The current spiritual leader of BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha, Mahant Swami Maharaj has been steeped in the culture and spirituality of this sect of Hinduism as his parents Mani Patel and Dahi Patel were both disciples of the founder of BAPS, Shastriji Maharaj.
Born Sept. 13, 1933, and blessed by Shastriji Maharaj who also gave him his name Keshav, it may be hard to imagine that this venerated leader had a nickname, Vinu, in adolescence.
Vinu completed primary school, secondary school and 12th grade in an English-medium institution in Jabalpur. He attended the College of Agriculture in Anand, Gujarat, where he graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Agriculture.
During his college years (1951-52), he met Yogiji Maharaj and was captivated by his life and teachings. Vinu traveled with Yogiji Maharaj during his summer vacations, and it inspired him to enter the monastic life.
At the age of 24, in 1957, the young man received pãrshad dikshã, and was renamed, Vinu Bhagat. During this initial phase, he accompanied Yogiji Maharaj on his travels, looking after leader of BAPS’ daily correspondence with devotees. Yogiji Maharaj was so pleased with his disciple that he told other youth to listen to Vinu Bhagat’s talks.
Within four years, in 1961, Bhagat was given bhãgwati dikshã by Yogiji Maharaj, and named Keshavjivandas Swami. He was one of 51 highly talented youth initiated to the monastic order.
Appointed as the group leader of this group of 51, Keshavjivandas Swami led them in the study of Sanskrit. He also doubled as the head (mahant) of the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Mumbai. That garnered him the name he was fondly conferred — Mahant Swami — which he carries to this day.
Over the years, Mahant Swami’s relationship with Yogiji Maharaj deepened. His guru praised the young monk’s virtues and his inclination for seva, his devotion and attachment, and his spiritual discourses. Such was his trust in the young swami, that Yogiji Maharaj often revealed his innermost wishes to Mahant Swami.
Because he was artistically inclined, Mahant Swami would often express his devotion to God by making garlands and hindolã (swings). He inspired other Swamis to join in, teaching them to do service with attention to the minutest details. In making garlands, he would even make sure flowers were of similar sizes and colors.
Many of the senior-most Swamis of BAPS got inspiration from Mahant Swami’s life.
After Yogiji Maharaj’s passing in 1971, Mahant Swami Maharaj dedicated himself to Pramukh Swami Maharaj, the new guru, with the same devotion and allegiance he had for guru Yogiji Maharaj. His exposure to Pramukh Swami Maharaj had begun in 1951 when he first met him and he served under the leader in many of the organization’s endeavors, including mega-festivals, youth activities, as well as other mandir construction projects traveling relentlessly throughout India and abroad to inspire and strengthen satsang in countless devotees. On his 48th birthday in 1968, Pramukh Swami Maharaj said, “I feel at peace when I see Mahant Swami.”
As Pramukh Swami Maharaj made sure to keep Mahant Swami at the forefront of all major ceremonies and decisions, so the young Swami was devoted to his new mentor and abided by his wishes.
So it was not a great surprise when on July 20, 2012, in the presence of senior Swamis in Ahmedabad, Pramukh Swami Maharaj announced that Mahant Swami Maharaj would be his spiritual successor upon his own passing and wrote a handwritten letter to that effect.
And so the legacy continues. Like Pramukh Swami Maharaj, Mahant Swami Maharaj continues to travel to different countries to spread the message of BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha — one of peace, harmony, and spirituality.