uproot the old hierarchy. Instead of embracing the divinity of Shastriji Maharaj and his spiritual guidance, sadhus and leaders felt threatened and extreme jealousy at his popularity. Attempts to disgrace Shastriji Maharaj by false allegations were made but these could not stand up to Shastriji Maharaj’s sadhuta (divine attributes), but the situation had become so bad that some were openly abusive towards him or wanted to do him physical harm. At the behest of Shri Krishnaji Ada (senior devotee of Bhagati Maharaj) , Shastriji Maharaj reluctantly left the Vadtal Laxminarayan Swaminarayan diocese.


Shastriji Maharaj along with five other sadhus left Vadtal, but before leaving they went to the Vadtal mandir and Swamiji prayed to the Hari Krishna murti (in which Maharaj had promised his elder brother that He would forever remain manifest) saying, “Oh Maharaj! We have no desire at all to depart from here, but if it is your Will that we should separate then do protect us and always remain with us.” There after the sadhus travelled about, many gladly greeted them and served them, but some abused them and even beat them! There was some talk of reconciliation but to no avail.


Shastriji Maharaj started his mission to build Akshar Purushottam mandirs. Swamiji did so at five centres:

  • Bochasan
  • Gadhpur (Gadhada)
  • Sarangpur
  • Gondal
  • Atladara


These were places where Shreeji Maharaj Himself had said that temples would be built. As the first Akshar Purushottam mandir was built in Bochasan, the new sanstha was called Bochasan Akshar Purushottam Sanstha (BAPS) and was formally created in 1906.


The temple at Sarangpur was also built. Here an elder satsangi by the name of Bhagudada recalled the words of Gunatitanand Swami many years before. At that time Gunatitanand Swami lived very simply as a true sadhu and would beg for alms from house to house. Bhagudada requested Swamiji to stay with him at Sarangpur so that he could take care of all Swamiji’s needs. But Gunatitanand Swami refused saying that a sadhu cannot live a life of luxury but he prophesised that one day he would eat from golden plates in a majestic three pinnacle temple at Sarangpur!


In addition to the Akshar Purushottam idols, Shastriji Maharaj also installed the idols of Dham, Dhami and Mukto. These represent Gunatitanand Swami as the abode of God (Dham), the supreme God who is dweller of Dham (Dhami) and the liberated soul who has realised Gunatitanand Swami and Shreeji Maharaj (Mukto).


Spiritual succession


shastriji_yogiji002Krishnacharandas Swami was a disciple of Gunatitanand Swami from Junagadh and his group of sadhus believed Gunatitanand Swami to be Akshar Brahm. They were eager to meet Shastriji Maharaj as they had heard a great deal about his divine personality and his spreading of the Akshar Purushottam gospel. Krishnaji Ada arranged for a meeting in Rajkot. Amongst the group was Gnanjivandas Swami (later known as Yogiji Maharaj), who stood out from the rest as a spiritually endowed devotee and inwardly he had made Shastriji Maharaj is guru; Swamiji was accordingly attracted to Gnanjivandas Swami as well.


Gnanjivandas Swami and other sadhus joined Shastriji Maharaj in Sarangpur. He served Swamiji with mind, word and deed, he was a sadhu with such saintly qualities that he was known as Yogi (sage); he became Shastriji Maharaj’s spiritual successor and was thus known as Yogiji Maharaj.


Demise of Shastriji Maharaj


Shastriji Maharaj was in poor health when Yogi Swami went to see him in Amdavad, Swamiji said to Yogi, “Now Maharaj will shortly come to take me..., and I am also entrusting all these temples to you.” The very next day Swamiji reminisced saying “Oh! Jogi is indeed Jogi, a real Gunatit soul! It is impossible to find a parallel to Jogi. He has been following my wishes for the last forty yearsThere is no sadhu comparable in the whole of creation.” Swamiji was keen to go to Sarangpur (as he had made this his base). At Amdavad railway station Swamiji instructed the devotees, “Jogi is me and I am Jogi. There is not an iota of difference between myself and Jogi. All of you should obey Jogi Maharaj.”


At Sarangpur Shastriji Maharaj’s was still in poor health but still he went to Gadhada to install the murtis at the newly built temple saying, “My ritual is over. The idols have been installed. Now I do not propose to come here again. Jogi Maharaj will come here and perform the arti.” After returning to Sarangpur, Swamiji’s health worsened and only a few days before the completion of idol-installation at Gadhada, in May 1952, Shastriji Maharaj left his body to go to akshardham at the age of 86 years. Yogiji Maharaj took over the responsibilities of the sanstha, he consoled and gave strength to the satsang saying, “Has Swamiji left us? He is Pragat (manifest).” He also insisted that Shastriji Maharaj would only be pleased if the completion of the idol installation of the Gadhada temple were to go ahead as planned. All then realised the significance of Shastriji Maharaj’s words before his passing away; all saw Shastriji Maharaj in Yogiji Maharaj; the Akshar Purushottam movement continued with Yogiji Maharaj. Shastriji Maharaj fulfilled the wish of Shreeji Maharaj to spread the gospel of Akshar Purushottam, to instigate a movement to that aim and to establish temples were the same could be worshipped openly


Guru to Param Pujya Sonaba and Param Pujya Ben


Param Pujya Sonaba was a born satsangi and Shastriji Maharaj was her God. She served him with all her being and even though Shastriji Maharaj was a tyagi saint (a saint who has renounced wealth and women) they had a divine relationship that was transcendental. Many a time when there was need for an important seva or if funding were required, he would send Sonaba a letter, and Sonaba would immediately perform the required seva. It is said that were ever a true devotee goes, God follows. And so it was with Sonaba and Shastriji Maharaj; if Sonaba went to Mumbai, Shastriji Maharaj would go there to give darshan to haribhakto, if Sonaba went elsewhere, Shastriji Maharaj would follow. Such was Sonaba’s divine status that Shastriji Maharaj had asked Sonaba on his behalf to give spiritual vows to householder ladies who wanted to wear the kanthi and become satsangis. After Shastriji Maharaj, Sonaba believed Yogiji Maharaj to be his true swaroop and served him in exactly the same way, paving the way for Yogiji Maharaj to put in place the Gunatit Samaj with Param Pujya Pappaji at the heart of the Samaj.


Param Pujya Ben was a great devotee of Krishna and Shankar Bhagwan whilst in Uganda but was introduced to the Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan gospel by Magandada, who was a great grahastha devotee of Shastriji Maharaj. Ben was invited to a sabha were santo were to give a sermon. As per traditions there was a curtain placed between the men and women. During the sermon, Ben saw a saffron robed sadhu holding up one side of the curtain. After the congregation had finished, Ben mentioned this to Magandada. The latter said this was not possible because a sadhu would not do that and besides no one else had seen the incident. Magandada had pictures from his puja and asked Ben whether that sadhu was any of the sadhus in his puja; Ben pointed out Shastriji Maharaj! It was as if Shastriji Maharaj had selected out Ben. Ben then made Shastriji Maharaj her God and served him selflessly. She became a true sadhu under Yogiji Maharaj and Pappaji, and went on to be a leader sadhu of the Gunatit Samaj serving Pappaji Maharaj as Yogiji Maharaj’s swaroop.


Author: Sunil Gandhi

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