Sahajanand Swami also known as Swaminarayan Bhagwan is an important figure in modern Hinduism. He was born in Chhapaiya in Uttar Pradesh. He started his 7-year long pilgrimage at the age of 11 years and traveled to various parts of the country and performed several welfare activities for the general public. After travelling for more than 9 years, he settled in the state of Gujarat in 1799. He was admitted to Uddhav sampradaya by Swami Ramanand, who he accepted as his Guru. On observing the leadership qualities of Swaminarayan, his guru made him the leader of the Uddhav Sampradaya at the time of his death. Later the Uddhav Sampradaya came to be known as Swaminarayan Sampradaya who made baps shri swaminarayan mandir.
Work towards betterment of women
He had friendly relations with the British Raj and built six temples in his life. He also appointed 500 Paramahansas (Hindu spiritual teachers) in order to spread his philosophy. Swaminarayan also undertook a lot of pain to uplift the socio-economic conditions of women and the poor.
Swaminarayan helped greatly in eradication several superstitions regarding women. He worked towards their betterment and fought for their rights. He preached the demolition of Sati and suggested remarriage of widows. He also believed that education was the right of all people and women should be made an exception to it.
Against the caste system
He served the poor by feeding the poor and helping them in every way he could. He offered relief to the drought-hit farmers and weaker sections of the society. He worked hard to eliminate the caste system plaguing the society. In a way, he laid the foundation for the future revolutions relating to the caste system. He also rejected the myth that only a few could attain Moksha (liberation from the cycle of rebirth) and taught that the soul has no gender, it is pure energy.
Non-supporter of animal sacrifices
He was strictly against animal sacrifices in performing the yajnas and argued that animal slaughter or bali is not necessary to perform a ritual. He endorsed ahimsa and performed large scale yajnas without animal sacrifice. He was meat consumption and preached the same.
His beliefs and Criticism
Swaminarayan was a well learned man; he had in-depth knowledge of the Puranic texts. In one of his discourses, he says if God comes in front of humans in his divine form, they will not be able to withstand it; therefore, he takes human form so he can be among people, and they can love and approach him.
Some of his followers believed that he was the incarnation of Lord Krishna. The birth stories of both Lord Krishna and Swaminarayan are similar to each other. He himself accepted and said that he was an incarnation of God in a conversation with the then Lord Bishop of Calcutta.
There are many criticisms too about the acceptance of Swaminarayan being a God. Mahatma Gandhi has also criticized Swaminarayan’s philosophy on various aspects and held a low opinion of him. The teaching and reforms propagated by Swaminarayan were also greatly criticized by Swami Dayanand. He questioned his ideology and accused his administrators of collecting wealth fraudulently and deviating from the teachings of the Vedas.
There are lot of swaminarayan temples in India and in other countries specially at Ahmadabad, Delhi, Jaipur, Toronto, Chino Hills, CA and many more places.