Bhagwan Swaminarayan was the only avatar in the history of Hindu Sanatan Dharma to have been accepted as God by so many million people while He was alive. These devotees came from all over India and were from different walks of life: Brahmins, Shudras, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, Muslims, and Parsees. These devotees grew into one united family following the moral disciplines prescribed by Bhagwan Swaminarayan in the Shikshapatri. Their lives serve as a source of inspiration for householder devotees today. Though their stories are from 200 years ago, the lessons to be gleaned from their lives are timeless.
1. Dada Khachar
Bhagwan Swaminarayan stayed at Dada Khachar’s Darbar in Gadhada for close to 30 years. Dada Khachar offered his entire estate and wealth at the feet of Bhagwan Swaminarayan. That is likely the reason why Bhagwan Swaminarayan said, “Gadhada is mine, and I am Gadhada’s.” Dada Khachar had unflinching faith in Bhagwan Swaminarayan. He never questioned Bhagwan Swaminarayan’s decisions. Once, Bhagwan Swaminarayan ordered him to transfer his estate to his sisters’ names, a practice considered unorthodox at that time. Dada Khachar did so without thinking twice about it. Just a few hours later, Bhagwan Swaminarayan ordered him to take it back, and Dada Khackar did so with a smile. Dada Khackar was always calm and serene, never losing his temper or patience. His house was constantly flooded with guests and sadhus, but he never once complained about the money or resources he spent to care for them. In fact, his devotion and desire to serve increased with each passing day. Bhagwan Swaminarayan wanted to build a temple on a hill in the village. Half the land was owned by Dada Khachar and the other half by his uncle, Jiva Khachar. Dada offered his share, but Jiva Khachar was reluctant. In the end, realizing that Bhagwan Swaminarayan wanted to build a temple in Gadhada, Dada Khachar donated his entire darbar to build a mandir. Despite the fame and glory of a successful kingdom Dada Kachar remained humble and always lived the life of a Das No Das (the servant of a servant). His faith in and dedication to serve Bhagwan Swaminarayan and His devotees were unmatched in the entire sampraday.
Parvatbhai was from the village of Agatrai and a disciple of Ramanand Swami. He had complete divyabhav in all of Bhagwan Swaminarayan’s actions. Once, when Bhagwan Swaminarayan was travelling from Gadhada to Junagadh with His devotees, he stopped in Agatrai. There, Parvatbhai prepared a sweet with rice, jaggery, and ghee. Bhagwan Swaminarayan served ghee to all the devotees that were seated in a line. Instead of raising the vessel between the plates, He would let a continuous drip of ghee, an expensive commodity, spill on the floor between the plates. Parvatbhai danced with joy as if Bhagwan Swaminarayan was performing a divine action instead of worrying about the wasted ghee. It was then that the other devotees realized the extent of Parvatbhai’s divyabhav in Bhagwan Swaminarayan. He was also detached from his worldy relations. Once when he set out for Gadhada for Bhagwan Swaminarayan’s darshan, a farmhand came running from his village to tell him that his son had passed away. Parvatbhai told him to finish his son’s funeral rites and that he would return after having Bhagwan Swaminarayan’s darshan. Once when Dada Khachar needed a servant, Swaminarayan Bhagwan first asked all the Kathis if any of them would become Dada Khachar’s golaa. But they declined saying that since they were already well off, why would they take on such a role? Then God said that if Parvatbhai were here, he would agree. When Parvatbhai arrived, God asked him and he immediately replied, “Yes, Maharaj, how fortunate am I to be the servant of God’s devotee?” Parvatbhai reasoned that I act as a servant in my home, so why not here? So God instructed Dada Khachar to keep Parvatbhai and he did so. But after two days, God released him. Though he seemed socially inept at times, Parvatbhai’s conviction and devotion were signs of his spiritual elevation.
3. Sura Khachar
Sura Khachar had a close relationship with Bhagwan Swaminarayan. Sura Khachar was the chieftain of Loya. Sura Khachar was a jolly person with a witty sense of humor. He used to joke and jest with Bhagwan Swaminarayan too. Sura Khachar was the only one devotee that was be able to lighten the mood when Bhagwan Swaminarayan was upset. He would eventually make Bhagwan Swaminarayan laugh and forgive the party at fault. His comical nature and sharp sense of humor were not to be mistaken for a childish attitude. Rather, he was spiritually mature and was one of Bhagwan Swaminarayan’s ekantik bhaktas.
4. Samat Patel
Samat Patel served as an ideal example of complete piety. He came for Bhagwan Swaminarayan’s darshan in Gadhada. Bhagwan Swaminarayan asked him if he had any money to donate for the construction of the new temple. He immediately went home and sold his cattle, buffaloes, and house. He collected a sum of 4,500 rupees and returned to Gadhada. When Bhagwan Swaminarayan asked Samat where he got the money from, Samat replied, “I had it.” Bhagwan Swaminarayan realized that Samat had sold all of his possessions to donate that amount. He tried to convince Samat to take the amount back, but he would not budge. He said, “I will make up the amount next year, but I won’t get an opportunity to donate for this cause.” Samat seized the opportunity to please Bhagwan Swaminarayan.
5. Devji Patel
Devji Patel of Nenpur was an ekantik bhakta. Once, Sura Khachar asked Bhagwan Swaminarayan a question, “When we do the mala, we chant your name. Whose name do you chant when you do the mala?” Bhagwan Swaminarayan smiled and said, “I chant the name of my devotees like Devji Bhakta.” When Devjibhai’s son passed away, he sold all his belongings and sent his wife to Gadhada. When she came to Bhagwan Swaminarayan, Lord asked where Devjibhai was and why she had come with a pot full of ghee. She replied, “Maharaj, Bhagat is happy by your grace. And presently, he is happier than before and he has sent this pot of ghee for you and sponsored a meal” Shri Hari was puzzled, “Is it because he has had a windfall?” The lady simply smiled and replied, “Maharaj we have your association, so what is greater than that? We had a teenage son, who by your grace could always see you and have your darshan. Then with his coming of age our relatives insisted that we marry him off. But (Devji) Bhagat felt the moment he becomes shackled to a householder’s life, he will lose the divine joy of constantly seeing you. So Bhagat made a wish that you take him away, and bless his soul with Akshardham. And you fulfilled our wish. With his passing away, we both have been relieved of our mundane burden and will happily engage ourselves in doing your bhajan. Devjibhai and his wife were ideal examples of householder devotees that lived in society while remaining detached to worldy relations and dedicated to the service of Bhagwan Swaminarayan.
Bhaguji was Bhagwan Swaminarayan’s personal attendant. He left his estate and family to serve Bhagwan Swaminarayan for the remainder of his life. Bhaguji was short but had a solid frame. Bhagwan Swaminarayan used to have him guard Dada Khachar’s fields from dacoits and other thieves. No thief had the courage to face Bhaguji in combat. Envious of his valour and fame, Bhankhachar of Bhadli offered a handsome reward for anyone that could kill Bhaguji. Two brothers decided to attack Bhaguji while he was guarding Dada Khachar’s fields. Bhaguji fought both of them and subdued them. However, Bhaguji was injured, and Satchidanand Swami was placed in charge of his recovery. Bhaguji recovered and continued serving Bhagwan Swaminarayan. When the King of Bhavnagar offered to make him a commander in his army, Bhaguji refused saying, “I only want to serve God. Money and power mean nothing to me.” Bhaguji’s valour was focused on protecting God and His devotees.
7. Moti Rambai
Moti Rambai was born Kadvibai. She was married at a young age to a man that did not appreciate her passion for spirituality. She spent her day in devotion, while he spent his day tormenting her. He would sleep at night with one foot of his cot on her chest. He repeatedly told her to stop worshiping God, but she did not relent. Eventually, her husband conceded and began to treat her as a sister. She left Jetpur and came to Gadhada. There, she stayed with Jivubai. Moti Rambai increased satsang among women and served Bhagwan Swaminarayan until her last breath. She faced every difficulty in her life with the name of God as her shield.
Ladubai was the younger of Dada Khachar’s two sisters. She was married to Khoda Dhadhal of Botad but was allowed to return home and worship God for the rest of her life. She was extremely passionate and competitive with her sister, Jivubai, about her level of bhakti. They often competed in celebrating festivals and feeding Bhagwan Swaminarayan. She personally cared for the buffalo whose milk was offered to Bhagwan Swaminarayan. Her devotion and unwavering faith in Bhagwan Swaminarayan made her one of the greatest devotees of His time.
Jivubai was the elder of Dada Khachar’s two sisters. She was the first of Abhel Kachar’s children to have survived and was aptly named Jivu, or alive. When she was old enough to get married, Abhel Khachar searched for a worthy groom, but she refused. Despite her refusal, Abhel Khchar decided to get her married to Hathiya Patgar of Kundal. After their wedding, she sought his permission to remain a celibate, return home, and worship God for the rest of her life. He obliged. Upon returning, Jivubai spent her time in the service of Bhagwan Swaminarayan and the large number of devotees that came to Dada’s darbar. Along with her devotion to Bhagwan Swaminarayan, Jivubai was spiritually enlightened as well. It was her spiritual knowledge that convinved the royal poet Ladudanji to accept initiation from Bhagwan Swaminarayan and become the now famous Brahmanand Swami.
10. Vajiba of Vijaypur
Vajiba was the ideal example of conviction and faith in God. She learned about the mahima of Bhagwan Swaminarayan through Ramdas Swami. Despite not having physical darshan of Bhagwan Swaminarayan, through Ramdas Swami’s talks, she developed unflinching faith and devotion in Him. A few years later, Bhagwan Swaminarayan came to Vijaypur with Mulji Brahmachari. He asked the villagers for a place to stay, and they pointed Him towards Vajiba’s house. Bhagwan Swaminarayan walked to Vajiba’s house and knocked on her door. When she opended the door, He asked her for a place to stay. She was convinced that this man was a mendicant and refused. Bhgwan Swaminarayan decided to test her faith and began to speak ill of Himself. He continued to assess her faith throughout the night by nagging her for different items and speaking disrespectfully about Swaminarayan, but Vajibai did not flinch. She served as an ideal example of pativrata bhakti in the sampraday.
11. Uka Khachar
Bhagwan Swaminarayan praises Uka Khachar in the Vachanamrut saying that all of His devotees should learn to develop an addiction for seva like Uka Khachar. Uka Khachar would wake up every morning before sunrise and sweep the path that Bhagwan Swaminarayan and all saints were took to the Ghela River for His morning rites. He did so every day for life time. Uka Khachar’s spirit of service has become a source of inspiration for the Swaminarayan Sampraday’s humanitarian initiatives.
Gordhanbhai’s mind was singularly focused on the divine form of Bhagwan Swaminarayan to the extent that he was lost in his devotion to God. As a result, he often carried out his daily chores unaware of what he was actually doing. Gunatitanand Swami mentions that Gordhanbhai had achieved such consciousness of the soul that for him, salt and sugar were the same. Gordhanbhai was so immersed in devotion to Swaminarayan Bhagwan that when customers took things from his shop, Gordhanbhai would simply write “Haste Swaminarayan (in the name of Swaminarayan)” in the accounting ledger. When Muktanand Swami heard about this, he expressed concern to Swaminarayan Bhagwan that Gordhanbhai had experienced a great loss and would not be able to earn a living in this way. Swaminarayan Bhagwan explained that “gold’ and “rocks’ had become equal to Gordhanbhai and so it was God’s own responsibility to take care of him! Bhagwan Swaminarayan mentions Gordhanbhai’s name along with Parvatbhai as His true devotees. He says that they see Him amidst all their activities during the day. They have understood His divine form and are constantly carrying it in their minds.
Rajbai was a true celibate. She was married against her wishes. When her husband approached her on their wedding night, he saw a lion before he could touch her. He immediately realized that she was a celibate and gave her permission to go to Gadhada to worship God. In Gadhada, she would stay ten yards away from men and wear thick clothes. She spent her days sitting in meditation and helping with chores around the darbar. After she passed away, they tried to cremate her body in Laxmi Vadi, but Agnidev, the Goddess of Fire, would not touch her body because she was a celibate. Bhagwan Swaminarayan informed Agni Dev that since the atma has left, it was acceptable to burn the body. Today, there is a temple on that very spot.
Jinabhai was the darbar of Panchala in the southern part of Saurashtra. He was a clever businessman and administrator and, therefore, amassed great wealth from his agricultural initiatives. He spent most of it in the service of Bhagwan Swaminarayan and His devotees. During the Famine , Jinabhai distributed grains to many families affected by the famine. He still managed to produce grains and make money despite his philanthropic endeavours. He was also in charge of the logistics of the major festivals celebrated by Bhagwan Swaminarayan. He was zealous about spending time with Bhagwan Swaminarayan. Jina Bhagat also had a positive personality. He focused his time and energy in the service of Bhagwan Swamianrayan. He hosted the Maha Raas Lila in Panchala. He sponsored the entire festival and fed thousands of devotees, ultimately pleasing Bhagwan Swaminarayan by serving Him with his body, mind, and soul.
Kushalkuvarba was the Queen of Dharampur. She was extremely religious and spent her time listening to the discourses of the Bhagavata Purana. She came to know about Bhagwan Swaminarayan when one His paramhansas visited her court. Unlike the other mendicants, this renunciant would not let women touch his feet or serve him. She realized that He was different, and after learning about his celibacy vows, she inquired further about Bhagwan Swaminarayan. In due time, she invited Bhagwan Swaminarayan and received Him with grandeur. Elephants, chariots, and horses marked the main road of the kingdom to welcome Bhagwan Swaminarayan. Her love convinced Bhagwan Swaminarayan was stay in her palace.When Bhagwan Swaminarayan was preparing to leave Dharampur, Kushalkuvarba became frantic. He assured her that He would take her to Akshardham in a short while.
The lives of these devotees serve as a source of inspiration for householder devotees, even today.