In 1826 at Vadtal on Prabodhini Ekadashi of Vikram Samvat 1882, Swaminarayan established the dual Acharyaship in Dharmavanshi Acharyas, whom he intended as his successor. “Dharmavanshi” means “belonging to the lineage of Dharmadev” – the father of Swaminarayan.
Swaminarayan enthroned his two adopted sons, Acharya Maharajshree Ayodhyaprasad Pande and Acharya Maharajshree Raghuvir Pande, who were the sons of his brothers Rampratapji and Ichcharamji, as the spiritual leaders of the Nar Narayan Dev Gadi headquartered at Ahmedabad and the Laxmi Narayan Dev Gadi headquartered at Vadtal respectively. He installed them as the Acharyas for all followers, including householders and ascetics. Swaminarayan gave sole authority to these two individuals to install murtis in temples and to initiate sadhus and householders into the Sampraday. He did this using a legal document known as “Desh Vibhag no Lekh”, which he dictated and was written by Shukanand Swami. Learned saints and elder satsangis witnessed this document.
The Acharyas of the Sampraday are administrative heads, spiritual leaders and the gurus of their followers. Since the acharyas are supposed to refrain from contact with the opposite sex, except close relations, the acharyas’ wives are the gurus for female members of the sect and must avoid contact with unfamiliar men.
The Acharyas are responsible for:
– Initiating followers into the organisation with a Samanya Diksha by giving the guru-mantra
– Initiating monks-sadhus by giving them the Maha-Bhagwadi Diksha
– Perform murti-pratishtha, installing deities in the temples
– Authenticating scriptures of the Sampraday
– Acting as the Guru and leader of the entire Sampraday
The faith shown by Bhagwan Swaminarayan on both Acharya Ayodhyaprasadji Maharaj and Acharya Raghuvirji Maharaj was more than justified by both Acharyas by rendering their unforgettable contribution to the growth of the holy fellowship for many decades with their vision and most importantly their faultless behaviors. It would be most appropriate here to delve in to the lives of both first Acharyas.
Over the years, the Acharya lineage has continued with the Ahmedabad Gadi being passed from Ayodhyaprasad to Keshavaprasad, Purushottamaprasad, Vasudevaprasad, Devendraprasad, Tejendraprasad and onto the present day Acharya, Koshlendraprasad Pande.
Similarly, the Vadtal Gadi has continued on from Raghuvir to Bhagwatprasad, Viharilal, Laxmiprasad, Shripatiprasad, Anandaprasad, Narendraprasad, Ajendraprasada and onto the present day Acharya, Rakeshprasad Pande.
Shree Raghuvirji Maharaj - Vadtal
Bhagwan Shree Swaminarayan’s elder brother was Rampratapji and younger brother was Ichchharamji. It was now about a long time since Shree Hari had left home. The brothers had tried for all these years to find out their brother, Shree Harikrishna Ghanshyam. Finally they got the news about their brother and leaving Ayodhya the two brothers accompanied by their families arrived at Loya, a small township near Gadhada.
Shree Hari made excellent arrangement for their comfortable stay at Gadhada.
By this time Swaminarayan way of life had spread far and wide. Temples were constructed at different places. Gifts to all sorts, money and ornaments were being donated by the follower whenever they visited temples and celebrated festivals.
The question of managing all such movable and immovable property arose. Shree Hari asked senior saints like Muktanandji and Gopalanandji etc. to remain in charge of all such property after his departure to Akshardam. But no saint agreed to take up such materialistic responsibility. After the bitter experience of Raghunath He feared unhealthy rivalry to be the religious head after his final departure from the world. The saints and the followers too wanted some early amicable settlement.
So Shree Hari, in the presence of all senior saints and followers made a testament. As the property as well as the number of followers was increasing two religious heads were essential to be the supreme authorities in all matters.
Thus, Raghuvirji, the son of Ichchharamji was initiated as the Acharya of the Sourthern Division of Swaminarayan Holy Fellowship on the eleventh day of month of Kartik in Samvat 1882, by Lord Swaminarayan Himself. For about four and a half years he received training for excellent management of all religious, spiritual and philosophical matters under Shree Hari.
Acharya Shree Raghuvirji was born at Amalia, a small town in Uttar Pradesh. He had studied Sanskrit well. On all matters he consulted Sadguru Gopalanand Swami, the senior most saint. When his wife died he observed the vow of absolute celibacy for the whole life. He used to meditate upon Shree Hari all the time.
One of the saints had fever for five days. When his temperature came down to normal, he felt very hungry at midnight. The kitchen was locked. The saints told about all this to Acharya Raghuvirji and requested him to provide some millet-flour for making thick bread.
Acharya Raghuvirji got the kitchen opened and adding salt and spices himself prepared the bread and fed the sick saint with great love.
Once while he was crossing the river Mahi, there was a sudden-flood. The strong currents swayed him farther and farther. Assuming divine form, Shree Hari with the boat rushed to him and left him on the bank of the river.
He wrote Durgapur Mahatmyam in Sanskrit (translated later on in Gujarati by Swami Shree Bhaktipriyadasji). During his life-time Swaminarayan temples were constructed at Karali, Bharuch, Surat, Manavadar etc. where the Murtis were installed by him.
The followers look upon him as an incarnation of Lord Rama. The book – ‘Raghuvirji Maharajni Varta’ is published about what he did and said. He served as Acharya for thirty-seven years and six months and leaving his holy name behind for ever he departed from this world on the second day of the bright half of the month of Magha for AKSHARDHAN in Samvat 1918.
Shree Ayodhyaprasadji Maharaj - Amdavad
Bhagwan Shree Swaminarayan appointed Acharya Shree Ayodhyaprasadji, the son of His elder brother Rampratapji as the religious head of the Northern Division of India. He served the Holy Fellowship most sincerely for 42 years.
He was born on the eleventh day of the month Jyeshtha in Samvat 1865 and even with closed eyes he was able to see the form of Shree Hari.
His self-control was most amazing. Once at a dinner arranged to honor him, the cook added salt instead of sugar in all edible items offered to God.
But Acharya, while dining didn’t show any reaction or express his displeasure at that. But the fact was known only when co-diners ate with him!
Once when he was performing Manasi Puja (mental worship) of Shree Hari, he had a scorpion-bite but he remained totally focussed in that devotional ritual but did not intervened. When he woke up from Manasi Puja those who used to serve him came to know about the severe scorpion bites.
Acharya Ayodhyaprasadji was also a poet, and he has composed many hymns (Kirtanas) in Gujarati. He got prepared the commentary – Tatvartha – Dipika on Satsangi Jivan, constructed the artistic wooden mansion at Ahmedabad, installed Murtis in grand temples at Idar, Jetalpur, Siddhpur, Mandvi and Chhapaiya. He inspired people to construct temples at these places.
As per the command of Shree Hari in Shikshapatri he established a Sanskrit Pathshala at Ahmedabad. He had a great mastery over Sanskrit language, literature and religious books.