In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Swaminarayan

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Sacred Images, Art, and Architecture
  • Digital Religion

Hinduism Swaminarayan
Avni Chag, Bhakti Mamtora
  • LAST REVIEWED: 19 April 2024
  • LAST MODIFIED: 19 April 2024
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399318-0289


Swaminarayan (International Alphabet of Sanskrit Transliteration, IAST: Svāminārāyaṇa, b. 1781–d. 1830), or Sahajānand Svāmī, was the founder and is the principal deity of the eponymous tradition, the Swaminarayan Sampradaya. Born in 1781 in Chhapaiya, a village near Ayodhya, northern India, Swaminarayan lived a short life of forty-nine years. As a child, he was known as Ghanaśyam until he left home at the age of eleven to undertake a journey across the subcontinent as the child-yogi Nilakaṇṭh. Eventually settling in western India, he accepted initiation from Rāmānand Swami (b. 1738–d. 1801) (not to be confused with Rāmānanda of the well-known Rāmānandi Sampradaya) under the name Sahajānand Svāmī. Soon after, Rāmānand Swami bestowed leadership of his sampradāya onto this young and newly initiated ascetic, before passing away. As early as the turn of the 19th century, his followers had begun writing about Swaminarayan as the manifestation of God. They understood him as Parabrahman, their chosen (iṣṭa) deity and paid their reverence to him as Bhagavān Swaminarayan. The tradition saw rapid growth under his leadership across the western Indian regions of Gujarat, Kathiawar, and Kutch, with much of the final decade of his life engaged in activities aiding the tradition’s formal institutionalization, with the establishment of temples, scriptures, and administrative and spiritual leadership. Swaminarayan’s following is estimated to have been 1.8 million by the time of his death. Today the Swaminarayan tradition is one of the largest and most visible expressions of Hinduism across the world, representing a distinct and dynamic form of Hinduism in India and in the Indian diaspora. The last decade has witnessed considerable interest in the tradition, with literature produced under a wide range of topics and disciplinary lenses, and with a particular focus on the BAPS (Bochasanwasi Akshar Purushottam Sanstha) denomination. This article provides an introduction to the literature on Swaminarayan and his eponymous tradition, comprising primary sources written by Swaminarayan and his disciples, translations, and studies of these works, and various secondary studies of the tradition written in English, French, German, and Gujarati. One hopes that this bibliography will spark interest in the developing, nascent field of what might be called “Swaminarayan Studies,” a field dedicated to scholarship on this dynamic form of Hinduism, with important contributions to various discourses and frameworks, from colonial history, media, art, and architecture to digital religion, philosophy, modern religion, globalization, and more.

General Overviews

Due to the relatively recent academic interest in the Swaminarayan tradition, general and comprehensive overviews are few. Williams 2018 provides an introductory overview of the tradition, its history, theology, beliefs, practices, and social dimensions. Other studies vary considerably in detail and length. Introductory encyclopedia entries on the tradition and one of its denominations are found within two comprehensive encyclopedias on world religions, Williams 2002 and Williams 2013. Williams and Trivedi 2016, an edited volume based on the proceedings of a conference held in 2013, contains twenty essays on the history, theology, literature, art, architecture and iconography, as well as the transnational framework, of the tradition. Two volumes published in 1981, which contain the proceedings of a conference held in commemoration of Swaminarayan’s bicentenary, have a wide range of essays on Swaminarayan’s life, work, and legacy. Set within a volume on the South Asian Diaspora, Dwyer 2004 traces the tradition’s international expansion from India to Africa to the United Kingdom. A short essay on the tradition’s historical presence in western India, present-day Gujarat, with some basic information on the tradition’s philosophy and literature, is offered by Mallison 1974. Patel 2020 offers an encyclopedic sketch of Swaminarayan and his eponymous tradition.

  • Dwyer, Rachel. “International Hinduism: The Swaminarayan Sect.” In South Asians in the Diaspora: Histories and Religious Traditions. Numen Book Series, Vol. 101. Edited by Knut A. Jacobsen, 180–199. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2004.

    DOI: 10.1163/9789047401407_011

    A short chapter from an edited volume on the global South Asian diaspora that surveys the Swaminarayan tradition’s movement and growth as a well-recognized global Hindu community in Africa and the United Kingdom. The chapter is supplemented with information on the tradition’s history and colonial encounters, its religious and theological background, textual canon, and the organization of its community.

  • Mallison, Françoise. “La Secte Krichnaîte des Svami-narayani au Gujarat.” Journal Asiatique 262 (1974): 437–471.

    Available only in French, Mallison traces the development of the early tradition and explores its early contexts, providing background on Swaminarayan, his community, doctrine, and ritual.

  • New Dimensions of Vedanta Philosophy: Bhagawan Swaminarayan bicentenary commemoration volume, 1781–1981. 2 vols. Ahmedabad, India: Swaminarayan Aksharpith, 1981.

    A set of proceedings from a conference held in commemoration of the founder’s bicentenary. Two volumes contain papers on a wide range of topics, including revelation, terminology, texts of the tradition, philosophy, Swaminarayan’s social work, ethics, comparative studies with other Indian religious traditions, and textual comparisons.

  • Patel, Iva. “Swaminarayan.” In Hinduism and Tribal Religions: Encyclopedia of Indian Religions. Edited by Pankaj Jain and Rita Sherma, 1581–1585. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Spring, 2020.

    A detailed entry on the life, teachings, and legacy of Swaminarayan. After providing a brief biography of Swaminarayan, Patel discusses the tradition’s theology and practice, early community, literature, and significance of the tradition.

  • Williams, Raymond Brady. “Swaminarayan Hinduism.” In Religions of the World: A Comprehensive Encyclopedia of Beliefs and Practices. 4 vols. Edited by J. Gordan Melton and Martin Baumann. 1235–1236. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-Clio, 2002.

    A brief introduction to the tradition with information on its founder, his work in early-19th-century India, the sampradāya’s inception and rapid growth, including future schism formations, textual canon, and transnational identity and expansion to Africa and the United Kingdom.

  • Williams, Raymond Brady. “Bochasanwasi Shri Akshar Purushottam Sanstha.” In Brill’s Encyclopedia of Hinduism. Vol. 5. Edited by Knut Jacobsen, 432–437. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2013.

    A historical overview of the formation of a prominent denomination within the Swaminarayan Sampradaya, BAPS, with specific details on the causes of schism, theological underpinnings of the denomination, line of guru succession, and its transnational presence.

  • Williams, Raymond Brady. An Introduction to Swaminarayan Hinduism. 3d ed. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2018.

    DOI: 10.1017/9781108332989

    Williams’s introductory volume is a popular summary of Swaminarayan Hinduism that provides useful information on the tradition’s history, theology, and practices. The first edition, published in 1984, is titled A New Face of Hinduism: The Swaminarayan Religion. In this third edition, Williams provides important updates about the tradition’s evolving global presence, including updated statistical data, use of cyberspace and media, as well as accounts of the tradition’s various denominations.

  • Williams, Raymond Brady, and Yogi Trivedi, eds. Swaminarayan Hinduism: Tradition, Adaptation and Identity. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2016.

    The twenty essays in this volume address themes including the history, theology and literature, arts and globalization of Swaminarayan Hinduism. These essays are a valuable resource on Swaminarayan Hinduism, its history within the transition between the early-modern and modern periods, and its contributions to global Hinduism. Authors include university-based professors, students, and monastic scholars who provide a wide range of new perspectives on the tradition.

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