16.) The Importance of being Shri Swaminarayan (1781-1830)

In today’s age, when the spirit of being Svadeshi is as much reviled as it is being applauded, it may not be out of place to point out two things: That there may be such a thing as being svadeshi not only in terms of goods but also ideas, and further, that when it comes to both but, particularly the latter, it is not necessary to be Western in order to be modern, that in fact it is quite possible to be indigenous or homegrown and modern at the same time. It is in this context that the importance of being Swaminarayan (1781-1830) manifests itself.

It manifests itself in contrast with another contemporary, Raja Rammohun Roy (1772/4-1833) who “enthusiastically welcomed ideas of the West,”[1] while Swaminarayan developed ideas of his own, which would presumably have been enthusiastically welcomed by the West, as they bear a striking resemblance to those which Roy welcomed from the West.

The manner in which the two are historically positioned is instructive. Just as Rammohun Roy has been hailed as the “first really significant modern Hindu reformer,”[2] Swaminarayan has been described by M.G. Ranade as “the last of the Hindu reformers of the old type”.[3] One would, therefore, presume, that a yawning gulf would separate them, as that the two would be as far apart as the old is from the new! Let us investigate.

What were some of the new ideas which Rammohun Roy so energetically advocated? Roy is well known for his opposition to the Suttee; for his opposition to the caste system as injurious to Hindu interests; for his denunciation of Hindu religious depravity which he associated with image-worship; for his willing contact with foreigners; and for his interest in education, and so on.

Now Shri Swaminarayan “ was a contemporary of Raja Ram Mohan Roy and was of equal stature in western India,” comparable to that of Roy in Bengal, “but purely of Hindu character being completely uninfluenced by the western ideas and modern ways of life and thought”.[4] It would therefore be interesting to compare his agenda with that of Roy, and one would expect to find much to differentiate the two. It turns out that there are differences but what one is taken by surprise not by the differences, but the convergences.

Shri Swaminaryan was opposed to Suttee[5] and female infanticide, “and described the latter as a threefold sin viz. one of murder of one’s family, another of a child murder, and the third a murder of one belonging to the female i.e. the weaker sex”[6]; he was opposed to caste discrimination[7]; he campaigned vigorously against religious depravity[8] (without attacking idolatry)[9]; and he welcomed contact with foreigners: he met Bishop Herber in person[10] and presented Sir John Malcolm at Rajkot on February 26, 1830 with a copy of his Śikṣāpatrī.[11]

The arrangement of the Śikṣāpatrī is also worth noting. In the existing smṛtis, the sāmānya dharmas are usually mentioned after the viśeṣa dharmas of varṇa, āśrama, kings, women, etc. In the Śikṣāpatrī, they are mentioned before the viśeṣadharmas,[12] a move not without its egalitarian potential.

Bishop Herber seemed to have gotten it wrong in predicting that “while Rājā Mohan Rai’s name is about being forgotten” Shri Swaminarayan’s “was brighter by that waning influence”,[13] but glory is not a zero-sum game and one need not shine forth at the expense of the other. The example of Shri Swaminarayan continues to illustrate the modernity of tradition in the case of Hinduism.

[1] Ainslie T. Embree, ed. The Hindu Tradition (New York: Random House, 1966) p. 277.

[2] Klaus K. Klostermaier, A Survey of Hinduism (second edition) (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1994) p. 433.

[3] Quoted by G. N. Joshi, “Shri Swaminarayan” in New Dimensions in Vedanta Philosophy (Ahmedabad: Shri Aksharaprurshottam Sanstha, 1981) p. 95.

[4] G. N. Joshi, op. cit., p. 95.

[5] See New Dimensions in Vedanta Philosophy, p. 18.

[6] J.A. Yajnik, The Philosophy of Śrī Swaminarayan (Ahmedabad: L.D. Institute of Indology, 1972) p. 170.

[7] New Dimensions in Vedanta Philosophy , p. 80.

[8] Ibid., p. 36.

[9] Leslie Shepard, ed., Life and Philosophy of Shree Swaminarayan 1781-1830 by H.T. Dave (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1974) p. 107.

[10] New Dimensions in Vedanta Philosophy, p. 18-20.

[11] Ibid., p. 114.

[12] Ibid., p. 12.

[13] Leslie Shepard, ed., Life and Philosophy of Shree Swaminarayan (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1974) p. 79-80.


2 Responses to “16.) The Importance of being Shri Swaminarayan (1781-1830)”

  1. karigar Says:

    Thanks for the well thought out comparison between Ram Mohun Roy & Shri Swaminarayan.

    I’m embarassed to say that my Westernized education has flooded me with a lot of Ram Mohun (presumably because he himself was a paragon of the Westernized Indian during his time) and close to zero education on Swaminarayan.

    It is only after seeing much of the works of Swaminarayan followers in the US, in temples, social service (as in Hurricane Katrina, where they were the only visibly featured hindu charity in the mainstream media) that one realises the importance of promotion of viewpoints & personalities in the education system & media.

    Thanks for showing the potential equality (at least) in stature of the two.

  2. yogesh saxena Says:

    This universe, in truth, is nothing. There were no heaven and no hell, nor the same in existence at present. Every action has it’s own repercussion.
    This was the comedy of the error with an amplifier, having the co–incident, that the life is originated in this universe. There was no sign of existence after the creation of earth. The sun was having its radiation on the newly created planets after disintegration. Thus the earth was also having the turmoil of uncertainty in the process. Gradually the heat transmitted in the atmosphere. There was the creation of the gases. The nitrogen, helium and ozone gases were emitting from the earth. There was the nuclear fusion and nuclear fission. The molecules were disintegrated into the hydrogen particles and likewise there was also the creation of oxygen from the ozone gases. After unification of the molecules of oxygen with hydrogen, the water came into existence in the form of the gases. There was a period of transmission of energy in the atmosphere. However, gradually the preservation of the heat could have only been regulated. The coverage was provided to the universe from the outer periphery of ozone layer on the outer side of the atmosphere. Thus by getting the protection through the outer radiation from the infra red and ultra violet rays, there was the cooling effect in the atmosphere. This process has gradually converted the steam of the water particles situated in the atmosphere to the condensation process. By having the rain of the water and other chemicals from the internal surface of the atmosphere, there was the accumulation of the water every where. However, subsequently due to the emission of the particles from the lower surface of the earth, there was again the vapor formation. These processes remain operative for thousands of millions years before when as a mere co-incidence, the water was accumulated in the ocean of the earth. There was no such rain as were in existence, but the mountains started from where the process of evaluation generated. There was the alga formation on the mountains and ridges and similarly there was a jelly formation in the water due to friction of the molecules. Thus the live molecule was created in side the jelly like substance in the water and thereafter the formation of the ameba taken place on this earth. The theory of evaluation of life is the subsequent process.
    The vital question for consideration for our human being is to the effect as to whether the same process is a mere co-incident at the time of the birth of an individual. There is the generating of the heat in the process of life when the idea is exchanged. These ideas ultimately become the process of reproduction. There is the combination of the molecule again in the similar process. Thereafter the creation of the zygote inside the ovary of the female. Thus if we consider the life being originated from the ocean, whether the penetration of the sperm in the egg is also the starting point of the theory of reproduction. Ultimately the life is converted into a reality when the living organism took place in the process. We forget that the existence of our life is similar to the creation of the universe. Thus we start thinking for our survival. The struggle is of no significance because it continue for some period and thereafter it vanishes from its origin and thereafter the human being realizes that his existence is for the time being.
    This was a mere co-incident that a particular ‘Y’ chromosome was penetrated in the egg and meet with ‘X’ chromosome. Thereafter the process of life started. The shape and the identity of the person are concentrated on particular genes. When our existence is of such a small molecule from where we can get ourselves being recognized with some identity. This is the illusion of life when we claim for the recognition of our existence. The creation of the false existence is a direct assault on the identity of the power that has created our life. Even if we deny taking into our identity, the very existence of God, but still the value of the life cannot be put to any doubt for always being a controlling factor over the living being.

    This is the starting point of our wisdom. The moment we give up to our intelligentsia through logical perceptions by converting it from analysis by observation, the reality of truth comes to the memory. This process ultimately lead to an individual from committing any sin as the repercussion of the same may be detrimental to one’s own existence. No body will like to loose his own existence for the mere satisfaction of his egoistic nature. Thus ultimately we use to connect ourselves from some controlling power and thereafter the existence of God comes to our conscience. This is the ultimate truth of life.
    History of man is one long search for God. However, we cannot subscribe to the theologian’s theory of God. Life is the image of God, which is essentially a spiritual being. If the equation of life is taken into consideration, there can be no doubt that the man cannot eternally remain forgetful of his spiritual nature. Then he will find out his self.

    Time is having three-dimensional Picture, in which, there are certain memories of the past having it’s permanent impact on the way of thinking; the present as we have visualized it from such angle; and the future with our expectation to be fulfilled. Thus in this process, we may side-tracked from our inherent characteristics and may start challenging the time-honored customs. The reckless spirit of defiance of well-established sacred principle becomes the way of life. There is the open crusade against the religion. There is no religion equal to it’s potential, in which, there may be compassion for the animals and birds, truthfulness in the behavior and love for the fellow being. Thus the religion is based on the philosophy of brotherhood and spiritual cult of life. The places, where there is the program organized to slaughter the animals, as that of giving the sacrifices to the deity, these are not the places of religion but these are slaughterhouses.

    I have known the truth, but you can not know it. This is the preaching of every prophet. There lies their greatness. Thus they bring down the highest truth to the door of every man but never allow it to reach to such man. This is the religion of life. The true religion, which may be achieved through spiritual knowledge, seeks the truths of the inner world.

    Bondage is of the mind, and freedom also is of the mind. A man is free if he constantly thinks and feels: I am a free soul. Life and death are in the mind of the man. Thus one should have a burning faith in God. He may feel that he has no bondage .He will fellow the instruction of the God.

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