Puja in The Swaminarayan Sampraday
Sampraday is committed to pure worship, high ideals and lofty
thoughts. To promote true upasana (mode of worship), Bhagwan
Swaminarayan constructed six towering mandirs installing in
them murtis of various deities, thus giving impetus to the practice
of murti puja. With reference to this, Bhagwan Swaminarayan
has said, "In order that devotion to God may flourish,
I have erected mandirs installing in them the murtis of God.
Even if this may lead to a slight relaxation in renunciation,
it will uphold devotion to God and thus redeem many souls."
(Vachanamrut Gadhada II-27).
One point worthy of mentioning here is that Bhagwan Swaminarayan,
in both His living and His preachings, laid great emphasis on
cultivating detachment and renunciation yet when it came to
choosing between either renunciation or devotion, He chose the
latter – in the form of murti puja.
For the sake of His followers – in His very own lifetime Bhagwan
Swaminarayan installed His own murtis under various names Vasudev-
Narayan (Gadhada), Gopinathji (Gadhada) and Harikrishna Maharaj
In Gadhada, exact measurements of His body were taken and a
murti carved as per His likeness, which was subsequently installed
under the name of Gopinathji. In Vadtal, He installed His own
image naming it Harikrishna Maharaj.
In addition to establishing metal and marble murtis of God in
six major mandirs (Amdavad, Bhuj, Vadtal, Dholera, Junagadh
and Gadhada), Bhagwan Swaminarayan had pictures, paintings and
line drawings individually prepared for devotees enabling them
to continue worship on a wider scale – home to home. As a result,
daily murti puja has become ingrained, to this very day, in
the lives of hundreds of thousands of Swaminarayan devotees
around the world.
Whilst Bhagwan Swaminarayan openly promoted murti puja, He was
all too aware of the potential malpractice taking place under
the pretext of devotion. Just as murtis are used as a means
of focusing devotion, there was also the possibilities of murtis
being misused as a means to satisfying an individual's craving
for good food and greed for power.
To prevent such misuse, Bhagwan Swaminarayan chose sadhus, who
had renounced women and wealth in all forms, to safeguard the
sanctity of the deities, strict codes of observance were issued
to the priests involved in performing worship rituals.
With regard to preserving sanctity of the murtis, Bhagwan Swaminarayan
says, "God dwells with all His powers and divinity in the
eight types of sanctified murtis. A devotee who offers worship
to these murtis of God should observe all rules of sanctity
before such murtis in the same way as he offers worship to the
living God manifested before him." (Vachanamrut Gadhada
The scripture, Satsangijivan, written by Shatanand Swami, a
prominent sadhu of Bhagwan Swaminarayan, mentions that priests
involved in murti puja should be practicing celibates, strictly
observing the codes of conduct and engaging in austerities by
means of fasts. Furthermore, Bhagwan Swaminarayan says in the
Vachanamrut Vadtal-8, "One who aims to establish his focus
on God should strive to live a life of perfect purity (both
external and internal). One who has to offer oblations to God
has to assume an absolutely pure form like God – otherwise the
deities will not accept his offerings."
Before he can "serve" the murtis in mandirs, the priest
must undergo ritual bathing and wear fresh clothes. This is
the first step – observance of physical purity. Before the murtis
in the sanctum sanctorum, one must not engage in unnecessary
talks or mockery. It remains the responsibility of the priest
to safeguard complete sanctity and to maintain a clean physical
environment around the deities.
As per this discipline established by Bhagwan Swaminarayan,
Brahmaswarup Shastriji Maharaj also propagated pure murti puja.
Following in his footsteps, the Akshar Purushottam Sanstha under
the guidance of H.D.H. Pramukh Swami Maharaj has been successful
in meeting the high standards set by Bhagwan Swaminarayan.
Following Bhagwan Swaminarayan's instructions in the Shikshapatri,
Swaminarayan mandirs follow rituals of worship as practised
in mandirs of the Bhakti movement, with some unique additions
which have been described in Satsangijivan. This text gives
details of the daily offering of five artis (waving of lamps
before the deities), offering of thal (food) and adornment of
The first arti – Mangala – is offered just before daybreak when
the deities are 'awoken'. Following this, before the next arti,
the murtis are adorned with beautiful clothes, ornaments and
garlands. The attire varies with the seasons. During the hot
days of summer, the murtis are smeared decoratively with cool
sandalwood paste. The second arti – Shangar – is performed
At 10.30am, the main meal of the day, Rajbhog thal, is offered
– the priest offers lunch to the murtis with love whilst singing
devotional hymns (thal) and fanning the murtis. Following this,
the third arti – Rajbhog – takes place at 11.45am At noon,
darshan is closed as take an afternoon siesta.
At 4.00pm, the deities are 'awakened' and offered fresh fruits.
The fourth arti – Sandhya – is performed at sunset. As per the
instructions in the Shikshapatri, many devotees gather to participate
in this arti, to chant and to offer prayers. After offering
of 'supper', the fifth and final arti of the day – Shayan –
is performed at around 8.15pm, following which the murtis
are adorned with nightclothes in preparation for sleep. The
arti times vary according to the seasons. In winter the Sandhya
and Shayan artis are performed earlier due to the shorter day.
In addition to the climate determining attire, on special days
such as the Full Moon (Punam) and the 11th day of the first
half and second half of the Hindu lunar month-Ekadashi – the
murtis are offered beautiful crowns. On the last day, the New
Moon day of each month (Amas), the deities are adorned in an
attire symbolic of the role played by God in protecting His
On the anniversary of the murti-pratishtha day, special ceremonial
rites are performed whereby the deities are bathed in panchamrut
– a mixture of milk, sugar, yoghurt, honey and ghee.
New Year's day is celebrated with 'Annakut' when hundreds of
varieties of delicacies are offered to the deities – a way of
saying "Thank you" to God for providing us with crops
and food for the forthcoming year.
The Lord's Promise
Murti puja has been preserved in all its richness and complexity
in the Swaminarayan Sampraday due to two major factors. First,
Bhagwan Swaminarayan has promised, "I'll remain forever
present in the sanctified murtis," and second, due to the
constant presence of a God-realized sadhu who has infused "life"
in the murtis with his special divine powers.
Bhagwan Swaminarayan left this world for His divine abode, Akshardham,
on 1st June 1830. One of His final sermons to the gathered devotees
in Gadhada has been noted by Nishkulanand Swami in his Bhaktachintamani:
"I will forever reside in the murtis
installed in the mandirs,
With this belief, offer worship and
serve the deities,
As if you are serving the God in person."