SWAMINARAYAN JAYANTI: Hindus fast in modern tradition

White temple at dusk with fountain in front

A Swaminarayan Mandir (temple) in Toronto, Canada. Photo released via Wikimedia Commons

SATURDAY, APRIL 20: While most Hindus are busy celebrating Ram Navami, followers of Lord Swaminarayan spend today in prayer and devotionals for Swaminarayan Jayanti. Though born on April 2, 1781, followers of Lord Swaminarayan follow the Hindu calendar and often observe his birthday on the same day as Ram Navami.

A modern tradition within Hinduism, the Swaminarayan sect follows the teachings of Lord Swaminarayan (1781-1830 CE), an avatar of Vishnu. (Learn more about this sect from Wikipedia.) Born in Northern India, Lord Swaminarayan became renowned for social and moral reformations. At age 21, he founded this spiritual movement and initiated 3,000 monks; at this time he promised to remain forever with his followers through a succession of gurus. Several followers compare Lord Swaminarayan to Lord Rama, both worshipped on this day, and point out their likeness in deep compassion and piety that attracted rich and poor, young and old.

Devotees begin Swaminarayan Jayanti in worship, observing a fast that lasts through the following morning. (Swaminarayan followers can find a community at BAPS.org.) Though they partake of no food or water themselves, the followers travel to temples and offer bountiful feasts to sacred images of Swaminarayan. Finally, at 10:10 p.m.—the moment of Swaminarayan’s birth—rituals are performed and devotees chant, sing and reenact portions of Swaminarayan’s life. Festivities continue through the night and into the next morning, when the strict fast is lifted.