Neelkanth had an endearing personality. Everywhere he went, his presence made an immediate impression on the minds and hearts of those he met. But it was not merely a passing impact; it was permanent. Long after Neelkanth departed, the vibrations of his special personality continued to be felt. Even today, over 200 years later, Neelkanth continues to inspire and elevate.
Shri Neelkanth is the ideal of austerity: such daily contemplation has empowered countless to develop self-control and observe austerities.
Shri Neelkanth is the eternal sanctuary of peace: by following his path, innumerable people have experienced divine, eternal peace.
Shri Neelkanth is an ocean of compassion: by his relentless travels throughout India, he has blessed the entire country and bathed all spiritual aspirants in the liberating waters of his grace.
Shri Neelkanth is the divine repository of all sacred virtues and the supreme eternal bliss: daily, thousands of devotees, young and old, men and women, devoutly offer abhishek to Neelkanth, praying to be blessed with his divine virtues and bliss.
Shri Neelkanth is worshipped as the supreme divinity: over the past 200 years countless devotees have advanced on the path of ultimate moksha and experienced spiritual fulfillment and bliss in life.
Neelkanth is not a figment of someone’s imagination; he is a revered historical reality. For over two centuries, the impact of his divine, virtuous and inspiring life has continued to motivate countless people all over the world. Even today, his living presence is felt.
He was born on 3 April 1781 CE (Chaitra sud 9, Samvat 1837, Ram Navmi), in the village of Chhapaiya, near Ayodhya, in North India; his mother was Bhaktidevi and father was Dharmadev Pande.
At the tender age of 11, after the passing away of his parents, he renounced home and embarked on an epic and courageous journey throughout India.
For seven years, Neelkanth walked tirelessly, covering 12,000 kilometres. The challenging and varied climate did not deter him. He braved the sub-freezing temperature of Tibet to complete his pilgrimage to Mansarovar. And the too, barefooted, wearing only a knee-length waist-cloth and without food.
Why? For Neelkanth this was not a trek undertaken to seek fame or adventure. It was for the liberation of countless spiritual aspirants. That is why his journey did not end with his incomparable pilgrimage to Mansarovar. He continued to visit many pilgrimage places, meeting spiritual aspirants devoutly endeavouring to please Paramatma and reaching where pious atmas were perfoming austerities. He faced many hardships, but still arrived at his destinations: from Mansarovar in the north, to Kanyakumari in the south and back up to Barhanpur. His journey finally ended in Gujarat in the west.
Neelkanth himself described the inspiring austerities the undertook, “When I was a child, I had the same thoughts as Kartik Swami; i.e., I felt, ‘I want to eliminate all of the remnants of my mother –her flesh and blood –from my body’. So, after many spiritual endeavours, I emaciated my body so much that if something pierced my body, water would come out, but never blood” (Vachanamrut, Kariyani 3).
“I endeavoured so vigorously that my body stopped sweating, and I no longer felt either the cold or the heat. Then, when I came to Ramanand Swami, he tried to make me sweat by pasting aval leaves all over my body. Even then, my body would not sweat” (Vachanamrut, Gadhada I 73).
“While staying in Purushottampuri, I spent many months surviving merely on air” (Vachanamrut, Gadhada I 29).
From the freezing, icy peaks and darkest, densest jungles of the Himalayas and Nepal to the ferocious white tiger territory of the Sunderbans, Neelkanth walked – alone, fearless and determined. He courageously overcame (surprise) snowfalls and ranging rivers. He took every challenge in his stride, remaining undaunted. Neelkanth describes, “When I renounced my home, I did not even like to keep clothes. In fact, I liked to stay only in the forest, but I was not the least bit afraid. Even when I came across large snakes, lions, elephants, and countless other types of animals in the forest, there was not the slightest fear of dying in my heart. In this way, I always remained fearless in the dense forest” (Vachanamrut, Gadhada II 35).
“On one occasion, I allowed my body to be carried away by a river that was three to four gaus [1 gau=3.2 km] wide. During the winter, summer and monsoon, I stayed without any shelter whatsoever, wearing only a loincloth. I also used to wander in the jungle amongst wild animals such as tigers, elephants and wild buffaloes. I travelled in countless such arduous conditions, yet my body did not perish” (Vachanamrut, Gadhada I 29).
He himself did not hoard anything, yet set an example of selfless service. He never felt belittled to perform even the most menial of services. For the good of others, he tolerated hardships. Neelkanth narrates, “ Once, when I was travelling from Venkatadri to Setubandh Rameshwar, I encountered a sadhu by the name of Sevakram. He had studied the Shrimad Bhagavad and the other Purans. But it so happened that during his journey, he fell ill. He had a thousand rupees worth of gold coins with him, but since he had no one to nurse him, he began to cry. I consoled him, saying ‘Do no worry about anything; I shall serve you.’
“On the outskirts of the village was a banana grove which had a banyan tree within which a thousand ghosts lived. Because that sadhu had become extremely ill and was unable to walk any further, I felt extreme pity for him. I prepared a bed of banana leaves one-and-a –half feet high under that banyan tree. As the sadhu was suffering from dysentery and was passing blood, I would wash him and attend to him.
“The sadhu would give me enough of his money to buy sugar, sakar, ghee and grains for himself. I would bring the ingredients, cook them, and then feed him. As for myself, I would go to the village for my meals. On some days, when I did not receive any food from the village, I had to fast. Despite this, that sadhu never once said to me, ‘I have enough money. Cook for both of us so that you may die with me.’
“After serving the sadhu for two months in this way, he began to recover. Thereafter, as we walked towards Setubandh Rameshwar, he made me carry his belongings weighing one maund [20kg], whereas he would walk with only a rosary in his hand. By then, he was healthy and capable of digesting half a kilogramme of ghee, yet he would make me carry his load while he walked empty-handed. In actual fact, my nature was such that I would not keep even a handkerchief with me. But respecting him as a sadhu, I walked carrying his belongings weighing 20kg.
“[in this way] I served that sadhu and helped him recover” (Vachanamrut, Gadhada I 10).
Many great monarchs were drawn to Neelkanth by his magnetic, divine personality. They requested and insisted that Neelkanth accept the sovereignty of their kingdom and rule over them. Yet Neelkanth was not interested in material power and comforts. His heart lay elsewhere, “On seeing the riches and royal opulence of the great kings of this world,…[I do] not associate even the slightest amount of significance to them in my heart… the natural inclination of my mind is such that I do not at all prefer to live in cities, in mansions or in royal palaces. On the contrary, I very much prefer to stay where there are forests, mountains, rivers, trees, or in some secluded place. I feel that it would be nice to sit alone in some secluded place and meditate upon God. This is what I prefer at all times. In fact, before I had had the darshan of Ramanand Swami, I had already decided with Muktanand Swami, ‘After you arrange for me to have the darshan of Ramanand Swami, the two of us will retire to the forest and constantly engage ourselves in the meditation of God, and never shall we return to stay amongst people’. Such was the resolution of my mind then; even now, I feel exactly the same” (Vachanamrut, Gadhada III 13).
“I have come across countless devotees who have been offering a countless variety of clothes, jewellery, food and drink, etc. Despite this, my mind has never been tempted by any of those objects. Why? Because I have zeal only for renunciation” (Vachanamrut, Kariyani 10).
Such was Neelkanth’s aloofness from the pleasures and prestige of the world. Yet, he concluded his trek in Loj, at the ashram of Ramanand Swami –drawn only by the loving devotion of devotees.
Neelkanth’s travels revived the millennia-old traditions of India. His efforts produced a unique cultural and spiritual transformation.
Two centuries after his arrival in Gujarat, Neelkanth, who became revered as Parabrahman Bhagwan Swaminarayan, is now worshipped throughout the world. From America to Australia, thousands idolize the young Neelkanth, behold him in their hearts and draw daily inspiration from him in many ways.
The story of his historic travels has been captured in the award-winning Mystic India large-format film.
Neelkanth’s legacy continues in the succession of God-realized Sadhus he established: Aksharbrahman Gunatitanand Swami (1785-1867), Brahmaswarup Bhagatji Maharaj (1829-1897), Brahmaswarup Sastriji Maharaj (1865-1951), Brahmaswarup Yogiji Maharaj (1892-1971) and, presently, pragat Brahmaswarup Pramukh Swami Maharaj (b. 1921). Through them, countless spiritual aspirants have learnt and imbibed the true ideals by which Neelkanth, Bhagwan Swaminarayan, lived, and have attained ultimate liberation.
That is why the Sanskrit verse, ‘Shri Neelkantham hrudi chintayami…’ – ‘I profoundly meditate upon Shri Neelkanth…’, composed during the lifetime of Bhagwan Swaminarayan, remains as relevant today, almost two centuries later.
The thought of Neelkanth continues to stir the hears of countless and infuses them with a vibrant spirituality.
For millennia, artists have used a combination of colours, brushes and canvases to produce numerous breathtaking works of art. However, more important than these three physical dimensions is the fourth parameter: the artist’s invisible vision.
Reaching beyond time and space, the artist’s feelings which emerge from his vision fill the painting with life. The colours, brush and canvas merely represent the physical body of a painting. It comes to life only when the artist’s emotions are added. Only then is its true message conveyed and real value appreciated. This outstanding collection of paintings gives a unique insight into the fourth parameter.
The central subject of the paintings is Neelkanth, that is, the teenage-yogi form of Bhagwan Swaminarayan. In 1792, Bhagwan Swaminarayan renounced home at the age of 11 and he travelled throughout India until 1799. At the age of 18, having walked over 12,000 km, he concluded his nationwide journey in the village of Loj in Gujarat. He accepted initiation from the highly respected and pious Ramanand Swami. Thereafter, Bhagwan Swaminarayan commenced the spiritual work for which he had manifest on earth.
This publication, Shri Neelkantham Hrudi Chintayami, focuses only on neelkanth, portraying through paintings a selection of true incidents, which provide a glimpse into his historic journey and divine personality.
The art of painting has been associated with the Swaminarayan Sampradaya since its early days. From the time of Bhagwan Swaminarayan to the present, countless paintings have been created capturing his divine life, work and personality.
The portraits of Bhagwan Swaminarayan produced by artists Narayanjibhai Suthar and Sadguru Adharanand Swami (see above) during face-to-face sitting are today of great historic importance in the Sampradaya. Since then, over the years, many artists have continued to contribute to the growing collection of works on Bhagwan Saminarayan. However, this series of paintings of Neelkanth occupies a unique position amid the vast and varied works of art on Bhagwan Swaminarayan.
Each of the paintings in this collection depicts a true story, but each is enhanced by the creative element of the artist. Just as a camera captures a scene as it is, it is common for an artist to paint an observed physical scene. However, that which a camera cannot capture is expressed on canvas by the creative vision and feelings of an artist. It is this additional artistic facet which reflects an artist’s true and distinguishing trademark style. Thus, these paintings are an inspiring blend of the real and imaginary.
In addition to capturing the details of the story, each painting is elaborated by the artist’s imagination to enhance the message of each incident. By patiently inspecting, reviewing and analyzing each painting, the reader will be able to truly enjoy and appreciate not only the bold, but also the fine details, which are likely to be missed by a casual, hurried look.
To assist in understanding the paintings, the story behind each painting is briefly described. The added imaginative features are also described. By viewing each painting and its descriptions, new insights into Neelkanth’s personality will be gained, since each painting portrays a different aspect of his inspiring personality.
The objective of these paintings is not to merely present the story, but to highlight the subtle messages behind the story. They are an endeavour in seeing beyond the visible; in reading ‘between the brushstrokes.’
These excellent paintings are the creation of Shri Vasudev Kamath, an accomplished artist who is renowned for thinking out of the box and creatively presenting a topic in an emotionally and aesthetically appealing way.
Swaminarayan Aksharpith is grateful to him for his meticulous care in producing this outstanding set of paintings.
throughout the entire process, from the project conception to its conclusion, the guidance of Pujya Ishwarcharan Swami through his unique artistic sense and profound insights of Neelkanth’s personality has been invaluable. This project is the outcome of his devotion-filled enthusiasm and encouragement. Swaminarayan Aksharpith is deeply indebted to him for his contributions.
Swaminarayan Aksharpith is also grateful to Sadhu Shrijiswarupdas for the design of the book, to Sadh Aksharvatsaldas for writing the Gujarati text and Sadhu Amrutvijaydas for translating it into English.
And most of all, this publication has been possible due to the blessings and inspiration of Pragat Brahmaswarup guruhari Pramukh Swami Maharaj, whose saintly life is a living portrait of Neelkanth’s divine virtues. Pramukh Swami Maharaj’s devotion to Neelkanth is reflected in the numerous abhishek murtis of Neelkanth he has consecrated around the world. Through these murtis he has inspired countless to offer their devotion to Neelkanth.
We offer our humble prostrations at the feet of Pramukh Swami Maharaj.
With this prelude, we invite you to immerse yourself in this artistic tribute to Parabrahman Bhagwan Swaminarayan.
We pray that the paintings and the messages they convey provide inspiration and inner peace to all.
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