Swaminarayan: The Cult that once Denied Its Links with Hinduism
Updated: Oct 16
The largest Hindu temple outside India, BAPS Swaminarayan Akshardham, has been inaugurated in New Jersey, the United States in the presence of Mahant Swami Maharaj following a nine-day celebration that commenced on September 30. Swaminarayan Akshardham is spread over 185 acres. It is one of those few US religious institutions that believe in the caste hierarchy and instructs its followers in its holy book not to accept food from those lower than their caste. Its religious charter violates the US fundamentals of the US Constitution.
The Hindu cult, Swaminarayan, in the 1960s contested the Bombay Harijan Temple Entry Act, 1947, to declare itself non-Hindu has opened the doors of the world's largest Hindu temple outside India. The cult believes in the Caste system, a division of humans by birth that determines their social status. The religious institution violates the fundamentals of humanity as it assigns people labels of purity and profanity because of the caste. Located about 90 KM south of Times Square, New York, in Robbinsville Township, NJ, Akshardham temple is dedicated to Swaminarayan, a 19th-century leader considered a manifestation of Krishna.
Swaminarayan, the founder of the Cult
On May 11, 2021, US federal agents raided the temple's premises to free dozens of workers under modern slavery conditions. In July 2023, the case against BAPS took a new turn when a dozen artisans withdrew their allegations. Knowledgeable sources say that the RSS operatives were behind the coercive tactics. Bochasanwasi Shri Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha (BAPS) claims to be a socio-spiritual faith. It was revealed by Swaminarayan (1781-1830) in the late 18th century and established in 1907 by Shastriji Maharaj (1865-1951).
Swaminarayan is a cult that believes in the sanctity of casteism. It is Vaishnava sampradaya rooted in Ramanuja's Vishishtadvaita. Sahajanand Swami, better known as Swaminarayan (1781–1830), claims to be an avatar of Krishna or the highest manifestation of Purushottam, the supreme God, founded it. According to the tradition's lore, both the religious group and Sahajanand Swami became known as Swaminarayan after the Swaminarayan mantra, which is a compound of two Sanskrit words, swami ("master, lord" and Narayan (supreme God, Vishnu).
Swaminarayan had a good relationship with the British colonialists. He built the first temple on 5,000 acres (20 km2) of land given by the company government. The company officers gave it a 101 gun salute when it opened. In 1830, Swaminarayan met with the British governor of Bombay and promised to quell unrest against the Queen. Swaminarayan gave him a copy of the Shikshapatri, a holy scripture of the cult, during the meeting with him. In the scripture, he urges the followers, "My disciples must never take food or water from a person of lower caste than themselves, even if it is Prasad (consecrated food) from the Lord."
The scripture promotes four varans mentioned in Rig Vedas and Manusmirti and considers Shudra, the lowest created to serve the Brahmans, Kshatriya, and Visayas. Dalits and those outside the caste system - were formally excluded from Swaminarayan temples. The cult prohibited lower caste members from wearing a full sect mark (tilak chandlo) on their foreheads. Even now, however, for most of Gujarat's lower-caste, untouchable, and tribal population, the sect is out of bounds.
The followers of the Swaminarayan cult filed a representative suit for a declaration that the Bombay Harijan Temple Entry Act, 1947, did not apply to their temples because they were distinct and different from the Hindu religion.
Muldas Bhudardas Vaishya, the President of the Maha Gujarat Dalit Sangh at Ahmedabad, asserted the rights of the non-Satsangi Harijans to enter the temples of the Swaminarayan sect in exercise of the legal rights conferred on them by the Act. The Act had provided that every temple to which the Act applied shall be open to Harijans for worship in the same manner and to the same extent as other Hindus.
To this suit, the cult leaders pleaded that the Swaminarayan are not temples within the meaning of the former Act. They argued that they were non-Hindus.
Swami Dayanand Saraswati, a Hindu reformer, was critical of the cult, and he questioned the acceptance of Swaminarayan as the Supreme being. He accused him of deviating from the Vedas. Gandhi was also critical of the cult and accused it of misinterpreting nonviolence. But he supported the cult's interpretation of the Caste System.
The cult has strong ties with RSS in India and its affiliates, Hindu Sewak Sangh, worldwide. Its followers are ardent supporters of India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi. They were instrumental in organizing hundreds of events in different parts of the world to support the demolition of the Babri Masjid and anti-Muslim and anti-Christian groups and opposed pro-Khalistan and Buddhist movements.
They have 1200-plus temples all over the world. Of these, 50 are in the US and the UK.
The cult holds a lot of political, social, and economic influence in Gujarat and now in the US, Canada, and Europe. In 2016, when Pramukh Swami passed away, Prime Minister Narendra Modi attended his funeral and said he felt like he had lost a father figure. Many global leaders, including the former US President Barack Obama, as well as political leaders across party lines in India, including Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) national convener Arvind Kejriwal and Congress leaders Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi, paid tributes to Pramukh Swami.
The Patidars are their main sponsors. They were mainly agriculturalists and had a strong base in rural areas, as a result of which the Swaminarayan cult had a stronghold in villages. The community evolved from farm laborers to landowners. It advanced from trading cash crops to becoming prominent industrialists and founders of educational institutions in Gujarat, and now it is the backbone of the ascent of the Swaminarayan cult. Of about six crore population of Gujarat, Patels constitute 1.5 crore. Considered as strong BJP supporters till recently, Patels are an influential community in Gujarat.
Patidars went abroad to countries like the US, Canada, and Australia and prospered; the Swaminarayan sect established their presence there. There are roughly 500,000 Patels outside India, including about 150,000 in the United Kingdom and about 150,000 in the United States. They are allegedly the backbone of HSS and other militant organizations flourishing in India. Their reported hatred towards Islam, Christianity, and now Sikh is well known. Experts say much of their activities promoting militant groups are secret. One can figure out their agenda by reading their holy book, sanctifying the caste system, and untouchability towards those not part of it. Their legal stand on Hinduism also reveals their intent. They may be willing to go to any extent to maintain Manu's laws on the Caste system.
Their caste philosophy contradicts the US Constitution, even though they have convinced many US public officials of their undivided loyalty to the Republic. However, in their private circles, they have been heard telling each other that they were loyal to only their cult leader and his writings.