An Acharya is the head of a sampraday. He protects dharma, is a spiritual leader and guru, and initiates a satsangi into the sampraday. There are two Acharyas in the Swaminarayan Sampraday; one for northern India, and one for southern India.
The mandir in Amdavad is the seat of the Acharya of northern India. As the murti in Amdavad is Shree Nar-Narayan Dev, the gadi is known as ‘Shree Nar-Narayan Dev Gadi’.
The mandir in Vadtal is the seat of the Acharya of southern India. As the murti in Vadtal is Shree Lakshmi-Narayan Dev, the gadi is known as ‘Shree Lakshmi-Narayan Dev Gadi’.
All the Acharyas in the Swaminarayan Sampraday are a part of the Dharmakul (decedents of Dharma-Dev). Sahajanand Swami adopted Ayodhyaprasadji from His elder brother Rampratapji, and adopted Raghuvirji from His younger brother Ichharamji. Both sons then became the first two Acharyas of the Swaminarayan Sampraday. Swaminarayan Bhagwan appointed and declared them as Acharyas in Vadtal in the Samvat Year 1882, on Kartik Sud 11.
Swaminarayan Bhagwan authorised only the Acharyas to install the Murtis of Bhagwan in His mandirs and to give diksha (and guru mantra) to male satsangis, and maha-bhagvati diksha to sadhus. Nobody else is authorised to install Murtis or initiate satsangis and sadhus. Swaminarayan Bhagwan has promised to reside specifically in the Murtis installed by Himself and the Acharyas only.
These Acharyas are authorised to initiate the male satsangis only. Therefore, the wife of each Acharya (gadivala) gives diksha (and guru mantra) to all female satsangis and sankhya-yogis, with the consent of their husband.
Even if devotees of Swaminarayan Bhagwan find themselves of higher religious and spiritual knowledge or status than their acharya, they are not authorised to install idols in temples or initiate devotees. In a mandir, if the murti of Bhagwan is not installed by one of the Acharyas, then this is not a mandir of Swaminarayan Bhagvan. A person, who is NOT initiated as a satsangi by their Acharya or gadivala, is not a devotee of Swaminarayan Bhagvan. No other members of the Dharmakul, except the Acharyas of Amdavad and Vadtal Gadis, are authorised to install the Murtis of Bhagwan or to give diksha to satsangis. (All the rules are outlined in the Desh Vibhag Lekh).
Despite being descendants of His father Dharma-Dev, because the Acharyas were (and still are) mortal beings, Swaminarayan Bhagwan showered them with divine strengths. He proclaimed, “I shall remain always within the Acharyas from the family of my father, Dharma-Dev”.
The rules of managing the Sampraday are prescribed in a document which Swaminarayan Bhagwan dictated and was written by Shukanand Swami – it is called Desh Vibhag Lekh. It lays out the boundary of separation between the two regions. Also, it states the protocols and procedures that must be followed by the acharyas. The Desh Vibhag Lekh is a legal document, and has been used in judicial rulings when legal matters arise. The original manuscripts of the document are with the present acharyas.
Why Are The Acharyas Householders (Grahasthas)?
Many sects that have deviated from the original Swaminarayan Sampraday (the Sampraday headed by the Dharmakul) believe that santo should be head of the sampraday, and they have them as their Acharyas. However, this goes against the commands of Swaminarayan Bhagwan.
Swaminarayan Bhagwan has clearly instructed in the Desh Vibhag Lekh and in all major shastras that the Acharya of the Swaminarayan Sampraday must be appointed only from His father's family (Dharmakul). The idea of appointing householder Acharyas is not a concept brought about just a few hundreds of years ago. It is a concept well authenticated in shastras, such as Yagnavalkya Smruti written thousands of years ago.
When Ramanand Swami met Dharma-Dev and Bhakti-Mata (parents of Swaminarayan Bhagwan), Ramanand Swami asked them to pass the diksha (and guru-mantra) to all the bhaktas who wish to attain moksh: Dharma-Dev to the male bhaktas, and Bhakti-Mata to the female bhaktas.
A bhakta can only be called a Swaminarayan bhakta after receiving the guru-mantra, and only then is their bhakti fully accepted. Before receiving the guru-mantra, the bhakti performed does not give the full punya (rewards). Therefore, it is essential for all bhaktas to receive diksha from the Acharya and receive the guru-mantra.
If the Acharya was a sant (a tyagi), women would not be able to receive the guru-mantra from them. This is the main reason that Swaminarayan Bhagwan chose householders as acharyas; the wife of the Acharya (Gadivala) give diksha (and guru-mantra) to women. Also, the role of the Acharya involves managing worldly affairs, which is prohibited for tyagis.
The Acharya becomes our guru once we have received the diksha and guru-mantra. However, he has millions of shishyas, and is unable to guide each bhakta individually. For this reason, he gives maha-diksha to santo, and delegates his power to them. These santo then become our guru, and guide us on the path to Akshardham. A person cannot be called a ‘sant’ of the Swaminarayan Sampraday if they have not received maha-diksha from the acharya.
“My Brahman, Kshatriya and Vaishya followers who have received Shree Krishna diksha (initiation) from the Dharma-Vanshi (descendants of Dharmadev) acharyas, shall wear a double tulsi kanthi around their neck, and shall wear a U-shaped tilak on their forehead, chest, and both harms.”
“A bhakta who has sought refuge in the Dharma-Kul will attain a brahmay body by the wish of Bhagvan.”
(Gadhada Pratham Prakaran 1)
“A person should know the line of succession of our gurus. He should know that Ramanand Swami was the avatar of Uddhav himself; and in a dream, that same Ramanand Swami was initiated into the Vaishnav sect by Ramanuj-Acharya in Shreerang-Kshetra. So, Ramanand Swami’s guru was Ramanuj-Acharya, and I am Ramanand Swami’s shishya. A person should understand the succession of gurus in this way. In addition, he should understand the tradition of the Dharma-Kul that I have established.”
(Vadtal Prakaran 18)
“Those who serve these Acharyas with food, jewellery, vehicles, animals, and flowers shall be worthy of Akshardham……….I shall give kalyan (liberation) to those who serve and respect these acharyas…..Through these acharyas, I shall give kalyan to all souls."
“Therefore all of you shall obey the Dharmakul and serve them. They are not ordinary beings; they are great devs. As well as being my sons, they are Brahman and my bhaktas; and by serving them you shall earn immense happiness. All your wishes will be fulfilled. This is my command that is to remain permanently.”
“So, both householders and sadhus should obey the commands of the acharyas, and not do what their minds desire. Do not take any actions without their consent…..Do not enter into debates with them even if you are greater in knowledge or wisdom…You shall regard the Acharyas as faultless, and you shall obey their commands. If you keep them pleased then I will be pleased with you, as they are there in my place……I am forever residing in them; I am in them, and they are in me. I am never far from them and I give darshan while residing in them.”
Desh Vibhag Lekh
“….It is my command to all sadhus, brahmcharis, and all satsangis, that for the purpose of your kalyan you must obey and follow the two Acharyas of the Dharmakul, and obey their commands by thought, action and speech. Whoever turns elsewhere (rejecting the acharyas) will find that they will never find happiness in this world or the worlds beyond, and will experience immense distress…”
Shree Hari Digvijay
“In this sampraday, the guru-shishya succession only exists for householders. The shastras state that it is prohibited for tyagis, and they must not take the place of the acharya.”
(Prakaran 45: Adhyay 61)
“Even though a person may have great qualities, if they are not a member of the Dharmakul, a person who wishes to be freed from the cycle of birth and death must not make them their guru and must not accept them as their guru.”
(Prakaran 4: Adhyay 46)