Swaminarayan Sampradaya

Brahmswaroop Yogiji Maharaj

Swami Shreeji

Yogiji Maharaj

 

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23rd May is Brahmswaroop Yogiji Maharaj's Jayanti. Here is a short biography in his remembrance:

  • Life Span : 79 years (1892 – 1971).  From 23 May 1892 to 23 January 1971
  • Birth Place : Dhari, Gujarat.
  • As Spiritual Leader and Guru : 20 years (1951 - 1971)

Yogiji Maharaj was the fourth spiritual successor.  He was initiated into the sadhu-fold at the age of 16 and named ‘Sadhu Jnanjivandas’.  But so transparent was the mystical joy within him, that he was fondly called Yogiji.  Devotion, service, tolerance, penance, humility are some of the limitless virtues that he was blessed with within his fragile frame.

 

Living singularly on the word of his Guru, Shastriji Maharaj, Yogiji Maharaj won the love of one and all.  He witnessed abundant divinity in everything and everyone, he even blessed those who criticised him and praised those who persecuted him.  With a vision set far into the future, Yogiji Maharaj established children and youth centers.  He inspired Satsang activities in every town and village he visited, repeatedly writing words of guidance and encouragement to each newly formed group.  The mandirs and centers he created resounded with the energy of the young.  His lectures were addressed to bright, young college students, for he believed in these youngsters.  He encouraged music, art and literature.  Scores of youths regularly traveled with him, savoring his selfless love and knowledge.  It was he who lifted the Sanstha to international proportions by touring through East Africa and England to establish new centers.  His efforts have mushroomed into the worldwide socio-religious organisation we see today.

 

Birth of Jinabhai - Yogiji Maharaj, the son of Devchandbhai, was born in Dhari, Gujarat on 23 May 1892.  His mother’s name was Puribai.  His childhood name was Jinabhai but his parents lovingly called him ‘Jina’.  Jina was loved by everyone and were captivated by his handsome, shining face.  Gradually, Jina grew up and he was popularly called Jinabhai.   Jinabhai, though young, had a strong liking for simplicity and cleanliness.  He enjoyed nothing more than to engage in bhakti and singing kirtans.From his childhood Jinabhai never failed to do his meditation every morning. He advised everybody to start their daily work only after remembering Shriji Maharaj.

 

 

An Ideal Student - Jinabhai was very clever in his studies and know for fearlessly speaking the truth.  He advised that the truthful is always triumphing.  Therefore we should not be afraid of telling the truth.  We should form a habit of speaking the truth from early childhood.  He always stood first in every class and won many prizes.  Sometimes dull or lazy students would sit beside Jinabhai, hoping to copy his answers.  He would tell them off, “It is wrong to copy.  By copying you are cheating God.”  Thus, Jinabhai always insisted that everyone should learn by working hard, and should not cheat.

Jinabhai was not interested in playing games during break times.  He preferred to spend his time in prayer.  So, while his friends and other children played games, Jinabhai prayed to God in a quiet corner or under a tree.  One day, two teachers saw Jina while he was meditating under a tree and asked, “Jina, you don’t play any games.  You meditate on God all day.  You are not interested in the affairs of this world, so why don’t you become a sadhu?”  “Yes, I will become a sadhu,” replied a determined Jina.  So saying, he resumed his prayers.

 

Worship of The Lord  & Early Days as a Sadhu - Jinabhai’s uncle, Mohanbhai asked Jinabhai if he would take up the mandir duties due to old age and ill health.  Jinabhai was overjoyed, and assured him, “Mohankaka, do not worry, I will serve Thakorji.”  From that day Jinabhai assumed the mandir responsibilities and engaged himself in the service of God.  Besides all this, he would draw water from the well and water the plants in the compound of the mandir.  Every morning Jinabhai made garlands of flowers of various colours for the murtis.  He would prepare a variety of delicacies to offer to God.  He would serve the murtis as if God himself was physically present. Quite often, he even conversed with the murti.   

 

Now Jinabhai passed his days and nights in the mandir.  He worshipped Maharaj with single-minded devotion.  Jina would also serve visiting sadhus during their short stays in Dhari.  At that time, Krishnacharandas Swami (a blessed disciple of Gunatitanand Swami), along with his group of sadhus visited Dhari from Junagadh.  He saw that Jinabhai, though often very tired, still completed his daily duties and services at the mandir.  He was pleased to see the devotion of Jinabhai, and appreciated the zeal with which he served. One morning, while giving prasad to Jinabhai Swami asked, “Jina, would you like to become a sadhu?” Jinabhai was filled with joy at Swami’s question.  He replied eagerly, “Yes Swamiji, I would be happy if you would make me a sadhu.  It is my only wish.  For many days I have been hoping to talk to you about it.  But today, you yourself have read my mind. Swamiji, please initiate me as a sadhu.  I want to become a sadhu and serve you and Maharaj.”  Swami Krishnacharandasji blessed him and said, “Your wish will be fulfilled.” On 8 November 1908 at the age of 16, Jinabhai was given the parshad diksha by Krishnacharandas Swami.  He was then given the name Jina Bhagat.  Jina Bhagat immediately took on various duties at the mandir in Junagadh.

 

Meeting His Guru - Jina Bhagat belonged to a group of sadhus led by Krishnacharandas Swami.  Once, the group went to Rajkot and Shastriji Maharaj also arrived in Rajkot where he stayed at the house of Krishnaji Ada.  When Jina Bhagat heard this news, he felt a strong desire to have the darshan of Shastriji Maharaj. Jina Bhagat and the other sadhus paid homage to Shastriji Maharaj and then presented to him a mala and a tumbdi, which had been used by Aksharbrahma Gunatitanand Swami.  Shastriji Maharaj was greatly pleased.  Jina Bhagat could not take his eyes off Shastriji Maharaj and looked at him with great reverence.  Shastriji Maharaj, too, looked at Jina Bhagat with much affection.  Jina Bhagat thought, “Shastriji Maharaj is worthy of being a guru.” And he mentally accepted Shastriji Maharaj as his guru.  Thus, on 23 August 1909, Jina Bhagat met Shastriji Maharaj for the first time at the age of 17.  

In Vartal, on the morning of 11 April 1911 at the age of 19, Acharya Shripatiprasadji Maharaj gave Jina Bhagat the bhagwati diksha.  Jina Bhagat was renamed Sadhu Gnanjivandasji.  But the sadhus and devotees fondly called him ‘Yogi’, while Krishnacharandas Swami called him ‘Gnanji Swami’.

 

Devotion Par Excellence - Once Yogiji Maharaj and Nirgundas Swami were going to Gadhada from Sarangpur by bullock-cart.  It was a hot summer’s day, and the road was deserted. There were neither any wells nor rivers on the route.  It was already four o’clock in the afternoon.  Yogiji Maharaj had the small metallic murti of Harikrishna Maharaj (the murti of Shriji Maharaj formerly worshipped by Gunatitanand Swami).  The time to offer water to Harikrishna Maharaj was fast approaching but as there was no water anywhere Yogiji Maharaj became worried and upset.  “Thakorji must be very thirsty.  Harikrishna Maharaj’s throat must be dry due to thirst,” he thought to himself.  It was six in the evening when they came to a river. Yogiji Maharaj asked the cart-driver to stop by the riverside. He took the murti of Harikrishna Maharaj, bathed it in the river and offered it filtered water to drink.  Yogiji Maharaj was still not fully satisfied. He prostrated and prayed repeatedly before the murti, “O Maharaj!  Please forgive me.  I am at fault.  Today, I have failed to give you water on time.  Please forgive me.” On hearing this, Nirgundas Swami, who was standing nearby said, “What is your fault? We were travelling and couldn’t find any water on the way, and so we were late.”  Still, Yogiji Maharaj kept bowing to the murti repeatedly and prayed for forgiveness.  Words fail to describe the full measure of his service, devotion and humility.

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A Hard Working Sadhu - Yogiji Maharaj, though young excelled in service.  From early morning to late at night, he remained busy in the service of others.  He never tired.  In fact, he never felt at ease in the absence of seva.  Even during fasts he would serve others with the same enthusiasm and love.  Each day he would get up early in the morning, then after bathing and prayers, he would start cooking in the kitchen.  He would cook 300 rotlas.  He prepared and cooked the rotlas simultaneously on two separate hot-plates.  Whilst cooking, Yogiji Maharaj would sing bhajans and recite Swamini Vatu.  He used to cook everything by himself no matter how many people there were.  When the food was ready, he would call everybody to eat by hailing, ‘Vasudev Hare’.  He himself served the food to all the sadhus and devotees.  He was always the last to have his meal.  He also drew water from the well that would be required for cooking and for bathing by the sadhus and devotees.  Every day, early in the morning, he rinsed out all the big pots and vessels, and filled them with filtered drinking water.  Even after all this seva, he would also wash the utensils after the meals were over.  Many times he would be found cleaning the huge pots till late at night.  Yogiji Maharaj was an ideal of seva.

 

Snake Bite and Power of ‘Mahamantra’ - Once at midnight, while Yogiji Maharaj was sound asleep, a venomous black cobra bit the index finger of his left hand.  The sudden rush of pain woke him up.  As a result of the poison, the pain quickly spread through his whole body.  However, Yogiji Maharaj did not complain.  While chanting the Swaminarayan mantra his eyes closed.  Some anxious devotees suggested a physician be called.  Others proposed various remedies.  Meanwhile, Shastriji Maharaj arrived.  When he heard about the snake bite he said, “Take Yogiji Maharaj to the Akshar Deri and chant the Swaminarayan mantra.  The effect of the poison will vanish by the divine power of the Swaminarayan Mahamantra.”  Immediately, the sadhus lifted Yogiji Maharaj and carried him to the Akshar Deri and started chanting the holy name of Bhagwan Swaminarayan.  After exactly twelve hours, the effect of the poison subsided.  Yogiji Maharaj opened his eyes and bowed to Shastriji Maharaj.  Just then, a government doctor arrived.  He was amazed to see that the effect of the poison had been nullified by chanting the Swaminarayan mantra.  He fell at the feet of Shastriji Maharaj.  The King of Gondal and his officers were also surprised at the divine power of the Akshar Deri.  They were convinced that it was a highly sanctified place.

 

Head of Akshar Mandir - It was the year 1934 and most of the construction work of the Gondal mandir (also called ‘Akshar Mandir’) had been completed.  In the same year, on 24 May 1934, Shastriji Maharaj ceremoniously consecrated the murtis of Akshar Purushottam in the mandir.  After the function, an assembly of all the devotees was held in the compound of the mandir.  Here in the presence of thousands of devotees Shastriji Maharaj appointed Yogiji Maharaj as the Mahant of the Akshar Mandir and garlanded him.  He was 42 years old.

 

"Shastriji Maharaj is Still Manifest” - In the year 1951, Shastriji Maharaj fell ill.  One day he said, “I have performed the arti of the murtis for the Gadhada mandir.  They will now be ritually consecrated by Yogiji Maharaj.  There is not even a slight difference between me and Yogi.  I am Yogi, and Yogi is me.”  These were his last words. On 10 May 1951, Shastriji Maharaj passed away to Akshardham and at the age of 59 Yogiji Maharaj took over.

 

Youths Become Sadhus - Within ten years Yogiji Maharaj had formed groups of dedicated and trained youths in many different towns.  On 11 May 1961, the 70th birthday of Yogiji Maharaj, the spires of Gadhada mandir were fitted with golden kalashes.  On this auspicious day Yogiji Maharaj initiated 51 educated youths into the sadhu-fold. After Bhagwan Swaminarayan, in the entire history of the Swaminarayan Sampraday and spirituality, it was the first time that 51 educated youths were being initiated into the sadhu-fold.

 

 

 

 

 

Visits to Africa & UK - Owing to the persistent requests of the devotees living in East Africa, Yogiji Maharaj visited East Africa and Aden for the first time in the year 1955. He consecrated the murtis of Akshar Purushottam in the grand mandir at Mombasa.  Yogiji Maharaj sanctified many places by celebrating festivals and holding spiritual assemblies.  He travelled thousands of miles and spiritually uplifted many during his satsang tour of Africa.  Later, the devotees built mandirs in Kampala, Jinja and Tororo, and requested Yogiji Maharaj to visit East Africa once again to perform the murti-pratishtha ceremonies in these mandirs.  So, once again Yogiji Maharaj visited East Africa and Aden in the year 1960.  He consecrated the murtis in the mandirs at Kampala, Jinja and Tororo.  He travelled 35,000 miles, visiting 103 centres in seven different countries.  Many new aspirants were drawn to the Satsang.  The Satsang in Africa increased immensely. In the West, too, centers were started in the UK, USA and Canada. Especially in the UK and USA, many aspirants embraced the Satsang.


Yogiji Maharaj, in spite of ill health, was moved by their devotion and agreed to visit East Africa for the third time.   In the year 1970, at the age of 78 he set forth on his third foreign tour.  He consecrated the murtis in the mandir built on the main road in Nairobi.  The devotees in London bought a church hall and converted it into a mandir.  They invited Yogiji Maharaj to London to consecrate the murtis in the mandir.  Pleased by their devotion, Yogiji Maharaj went to London.  He was given a festive welcome and was honoured with a procession accompanied by the RAF band through the main roads of the city.  He performed the murti-pratishtha ceremony of the murtis in the mandir at Islington, in east London.  During a ceremony on the river Thames in London the murti of Harikrishna Maharaj was bathed in the river.

After six weeks in London Yogiji Maharaj returned to India.  He sent four sadhus to the USA to explain the message of Satsang.   Yogiji Maharaj’s visit gave immense happiness and satisfaction to the devotees in Africa and England.  He returned to India after spending a total of five months abroad. English, Hindi, Marathi, Gujarati and other newspapers in India commended his spiritual tour.

 

Departure - One day, Yogiji Maharaj decided to invite illness.  His illness worsened and Swami was immediately flown to Mumbai for further treatment.  But, on 23 January 1971 at 1.00 pm, he bid ‘Jai Swaminarayan’ to all and left this world for Akshardham.  He was 79 years old.  The whole Satsang became overwhelmed with grief and shock. His body was flown to Gondal. There, on 24 January 1971, after all the funeral rites were over, the body was cremated in the compound to the right of Akshar Mandir. Thousands of devotees from India and abroad offered their last tearful homage to Yogiji Maharaj.

 

Yogiji Maharaj's Life-Work 

  • At his request the government built a platform at the railway station in Chhapaiya and named it ‘Swaminarayan Chhapaiya’.
  • Yogiji Maharaj fulfilled the wish of his guru, Shastriji Maharaj, by consecrating a hari mandir at Akshar Bhavan, in Bombay in 1962. In the same year, he inspired a three-pinnacled shikharbaddh mandir in Amdavad  and he also built a fine mandir at Mahelav, the birthplace of Shastriji Maharaj.
  • The year 1965 marked the birth centenary of Shastriji Maharaj. Yogiji Maharaj was himself 73-years-old and was in very delicate health. Yet he visited 82 villages in 38 days, despite the biting cold of winter, to create awareness of and collect funds for the centenary celebrations.
  • On 6 February 1965 at Atladra, the birth centenary of Shastriji Maharaj was celebrated with great joy and festivity in the presence of 150,000 devotees.
  • To promote character-based education amongst students, he established a students’ hostel in Vidyanagar and a gurukul in Gondal in which primary and secondary education was given.
  • Yogiji Maharaj himself laboured with the devotees to construct the Gunatitnagar Railway Station at Bhadra, the birthplace of Aksharbrahma Gunatitanand Swami.
  • In Bhadra, Yogiji Maharaj built a marvellous single-spired shikharbaddh mandir over the birthplace of Gunatitanand Swami.  In it, he consecrated the murtis of Dham (Gunatitanand Swami), Dhami (Bhagwan Swaminarayan) and Mukta (Gopalanand Swami) on 7 May 1969.
  • Vedras, a book containing Maharaj’s teachings, was re-published at Yogiji Maharaj’s request.  He also prepared the biographies of his guru, Shastriji Maharaj and Bhagatji Maharaj (the guru of Shastriji Maharaj) for publication.
  • Hindi and English publications on the life and work of Bhagwan Swaminarayan were published.  Also, Hindi and English translations of the Vachanamrut were initiated by him.
  • A biography of Gunatitanand Swami was also printed in Gujarati.
  • Yogiji Maharaj encouraged many devotees to read the Swaminarayan Prakash, the Sanstha’s Gujarati monthly periodical. A weekly, named Swaminarayan Satsang Patrika, was also started to provide instructions and news regarding the Satsang to members in various centres, enabling them to conduct regular Sunday assemblies.
  • Yogiji Maharaj established a school for higher education in Sanskrit for the sadhus in Mumbai.  By his blessings and guidance many sadhus became Shastris (BA) and Acharyas (MA) in Sanskrit. Some of the sadhus received government scholarships and doctorate degrees.  Moreover, many young sadhus were also encouraged to develop their various innate skills in music, art, writing, etc.
  • Yogiji Maharaj built many hari mandirs.  He held parayans and shibirs by which thousands of devotees benefited from satsang. Many new devotees were attracted and the Satsang grew considerably.
  • What is remarkable about Yogiji Maharaj is that he was also highly respected by leaders of many different religions. They often approached him for guidance and blessings. They said, “Yogiji Maharaj belongs to all. He is not for the Swaminarayan Sampraday only, but for the whole world.” The reason for this was that Yogiji Maharaj respected everyone. He never engaged in or allowed criticism of others.
  • In India and Africa, Yogiji Maharaj visited, without any hesitation, Sikh gurudwaras, Jain derasars, Christian churches and other places of worship. He had great respect for all religions.
  • Yogiji Maharaj strictly observed eight-fold brahmacharya and the renunciation of wealth.  He implicitly obeyed even the most minor commands of Shriji Maharaj.

Author: Pujya Kaajal Kotecha

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