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Swaminarayan HinduismTradition, Adaptation, and Identity$

Raymond Brady Williams and Yogi Trivedi

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780199463749

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: April 2016

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199463749.001.0001

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Multivalent Krishna-Bhakti in Premanand’s Poetry

Multivalent Krishna-Bhakti in Premanand’s Poetry

(p.191) 10 Multivalent Krishna-Bhakti in Premanand’s Poetry
Swaminarayan Hinduism

Yogi Trivedi

Oxford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

By the end of the seventeenth century, Krishna-bhakti or Krishna devotion had been carefully claimed and assumed by the four Vaishanav sampradays in the north. A new surge rippled the bhakti waters of the Swaminarayan Sampraday in Saurashtra and Gujarat at the dawn of the nineteenth century. This chapter explores the shifting metaphysical understanding of Krishna within this new Vaishnav sampraday through its significant and celebrated poetry corpus. This close reading and detailed survey of Premanand’s (1789–1855) poetry suggests that there was a conscious theological act to centralize and often replace Krishna during certain liturgy, festivals, and performancesAccording to Premanand, there was a specific theological strategy involved in appropriating one deity over the other in specific instances. This conscious act of poetic positioning played a critical role in developing the community’s theological and social identity during its formative yearsThis study raises questions about this new community’s relationship with the earlier four Vaishnav communities.

Keywords:   raga, music, sampraday, Vallabh, Krishna-bhakti, Premanand, Vaishnav sampradays, Saurashtra, Gujarat

Worship only the manifest form of Krishna, and cross the ocean of material existence. Premanand says if you fail to believe, you will surely suffer from the hands of Yama. Oh being, He, Swaminarayan, is the true form of god.1

—Premanand (1784–1855), Kīrtan Muktāvalī I, 626

My first meaningful theological interaction with Premānand’s (Premanand) poetry was when I was nine years old. It was just a few minutes past midnight and the local Svāmīnārāyaṇ (Swaminarayan) community in Flushing, New York, was celebrating the Hindu festival of Kṛṣṇa Janmāṣṭmī (Krishna Janmashtmi) or the eighth night of the dark fortnight of Bhādrapad (Bhadrapad or August)—the month marking Krishna’s birth. Devotees danced, and the ḍhols (dhols, two-sided folk drums) and jhānj (jhanj, hand cymbals) thumped and chimed in sync and with increasing vigour. The enactment of Krishna’s birth was complete, and yet the devotees were yearning for a bit more. The pujārī (pujari, ritual priest) prepared to draw the red curtain drapes that shielded the mūrtis (murtis, or the sacred images) from the devotees’ gaze and prepared to serve a thāl (thal, food offering) of sweets and savouries to the newborn Krishna and of course the chief deity of the mandir, Swaminarayan. One of the devotees (p.192) started to sing a song written by Premanand (1784–1855), one of Swaminarayan’s aṣṭ-kavīs (asht-kavis) or eight chief poet-musicians, describing Krishna’s birth.2 In the refrain of the song, he exchanged Krishna’s father’s name, Nand, with Swaminarayan’s father’s name, Dharmadev. This performative interpretation was greeted by the crowd of singers and dancers with a thunder of claps, cheers, and a renewed show of energy. A series of questions flooded my mind: Was the congregation celebrating Krishna’s birthday or Ghanshyam’s?3 Were they one and the same? Who did Premanand imagine swaying in that little swing when singing these songs in Swaminarayan’s presence? Why did the group of devotees gain momentum in their worship upon hearing the performer’s untimely call to Dharmadev and thereby Swaminarayan? The questions quickly faded as the beats of the drums and cymbals slowed down and the pujari passed around small packets of pañcājīrī (panchajiri) or a powdered prasād (prasad) consisting of crushed sugar cubes, coriander seeds, fennel seeds, and almonds. The questions resurface here in this chapter after more than two decades and several hundred personal performances of Premanand’s Krishna Janmashtmi song.

By the end of the seventeenth century, Krishna-bhakti had been carefully claimed by the earlier Vaishnav sampradays in the north. A new surge rippled the bhakti waters of the Swaminarayan Sampraday in Saurashtra and Gujarat at the dawn of the nineteenth century. This chapter explores the shifting metaphysical understanding of Krishna within this new Vaishnav sampraday through its significant and celebrated poetry corpus. This detailed survey of Premanand’s poetry suggests that there was a conscious theological effort to centralize and often replace Krishna during certain liturgy, festivals, and performances. Premanand did not see Swaminarayan as standing in for Krishna or vice versa, but rather, there was a specific theological strategy involved in appropriating one deity over the other in specific instances. This conscious act of poetic positioning played a critical role in developing the community’s theological and social identity during its formative years. Premanand’s ability to implement this strategy while creating some of the most diverse bhakti poetry in over nine languages and several musical genres places him at the centre of the Sampraday’s and contemporary bhakti world’s literary and performative corpus. Premanand’s strategic use (p.193) of Krishna-bhakti illustrates his engagement with the earlier communities, while creating a space for Swaminarayan-bhakti within the community’s theology and performative ritual. The multivalent nature of Premanand’s Krishna-bhakti and Krishna’s shifting significance in Premanand’s poetry are more complex than that which the well-known scholars of Gujarati and Hindi literature—Harindra Dave, Anantrai Raval, Raghuvir Chaudhari, Hariprasad Thakkar, and Rajam Natrajan Pillai—have acknowledged. For Premanand, Krishna and Swaminarayan were not always interchangeable names and identities. There was a conscious selection of the object of devotion within Premanand’s poetry. This carefully structured Krishna-bhakti allows for the sampraday to reach back and define itself in light of the earlier bhakti traditions and yet maintain its individuality in matters concerning its theology. Exploring the conditions and parameters under which Krishna-bhakti grows and diminishes provides a basis for future scholarship to explore the role of Krishna-bhakti in the formation of the community and the transmission of its theology.

Krishna-bhakti in North India and Gujarat

Before analyzing Krishna-bhakti in Premanand’s poetry, it becomes necessary to define what one means by Krishna-bhakti. What is Krishna-bhakti? Is it simply bhakti towards Krishna? Perhaps yes, in its most basic form, but Krishna-bhakti had become an ideological and liturgical tradition by the end of the seventeenth century. It was a key marker of the members within the northern Vaishnav sampraday rubric. It can then be argued that Krishna-bhakti is more than just devotion towards Krishna; it is understanding how Krishna was worshipped theologically and liturgically. Krishna-bhakti is understanding Krishna’s metaphysical importance in hagiographies, iconography, and liturgy. Krishna-bhakti, as understood in this essay, is the way in which Premanand and the Swaminarayan community understood Krishna’s place within the community’s beliefs and practices.

Krishna’s, or a deity’s, central position in thinking through questions related to bhakti in the early modern period has proved to be extremely difficult for some scholars (Sharma 1987). This may partly be attributed to the influence of the various representations of the early bhakti communities and the Krishna-bhakti that was at the core (p.194) of the theology and liturgy that these sampradays propagated. As Sandip Saha has pointed out to us, Krishna-bhakti redefined Vaishnav theology in the north (2007). Krishna was ‘bhagāvan-svayam’ or ‘god-manifest’, not Viṣṇu (Vishnu). Krishna-bhakti had become central to the identity of the traditions of the north that would later come to be celebrated as ‘the bhakti movement’. Although Krishna Sharma presents her case against ascribing to bhakti a specific identity and restricting its definition, by the end of the seventeenth century, bhakti had acquired a darkish hue, a flute-like tone, and a tribhaṅga (tribhanga, a tri-bent position or stance) form in the north, east, and the west. The emergent theological, political, and social reach of the Vallabh and Chaitanya sampradays under Mughal and Rajput rule was a major contributing factor to the all-pervading presence of Krishna-bhakti in the north and east.4 This is not to say that in its most generic form, bhakti did not exist in other modes—in other sampradays and dedicated to other deities—but that Krishna-bhakti became the most visible motif in everyday life for devotees, rulers, artists, architects, musicians, and both bhakti and rīti (riti) or courtly vernacular poets. Bhakti, for many in the north, became unimaginable without Krishna. For religious communities, Krishna-bhakti became a measure of appropriateness. These communities gained prominence through their celebration and display of Krishna-bhakti. Krishna- bhakti had travelled far from the lands of Nimbark in the south and Chaitanya in Bengal and Vrindavan to the lands of Mirabai and Narsinh Mehta in the west. As early as the second half of the fifteenth century, Gujarat, too, was singing Krishna’s song (Bhatt 2014).

Several factors contributed to the spread of Krishna-bhakti in Gujarat. First, the bustling centres of trade and pilgrimage are credited with having catalyzed the ‘movement’—the circulation of bhakti ideologies and poetry—within the region. Dwarka was at the most frequented of Gujarat’s pilgrimage sites, thereby becoming a breeding ground for Krishna-bhakti and its many variations augmented by travellers from the north, east, and south (Sheikh 2016). As Neelima Shukla-Bhatt suggests, perhaps Mirabai’s hagiographical and performative presence in Dwarka was a factor (Bhatt 2007). Another contributing factor was the visible presence of two prominent Vaishnav sampradays, namely the Vallabh and Nimbark sampradays (Mashruwala 1923). Of the two, Vallabh’s descendants were quick (p.195) to gain control in Rajasthan and Gujarat by spreading their ideology through mercantile and political networks, a strategy Vithalnath had used in Braj (Saha 2007 and Hawley 2011). The spread of non-sāmpradāyik or non-sectarian forms of Krishna-bhakti in Rajasthan and Gujarat has also been attributed to the free-spirited bards—bhaṭṭs (bhatts) and cāraṇs (charans)—in rural and courtly Gujarat (Shah and Shroff 1958). As Françoise Mallison has noted, the Bhuj Brajbhasha Pathshala was also a centre for the teaching and training of these bards in the northern Gujarat region of Kutch (Mallison 2011). Dalpat Rajpurohit has demonstrated that along with the courtly poetic forms being taught and archived—kavits and savaiyās (savaiyas)—the poetry of nirguṇa (nirguna, a stream of devotion associated with a deity without attributes and qualities) poets such as Sundardās (Sundardas) and saguṇa (saguna, a stream of devotion associated with a deity with attributes and qualities) poet-musicians such as Tulsidas were also being studied and emulated at this centre of literary learning in Bhuj (Rajpurohit 2010). Poets trained in this school travelled around the region sharing their own interpretations and renditions of this poetry and thereby Krishna-bhakti.

Krishna-bhakti became a means of identifying and grouping communities in the north, east, and west. Other communities started self-identifying with these earlier Vaishnav communities through practice and theology. The Swaminarayan Sampraday too identified with earlier Vaishnav sampradays, namely the Vallabhites and the Rāmānujīs (Ramanujis). Although there was significant overlap in theology with the Ramanujis, it was the similarities in personal theistic devotion or bhakti with the Vallabhites that helped the nascent community grow and earn a seat at the Vaishnav table in its formative years (Williams 2001). It was a matter of self-identification then—the Swaminarayan Sampraday too, desired a place among the earlier elite Vaishnav communities. After all, Swaminarayan refers to his sampraday—in highly Vaishnav terminology—as the Uddhav Sampraday in the Vachanamrut and in Nishkulanand’s Bhaktacintāmaṇi (Bhaktachintamani).5 This new sampraday attempted to extend the early modern into the colonial, redraw the forest limits of Vrindavan to include Gujarat, to juxtapose itself alongside the earlier Vaishnav sampradays by using Krishna-bhakti as the backdrop. (p.196)

Each of the earlier Vaishnav sampradays produced a different flavour or variation of Krishna-bhakti. The belief system and liturgical practice varied in each sampraday. The Vallabhites worshipped the pre-pubescent form of Krishna and the youthful form of Krishna alongside Radha, paying specific attention to personalized theistic devotion through ritual, poetry, and music. The followers of Chaitanya prioritized the devotion of a playful form of Krishna along with his ideal milk-maiden devotee, Radha.6 Theological and liturgical changes occurred in different communities worshipping Krishna. Within the Swaminarayan Sampraday, however, there was a shift in Krishna’s central role. In the case of the Swaminarayan Sampraday, the shift was unique since it directly affected the centrality or importance of Krishna as a metaphysical being, as an object of devotion.

Krishna-bhakti in the Swaminarayan Sampraday

Krishna-bhakti in the Swaminarayan Sampraday’s formative years (1799–1865) was vibrant. It resulted in the production of thousands of poems venerating Krishna, in exegesis of the Bhagavad Gita, Bhagavata Purana, and related texts, and even in resurgence in the celebration of festivals and observance of liturgy similar to those prescribed by previous Vaishnav ācāryas (acharyas) or founding-teachers. This Krishna-bhakti, however, presented itself in an unusual way—with a shifting significance of its protagonist. Krishna’s rise to the top of the divine hierarchy in the north and the east was being challenged; Krishna-bhakti may have, again—to quote the famous Bhāgavata Mahātmya verse—‘grown decrepit’ in Gujarat. Krishna was worshipped, and at once was losing his central position and his significance as the object of devotion in this new Vaishnav community.

This is not to say that Krishna-bhakti is less significant and absent in major aspects of the Swaminarayan Sampraday. Murtis installed in the central shrine of most Swaminarayan Sampraday mandirs until 1907, when Shastri Yagnapurushdas separated from the Vadtal diocese, were of some variation of Radha and Krishna. Even today, both traditional stone-spired śikharbaddh (shikharbaddh, traditional stone temples with tall spires that are ritually marked by five ritual artis within the Swaminarayan community) and smaller mandirs (p.197) house murtis of Radha and Krishna in the first shrine of each garbha gṛha (garbha gruha) or sanctum sanctorum. Within the liturgical hymns, the first dhunya (dhunya) or chant to follow the ārtī (arti, waving of the sacred-lamp) at least twice a day begins with praise for Ram, Krishna, and again Krishna—this time by using an epithet ‘rāma kriṣṇa govind jay jay govind …’.

Further evidence of Krishna-bhakti’s central position is the guru dīkṣā (diksha) mantra or initiation mantra still used by the acharyas in the Ahmedabad and Vadtal organizations and the gurus in the guru-led lineages. It reminds the newly initiated sadhu that he is trying to become one with Brahman or the fourth metaphysical entity in the Swaminarayan metaphysical system, and therefore not this body. The sadhu is, however, still a servant of the Lord, who in this case is Krishna: ‘brahmanahaṃ, kṛṣṇadāso ‘smi’.7 Krishna-bhakti’s overwhelming presence in the sampraday’s liturgy also warrants a detailed study. The heavy-handed influence of the Vaishnav sampradays, and in particular the Vallabh Sampraday, on arti, thal, nām smaraṇ (nam smaran, chanting or remembering of the deity’s name), śṛṅgār (shringar, the Vaishnav morning ritual of adorning murtis), and so on, has been duly noted by Kishorelal Mashruwala (1923, 116). Krishna-bhakti is present also in the sampraday’s canonical texts. In the Vachanamrut, Swaminarayan references Krishna more than two hundred times and the Tenth Canto of the Bhagavata Purana in more than forty-five discourses. The authority of the other Vaishnav acharyas and communities along with the patriarchal authority of Veda Vyas, too, is mentioned several dozen times. The list continues—architecture, dietary habits, and even the observance of fasts and festivals. Krishna-bhakti pervades all aspects of the community’s belief and practice structure.

It is through bhakti poetry, however, that Krishna-bhakti reaches the ears, hearts, and minds of the devotee several times a day. Poetry and music are central to bhakti in the Vaishnav tradition. Studies by Guy L. Beck emphasize the role of music and poetry in the performance of bhakti in north Indian bhakti traditions (Beck 2013). These sung and performed poems were often seen as the vehicle for Krishna-bhakti, especially in the vernacular-speaking masses in Gujarat.8 In the Swaminarayan Sampraday, poetry was sung several times a day within the community, often as a part of liturgy and (p.198) usually in Swaminarayan’s presence. These performative exchanges have been noted by the editors of the Sampraday’s canonical text in the introductory paragraphs of dozens of Vachanamruts. Poetry was accessible to and popular with the average lay and ascetic members within the Sampraday. Its highly visible presence in the sampraday’s liturgy and thereby its role in the transmission of theology makes it a critical medium of inquiry for Krishna-bhakti.

Krishna-bhakti retains a noticeable presence in the bhakti poetry of many of the Sampraday’s eight senior poets, for instance Brahmanand, Muktanand, and Devanand, the guru of the celebrated Gujarati poet Dalpatram. These poems were circulated by performers, manuscripts, and bards as far as Jaipur, Vrindavan, and Maharashtra. Many of these Krishna-bhakti poems have been integrated into contemporary performance culture by well-known singers of Indian classical and devotional music in northern India and the Indian diaspora.

Premanand, Premanand’s Poetry, and Krishna’s Shifting Theological Position in the Sampraday

Premanand’s poetry stands out as an exemplary of Krishna-bhakti of the eight poet-musicians of the Sampraday for several reasons. His poetry plays a central role in the liturgy and the celebration of festivals in the sampraday today. It is at the core of the observance of daily rituals such as shringar arti or the dressing up of the deity each morning, thal or offering of delicacies to the deities several times a day, and even the celebration of major festivals such as Hoḷī (Holi) and Divāḷī (Diwali). Premanand’s poetry is also the single-largest corpus of bhakti poetry and specifically Krishna-bhakti in the Swaminarayan Sampraday. The creation of several thousand Krishna-bhakti poems demonstrates Premanand’s desire to connect his community with the earlier Vaishnav sampradays. This desire is offset by his creation of the largest corpus of poetry of the eight poet-musicians that extols the greatness of Swaminarayan. Premanand carefully straddles the line between Krishna-bhakti and Swaminarayan-bhakti to preserve Krishna-bhakti and use it to link the Sampraday to the Vaishnav rubric, while creating space for Swaminarayan-bhakti in his corpus and thereby the theology of the nascent Sampraday. (p.199)

Hagiographies are unclear about Premanand’s birth and upbringing before meeting Swaminarayan. Some state that he was born of Muslim parents, while others claim that he was cast away at birth by his Brahmin parents. Nonetheless, they all agree that Premanand spent his early life in a Muslim household (Thakkar 1971). He met Swaminarayan at the age of nine and decided to join his fellowship at that point. Swaminarayan sent him to study music and poetics in Ujjain and Lucknow, two centres celebrated for the extremely influential communities who lived there—Islamicate and with a unique courtesan culture in the case of the latter. Premanand’s poetic and musical genius and breadth may be attributed to this diverse and cosmopolitan training (Thakkar 1971). He wrote poetry in over a dozen languages, including Sanskrit, Persian, Hindi, Gujarati, Marwari, Bundeli, Braj, Avadhi, Punjabi, Urdu, Dakani, and Marathi. Several hagiographies state that Swaminarayan showed great interest in Premanand’s poetry and music (Thakkar 1971, 37–9). This may have earned his poetry a privileged place in the liturgy of the community in its formative years. His own social upbringing and training as a musician in these various circuits also contributes to Premanand’s diversity and reach.9 Whatever the reasoning, Premanand’s poetry gained a central place within the poetic corpus of the Sampraday, some would argue even beyond the privileged place of the bardic Rajasthani senior-court-poet-musician-turned-bhakti-poet-musician, Brahmanand (Raval 1978).

Premanand’s poetry, collected in the Premānand Kāvya (the collection of Premanand’s poetry; hereafter, PK ) is the most comprehensive collection of Krishna-bhakti and also of pragaṭ or manifest bhakti poetry venerating Swaminarayan in the Swaminarayan Sampraday (Raval 1978, 17). His poetic style has often been likened to the bhakti poet-musician extraordinaire, Surdas (Caudharī 1981). A cursory statistical analysis of the PK shows that approximately 1,800 of the 3,375 bhakti songs included in the corpus address or describe some variant of Krishna’s līlā (lila) or divine play.10 More than 895 pads (lyric poems) include a characteristic or description belonging to the Krishna-bhakti trope, such as a murlī (murli) or flute, Vrindavan, cattle, or the gopīs (gopis, cow-herd maidens). Although only approximately 765 poems include the words Swaminarayan or Sahajanand, the (p.200) number rounds up to 1,500 by expanding the search to include Jīvan Muktā (Jivan Mukta), Nārāyaṇ Muni (Narayan Muni), Śrī Hari (Shri Hari), and Ghanshyam.11 Premanand distinguishes between his two objects of devotion: Krishna and Swaminarayan. Very few poems mention both Swaminarayan and Krishna in the same verse. The poetry provides the context for the literary and theological conditions in which Krishna and Swaminarayan are the protagonists of Premanand’s poetry.

There are certain literary and musical genres in which Premanand maintains Krishna as the protagonist of his bhakti narrative. Premanand’s Krishna-bhakti is most explicitly illustrated in the literary and performative genres that have inherited Krishna-bhakti as a central motif, namely the ṭhumrī (thumri), dhrupad, and horī (hori) genres. Lalita du Perron has argued, quite effectively, that the thumri and hori genres of Indian classical music were courtly forms of music, perhaps even developed under the watchful eye of courtesan culture (du Perron 2007). A similar argument has been made by Bonnie C. Wade and Katherine Butler-Schofield for dhrupad and khayāl (khayal, lit. imagination or thought; a genre of classical Indian music) (Wade 1998; Butler-Schofield 2010). By the nineteenth century, however, these three genres had long made their mark on the bhakti world. The Vallabh Sampraday’s havelī saṅgīt (haveli sangit) genre is a prime example (Beck 2010). Thumris and horis, too, took up the Krishna-bhakti motif and soon became part of the bhakti world’s literary and performative corpus. Performance in the Swaminarayan Sampraday was no different. It is evident from the number of such songs in the PK that dhrupad, thumris, and horis were central to the Sampraday’s bhakti poetry corpus. Premanand’s thumris have been recognized for making significant literary contributions to the genre, a genre that for a long time was singing the song of Krishna (Pillai 2012). It is within this long literary tradition that Premanand professes his love for Krishna. Premanand’s eyes well up with tears from the pain of separation from his beloved, his object of devotion, who is none other than—note—Krishna.

  • re me kaise ke jīvuṅgī nandalāla binā, lāla binā rūpa jāla binā
  • kauna paveṅgā adhara sudhārasa, giridhara dīnadayāḷa binā
  • konako darasa parasa karī jīvuṇ, madhuripu madanagopāla binā
  • Premānanda kahe vyākula brajabanī, sundara ṣyāma tamāla binā (p.201)
  • Oh, how shall I live without the son of Nand, without him, without the net of his bewitching form?
  • Who will feed me the nectar-like rasa of (his) lips, without the compassionate upholder of Mount Govardhana?
  • With whose sight and touch shall I keep life, without the enemy of Madhu, the charming Gopāl?
  • Premanand says restless are the women of Braj, without the beautiful dark and red one. (PK II, 125)

If the lyrics are read literally in this thumri, it seems as if Premanand is singing of his separation from Krishna and not Swaminarayan. The markers of Krishna-bhakti are clear—the son of Nand, the upholder of Giri, the enemy of the demon Madhu, the women of Braj and, of course, ‘the nectar of his lips’ motif. The Krishna-bhakti in this thumri does not seem all that different from that which preceded it in the thumris of Vrindavan and Banaras.

A similar example can be provided from the hori poems found in the PK. The hori genre is usually associated with the spring and monsoon season—in particular the celebration of the Holi festival—colours, and swings. Radha–Krishna were the deities of choice in this genre as well. Premanand again expresses his love towards Krishna, while making a significant contribution to the genre with his poetic and musical genius.

  • sāvare ṣu kahiyo jāi merīve
  • karajorī pada parasi kānake, kahiyo binatī sunāi
  • esī cuka kahā parī pyāre, brajakī sudhī bisarāi, tori dai pichalī sagāi
  • khāna pāna taja biraha bāvarī, ghara aṅganā na sohāi
  • Premānand nandalāla piyā binā, socatī ati sakucāi, ṣyāma sudha lījīye dhaī
  • Oh beloved, what can be said of my (state)?
  • Hands folded and knelt at his feet, I share my plea
  • Where have I gone wrong beloved, that you have forsaken Braj, flouting all associations of the past?
  • Food and water neglected, mad with pain from separation, the house and courtyard remain unmade
  • Premanand says without my lover, the son of Nand, contemplating I wither, oh dark one, bring my plight to your mind (PK II, 266)

Premanand follows the tradition of the hori-style pad. The words are sharp, the sentiment harsh, and the metre quick. The recipient of this love-torn heart’s grief and affection is again Krishna. Premanand (p.202) follows that which precedes him in the tradition. A total of 78 such hori poems can be found in the PK. The longing and pain from separation in the poetry reminds one of the intense yearning expressed in the poetry of Surdas and Mirabai.

Premanand’s dhrupads, too, for the most part follow the pattern established by the thumris and horis. Premanand addresses Krishna’s childhood lilas and youthful beauty. Nearly ninety per cent of the dhrupad poems display Krishna as the object of Premanand’s devotion. The following poem exemplifies Premanand’s use of epithets of Krishna similar to those presented in the previous genres.

  • binu dekhe vyākula vrajanārī, ho piya aba bega āvana kīje
  • kunjabihārī hari arajī ura dharī, ṣyāmajī sudha līje
  • nandake ānanda kāan vrajake, jīvanaprāna neka darasana dīje
  • Premānand sukha dena sufala kīje nena, badana bilokī jīje
  • Not having seen you, the women of Braj have grown restless, oh beloved, now, come at once
  • Oh dweller of the creepers, Hari, hold this request to your heart, oh dark one remember me
  • Nand’s joy, the son of Braj, oh the love of my life, give a beautiful glimpse
  • Premanand (says) oh giver of joy, give purpose to my eyes, show me your face (PK II, 82)

In this dhrupad, Premanand uses yet another epithet for Krishna that we have not yet considered—Kuṅjbīhārī (Kunjbihari). Nand, Krishna’s father, is again present. Premanand’s final verse deviates from the previously established patter. Here, Premanand asks for Krishna’s darśan (darshan) or glimpse to give purpose to his eyes. One can argue that such a request goes beyond that which is being followed in the tradition. Now, Premanand is asking for something that holds theological significance. It is beyond just singing about pain, separation, and love. Such dhrupad songs are rare in Premanand’s bhakti songs.

Premanand was not only a poet but a musician—one who assigned ragas or musical modes to his bhakti poetry. He used these ragas to position his Krishna-bhakti. Most of the manuscripts surviving previous bhakti-musicians were usually dated well after the poets’ lifetimes. Many of them do ascribe ragas to the poems, but it is unclear as to whether these ragas were added during the poet-musicians lifetimes (p.203) or added later by scribes, performers, and sectarian gatekeepers. This question does not apply to Premanand’s poetry. Most of the manuscripts used to compile the PK are dated within his lifetime (Thakkar 1971). Only three manuscripts date post-1855, written just eighteen years after Premanand’s death. Although this does not ascertain that he wrote the songs or prescribed the ragas himself, there seems to be a direct correlation between that which is sung and that which is recorded in the Swaminarayan tradition. We certainly know that Premanand was familiar with the musical traditions, tāls (tals) or rhythmic cycles, and ragas prevalent during his time. He mentions in his Śrī Harikṛṣṇacaritrāmṛt (Shri Harikrishnacharitramrut) that he performed dhrupad, thumri, and caturaṅg (chaturang, a musical composition with four distinct components) compositions in front of Swaminarayan on the occasion of several festivals (Raval 1978, 89). In one of his bhakti poems in the PK, Premanand states that he is singing this bhakti poem in Raga Malhār (Raga Malhar), and that too in the form attributed to the celebrated musician Miyan Tansen.

  • raṅga bhīnā murārī, mo pe kiyi maharabāna
  • diye darasa dāna, akhīyana bhayī gulatāna…
  • Premānand gāve malahāra miyana ke rūp se, garajata ṣyāma paramāna
  • Oh, one steeped in all colours, enemy of the demon Mur, you have been gracious to me;
  • Given to me the gift of your sight, my eyes have hence become captivated;
  • Premanand sings (Raga) Malhar, in the repertoire of Miyan (Tansen),
  • to which the clouds (or the dark one) thunder as witness. (PK I, 898)

Here, Premanand tells us that not only did he sing this song, but that he did so in a specific repertoire of a particular raga. The mention of ragas as performative markers is rare in bhakti poetry. Premanand assures the reader that not only was he writing poetry, but he was composing these poems as music in specific ragas too, indicating his conscious use of ragas while creating his poems. This also ascertains that unlike previous bhakti poet-musicians, Premanand was writing poetry and composing songs consciously, and perhaps also positioning Krishna-bhakti through ragas. Raga classification systems varied greatly between early courtly and bhakti musicological treatises (Miner 2013). Selina Thielemann and Guy L. Beck have also shown how certain ragas came to be associated not only with seasons, times (p.204) of day, and certain festivals, but also with the Krishna-bhakti motif (Thielemann 2001; Beck 2012). Sāraṅg (Sarang), Kāfi (Kafi), Bhūpālī (Bhupali), Kalyāṇ (Kalyan), and Bihāg (Bihag) became vehicles of Krishna-bhakti. The relationship between Premanand’s poetry and the ragas attributed shows that he too may have been well aware of the significance of these ragas in the Krishna-bhakti trope. More than a third of the songs venerating Krishna have been composed in one of the Krishna-bhakti ragas mentioned above. Although a more detailed study between Krishna-bhakti and ragas in Premanand’s poetry is needed, a cursory analysis shows us that music and particularly ragas, too, were significant markers in locating Krishna-bhakti in Premanand’s poetry.

Language too played an important role in Premanand’s positioning. His poetry was composed in a variety of languages. More than seventy per cent of the poetry addressing Krishna is composed in the already established languages of Krishna-bhakti—Braj, Avadhi, Hindavi, and Marvadi. Gujarati, however, is most often used to describe Swaminarayan as Premanand’s object of devotion. When Premanand does describe Krishna’s lilas with the maidens of Vrindavan in Gujarati, he includes markers that regionalize or even Swaminarayan-ize Premanand’s Krishna-bhakti. For instance, he often changes the venue or geographical indicators of Krishna’s exploits by replacing Vrindavan with Gadhada or Vadtal and the River Yamuna with the River Ghela (PK, 650). Premanand is making a clear distinction using language as a partition to demarcate his bhakti for Krishna and Swaminarayan.

Premanand’s Krishna-bhakti in his poetry is closely associated with particular religious contexts. Approximately thirty per cent of his poetry in the PK is composed to serve a function during the celebration or enactment of specific lilas, rituals, and festivals. These poems are incorporated in the Bhaktivilās (Bhaktivilas) or ‘the bliss of bhakti’, Līlā Varṇan (Lila Varnan) or ‘the description of divine play’, and Utsav Saṁgrah (Utsav Sangrah) or ‘the grouping of festivals’ sections of the PK. These sections are an important point of reference for our purposes, since they help us draw connections between Premanand’s bhakti towards Krishna and Swaminarayan and also the liturgical relationship between the Vaishnav sampradays and the Swaminarayan Sampraday. The Lila Varnan section includes a collection of poetry (p.205) that describes the different divine plays or exploits. Sixty per cent of the songs in this section describe Krishna’s lilas. There is, however, a clear distinction as to when Premanand places Swaminarayan at the centre of his poetry in this section. This distinction is fundamentally functional. When describing the lilas of stealing gopis’ clothes or their churned butter, Krishna is sure to retain the privileged position as the object of devotion. When, however, Premanand is called upon to create a bhakti song to describe Swaminarayan’s horse-riding lila taking place in Gadhada, Swaminarayan replaces Krishna. Krishna-bhakti in Premanand’s Lila Varnan is based on necessity—what is required of him to compose or perform during a festival or celebration. The Gujarati poem below describing Swaminarayan’s lila in Gadhada does not have a prescribed raga, but only a Gujarati musical folk genre called garbī (garbi).

  • ghoḍalā khelāve ghanaṣyāma re, bāi mare āṅgaṇīye
  • māru citaḍā core che sukhadhāmare, ankhalaḍīnī aṇiye
  • ghoḍalā ferene vahālo muja sāmu here, hāre mane nyāla kīdhī āṇe ferere
  • sura nara munijana nirakhe che prīte, hāre citra ālekhya che bhītere
  • rudo lāge che khabhe farake che patako, hāre rijyo Premānanda joi laṭakore
  • Oh friend, Ghanśyām is riding the horses in my courtyard;
  • He steals my heart, he, the abode of joy, with the corner of his eye;
  • He gazes at me while riding the horses, oh he has blessed me with just that much;
  • Men, the gods, and the sages watch with adoration, as if paintings rendered on a wall;
  • He looks enchanting, with a dallying cloth on his shoulder, Premanand is satisfied by witnessing just one such gesture. (PK I, 649)

A similar shift is evident in the poetry of the Ustav Sangrah section describing the celebration of festivals. The festivals that commemorate tradition—those that were being celebrated as part of the Vaishnav liturgical tradition, but not necessarily those in which Premanand’s manifest deity, Swaminarayan, may partake in—allow for Krishna’s central presence. For example, Holi, Rathyātrā (Rathyatra), Govardhan Pūjā (Govardhan Puja), Nṛsiṁh Jayantī (Nrusinh Jayanti), Tulsī Vivāh (Tulsi Vivah), and so on were festivals that were celebrated, but within which Swaminarayan did not play a key role within the ritualistic ceremony. A majority of the descriptions (p.206) of the (Rathyātrā) Rathyatra festival depict Krishna as the protagonist, perhaps because Swaminarayan never sat on the main chariot during the festival. Descriptions in both the Harilīlāmṛt (Harililamrut) and the Haricaritrāmṛt Sāgar (Haricharitramrut Sagar) depict the festival as being celebrated with a murti of some form of Krishna on the main chariot (Harililamrut 10:35; Haricharitramrut Sagar 7:14:45). Those songs that celebrated festivals with Swaminarayan at the centre of the festivities, however, rarely include Krishna or his frolicking Braj entourage. Diwali, Annakuṭ (Annakut), and Swaminarayan Jayantī (Swaminarayan Jayanti) are some of the festivals in which Swaminarayan’s central role in the ritual becomes clear. The description in the poems composed for these festivals also shows the ways in which Swaminarayan replaced Krishna in the poetry. Here, Premanand, prefers to describe the lilas of the pragat deity. Swaminarayan Jayanti, or Swaminarayan’s birthday, is an ideal example. Although there are dozens of songs describing the celebration of Krishna’s birth, there is only one poem describing Rama’s birth in the PK. Swaminarayan’s birth is celebrated in 67 different bhakti songs in the PK. This is because Swaminarayan’s birth celebrations were commemorated on the same day as Rama’s birth celebrations.

There is also a diverse collection of bhakti poems that is devoted to describing particular festivals from the other avatārs (avatars) or incarnations that are venerated in the Vaishnav tradition. Although scores of these pads describe the manifestation lila of the Matsya (fish), Varāha (boar), Kūrma (tortoise), and Parśurāma (the axe-armed Brahmin warrior) avatars, most of these poems are quite naturally dedicated to the lila and memory of Krishna. As opposed to the eight or twelve bhakti songs attributed to the lesser-known avatars, there are over three hundred describing the manifestation of Krishna (PK II, Utsav Sangrah). Premanand’s choice of deity in the Lila Varnan and Utsav Sangrah sections of the PK depends on purpose of the poem in the celebration of festivals and liturgy. Krishna and Swaminarayan both interchange roles based on the liturgical needs of the festival and those present.

Premanand’s focus on Krishna becomes less prominent in the corpus when dealing with other matters. There are several key theological and literary conditions under which Swaminarayan replaces (p.207) Krishna as the chief object of devotion. The songs explicitly extolling Swaminarayan, though slightly fewer in number, hold greater theological significance. These songs discuss one of three critical theological concepts: the notion of pragat or manifest god, mokṣa (moksha) or liberation, and a description of the Swaminarayan metaphysical system or upāsanā (upasana).

Pragat literally means present or manifest. The importance of the concept of pragat in Swaminarayan theology is explained by Swaminarayan in Vachanamrut Gadhada I-27.

After a few minutes of contemplation, Shriji Maharaj said, ‘Everyone wishes to worship God, but their understandings differ. But God fully resides in the heart of a person who possess[es] the following understanding: “The earth remains stable and trembles; the stars remain steady in the sky; the rains fall; the sun rises and sets; the moon appears and disappears, waxes and wanes; the vast oceans remain confined within their boundaries; a drop of liquid turns into a human possessing hands, feet, a nose, ears, and the rest of the ten indriyas; the clouds, through which lightning strikes, float unsupported in the skies—these and a variety of other countless wonders are due only to the present form of God I have attained.” With this understanding, he has the conviction that no one except the incarnate form of God is the cause of these wonders. He realizes, “The countless wonders that have occurred in the past, those that are taking place now, and which will occur in the future are only due to the manifest form of God that I have attained.”’ (Vachanamrut Gadhada, I-27)

Swaminarayan delivered this particular sermon recorded in the Vachanamrut on the morning of 28 December 1819 at the ascetics’ residence in Gadhada. The first paragraph states that scores of sadhus and paramhaṁsas (paramhansas)* had gathered in front of Swaminarayan before dawn to hear him speak about a critical theological concept. In fact, Swaminarayan had called that meeting to share with them the essence of his theology. It is fair to assume that Premanand was one of the paramhansas present in the assembly. According to the timeline prepared by biographers, Premanand (p.208) had already returned from Ujjain and been initiated as a sadhu in 1813 (Thakkar 1971, 56). Since he was ordered to stay in Gadhada after returning from Ujjain, it can be assumed that he was present at the assembly. Swaminarayan explains in detail the prowess of the presently-manifest form of god. Similar sermons stressing the importance of pragat god were delivered in Gadhada, Vadtal, Panchala, Loya, and Kariyani.12 Swaminarayan’s sermon explicitly states the importance of recognizing the greatness of pragat god and offering bhakti to him. This critical theological concept is often portrayed through Premanand’s poetry. Premanand’s own bhakti poem states that only through the bhakti of the pragat form of god does one attain satisfaction, bliss, and spiritual fulfillment. Union with god, the ultimate aim of bhakti, is only possible if one attains the service of the pragat form of god. The following is just one example from the 316 such bhakti songs in the ‘Bhaktivilas’ and Pragaṭmahimā’ (Pragatmahima) or ‘the greatness of the present form’ sections of the PK.

  • dhanya ghaḍapura dhāma eka rasanāye mahimā kavi ṣu varṇana kare
  • dhanya uttama nareṣa prita karī hari vasīyā nīta jene ghare
  • jenu śiva brahmādika dhyāna dhare, jene mahā munivara khoḷatāja fare
  • jena rādhā rāmā ghaṇā jatana kare
  • dhanya nṛpa uttamano darabāra, jyā pragaṭa birāje jaga ādhāra, joi Premānanda jāye balihāṛa
  • Blessed is the abode of Gadhada, with but one tongue how can this poet describe its splendour?
  • Blessed is King Uttam,13 at whose home Hari lovingly resides;
  • Of whom Shiva, Brahma, and others meditate upon, for whom the great sages and seers wander to attain, whom even Radha and Lakshmi desire;
  • Blessed is King Uttam’s court residence, where the manifest supporter of the world resides, seeing whom Premanand offers his all. (PK II, 729)

In this bhakti poem, Premanand uses the word pragat to denote the presence of the Supreme Being in Gadhada. He introduces geographical parameters, names of individuals present in Gadhada, and even inserts himself as if attesting to Swaminarayan’s presence, both physical and metaphysical. It is also important to note Premanand’s attempt to proclaim Swaminarayan’s supremacy (p.209) among the hierarchy of deities. Although this is a popular trope in bhakti poetry, here it serves a specific purpose—it aims to show that not only is Swaminarayan higher than Shiva and Brahma, a common Vaishnav claim, but that he is greater than even Krishna. This last bit is evident through Premanand’s claim that even Lakshmi and Radha desire his presence. Why would Lakshmi and Radha desire his presence when they share the company of Vishnu and Krishna? Swaminarayan is above even these highly celebrated deities of the Vaishnav sampradays. Premanand is quick to replace Krishna with Swaminarayan when writing poetry about god’s current form.

The concept of the pragat deity is closely tied with another heavyweight theological idea—the notion of moksha or release from material existence. Not only is it an imperative for Premanand to establish Swaminarayan as the Supreme Being and the giver of joy as the pragat form of god, but to construct an impassable barrier between Swaminarayan and Krishna. For Premanand, serving the pragat form of god, Swaminarayan, was the only means of securing other-worldly gain or moksha:

  • pragaṭa harinu ja bhajana karīne ūtaro bhavajaḷa pāra
  • Premānanda kahe nahi māno to, khāśo jamano māra
  • Worship only the manifest form of Harī and cross the ocean of material existence;
  • Premanand says if you fail to believe, you will surely suffer from the hands of Yama; (Kīrtan Muktāvalī I, 626)

The ja is an indeclinable that acts to emphasize or qualify the preceding phrase. Premanand is qualifying bhakti in order to cross the ocean of material existence. It is only by offering bhakti to the present or manifest form of Hari that a devotee can secure moksha. To enforce this case, Premanand is careful to present Swaminarayan as the only deity in the bhakti poems which urge the listener and performer to secure their moksha or those which guide one on securing moksha. These poems ring with a sense of exclusivity or what has traditionally been referred to as pativratā-bhakti (pativrata bhakti).14 It is not enough for Premanand to say that Sahajanand Swami or Swaminarayan must be worshipped to attain moksha, but he goes on to say that he alone should be worshipped in order to secure moksha. (p.210) Below are two outstanding examples of Premanand’s pativrata-bhakti, which now it seems may be losing the dark hue and flute-like sound of its Krishna-bhakti.

  • Svāmīnārāyaṇa Svāmīnārāyaṇa Svāmīnārāyaṇa bhaja re,
  • kara re mana caraṇa vāsa, jakta āśa taja re
  • puruṣottama pragaṭa āja, naṭavara tanu sajare,
  • Premānanda sarvasva faḷa, Sahajānanda jajare,
  • sarvoparī jāta jītī tramba kaṭḥora bajare
  • Swaminarayan Swaminarayan Swaminarayan, do worship;
  • place thy mind at his feet, leaving behind worldly desires;
  • The Supreme Being is manifest today, in human form;
  • Premanand says the fruit of all spiritual efforts is Sahajānand alone;
  • At winning the greatest of forms, the clangorous bells (of victory) will resound. (PK I, 92)

The repetition at the beginning of the song suggests Premanand’s wish to stress the central place of Swaminarayan as his only object of devotion in this context. Again, the qualifying indeclinable is used to suggest that Sahajanand alone is the fruit of all spiritual efforts and the means to achieving liberation. In yet another poem, Premanand explicitly states that for bhakti, he would only turn to worship Sahajanand.

  • hama to eka sahajānanda gave,
  • hamāre mana Svāmīnārāyaṇa dusaro na bhāve
  • sahajānanda jāpase trīya tāpa bujhāve
  • inahīke pratāpase apāra gati pāve
  • āgama nigama kaṭhina rahasya hame na samajhāve
  • Premānanda sāra sugama sahajānanda āve
  • I sing but of the one Sahajānand;
  • Within my mind is Sahajānand, others are not favoured;
  • By the chant of Sahajānand’s name, all three troubles are alleviated;
  • Due to his prowess, (I) gain great (spiritual) heights;
  • The Vedas’ and Puraṇas’ truths we dare not grasp;
  • Premanand says, the essence, easily attained, is Sahajānand; (PK I, 93)

This Hindi poem is probably the strongest example of Premanand’s pativrata-bhakti. It raises serious questions regarding his bhakti and regard for Krishna. If others are not favoured, why has he composed thousands of poems extolling Krishna’s greatness and lila? Krishna’s (p.211) divine play, form, and actions are worth describing and celebrating, but in matters related to central theology, Swaminarayan alone should be worshipped.

Premanand excludes Krishna and inserts Swaminarayan in bhakti poems that refer to the metaphysical system or upasana of the Sampraday. The Swaminarayan metaphysical system argues the existence of five eternal entities—jīva (jiva), īśvar (isvar), māyā (maya), Brahman, and Parabrahman.15 The fourth entity, Brahma, also known as Akṣarabrahman (Aksharabrahman), is the abode or dhām (dham) of Parabrahman, the Supreme Being. This five-entity metaphysical system departs from the three-entity metaphysical system of the other Vaishnav sampradays. Premanand describes this system and the hierarchy within it in painstaking detail in many bhakti poems in the Updeś Saṁgrah (Updesh Sangrah) or ‘the collection of wisdom-instruction’ section. This poem written in Gujarati is ascribed to a particular folk genre called garbi. The performative repertoire requires the audience to repeat after the lead singer presents a line:

  • pragaṭa hari mujhane maḷya re lola, kāi kahyāmā nave vāta benī
  • āja dīnabanḍhu aḍhaḷa ḍhaḷyā re lola, pote puruṣottama sākṣāta mārī benī
  • eto prakṛti puruṣthī para che re lola, eto akṣara taṇā ādhāra mārī benī
  • eto sura nara muni śīra chājtā re lola, evā durlabha thayā sulabha āja mārī benī
  • mahā mukta pūje jeni pādukāre lola, evā parama puruṣa mahārāja mārī benī
  • nara vigraha dharyo karuṇā karī re lola, līdho dvija kuḷe avaṭāra māri benī
  • Premānandano svāmī āja śrī harī hari? re lola, mukti āpī kare bhavapāra mārī benī
  • I have attained manifest God, nothing can be said of this gain, dear friend;
  • Today, the Compassionate One, has shown great mercy, he is the manifest Supreme Being, dear friend;
  • He is above Prakṛuti Puruṣ, he is the upholder of Akṣarabrahman, dear friend;
  • He shines above the gods, men, and sages, though extremely rare he has made himself easily attainable, dear friend;
  • The great souls worship his footwear, he is that great Supreme Being, dear friend;
  • He has manifest on earth with great mercy, he was born as a Brahmin, dear friend;
  • (p.212) Premanand’s lord, present today, is Shri Hari, granting one liberation, he takes one beyond material existence, dear friend; (PK I, 41)

In this bhakti song, Premanand places the manifest form of god, Shri Hari (Swaminarayan) above all of the gods, humans, and Prakṛti Puruṣ (Prakruti Purush) or the creator of the cosmos. Most importantly, Premanand is extremely careful never to place Krishna within this system. Although he has referred to Krishna as Purushottam at many points in the PK, he never refers to Krishna as Parabrahman or the Supreme Being. Premanand is also careful not to place Krishna above Aksharabrahman or within Akshardham. The following poem is a perfect example of how Premanand attempts to safeguard the Swaminarayan metaphysical system from previous Vaishnav theology. This poem is written in Braj, a register of Hindi otherwise reserved for Krishna-bhakti. Premanand again demonstrates that matters of the metaphysical system trump all other precedents of tradition and Krishna-bhakti.

  • vandu sahajānanda caraṇaraja tīratha sakala nivāsa ho
  • maṅgala dhāma kāma saba pūrana, karata amaṅgala nāsa ho
  • jehī padaraja brahmādika sura muni, nita prati śira para dhare ho
  • sahasra vadana śuka nārada śārada, rasanā jaśa visatāre ho
  • ananta koṭi īndu taranī sama, akṣara teja prakāse ho
  • tāmahi mukta koṭi mili sevata, padaraja parama ullāse ho
  • aise parama puruṣa parameśvara, akṣaradhāma ke dhāmī ho
  • māyā kāla ādi ke preraka, Premānanda ke svāmī ho
  • I bow to the dust of Sahajānand’s feet, (in which) all places of pilgrimage reside,
  • The resting place of all that is auspicious, it is the fulfiller of all my desires, it destroys the inauspicious;
  • That dust, Brahma and others, the devas, and ascetics, place on their heads daily,
  • The thousand-mouthed one (Śeṣ), Śuka, Nārad, and Śārad, expound his glory with their tongues;
  • Similar to the infinite rays of the moon, Akṣar (dhām’s)16 radiance illumes,
  • Within which countless liberated souls join together and serve (him), they greatly delight in that dust;
  • Such an exemplary human and the Supreme Being, the proprietor of Akshardham
  • The inspirer of illusion (maya), death (kāl) and other such forces, is (none other than) Premanand’s lord (Kīrtan Muktāvalī I, 28)

This bhakti poem is assigned Raga Āsāvarī (Raga Asavari), which, as Allyn Miner states, was frequently found in bhakti manuscripts and musicological treatises as early as the sixteenth century (Miner 2013). It is worth noting that Premanand does break from his earlier pattern. That is, though he is following tradition in assigning a raga that is part of the greater Krishna-bhakti world, he still maintains that matters related to Swaminarayan theology and the metaphysical system must only mention Swaminarayan and not Krishna. In summary, Premanand meticulously avoids including Krishna, while addressing matters of pragat, moksha, and the metaphysical system of the sampraday. These examples illustrate how Krishna-bhakti transforms into Swaminarayan-bhakti for Premanand when matters of higher theology are at stake.

If Premanand’s poetry can be read as a sample of the larger art and literature corpus of the Swaminarayan Sampraday, a conclusion is that Krishna-bhakti survives within the community’s belief and practice system but is strategically positioned by earlier theologians. Premanand’s poetic positioning illustrates efforts by the community’s earlier theologians to position the new Sampraday in a lineage of the earlier Vaishnav sampradays while carving out a space for the manifest form of god in their presence. The poet makes a conscious effort to select his object of devotion in his bhakti songs based on functionality, audience, and theological significance. In Premanand’s poetry, Krishna-bhakti survives in performative and literary genres, languages, and liturgy that inherit Krishna-bhakti from the earlier Vaishnav sampradays. Krishna also maintains his role as protagonist within the bhakti narrative during certain rituals, festivals, and enactments of lilas during which Swaminarayan did not participate in a central role. When, however, matters of higher theology were involved—pragat, moksha, and the sampraday’s metaphysical system—Premanand replaces Krishna-bhakti with Swaminarayan-bhakti. Krishna’s significance shifts in theological notions tied to pragat, moksha, and the description of Swaminarayan metaphysics. It is through this multivalent Krishna-bhakti—the shifting identity of and intensity of devotion to Krishna—that the engagement of the Swaminarayan Sampraday (p.214) with the earlier Vaishnav sampradays was dependent. The search for Krishna-bhakti and Krishna’s place in the Swaminarayan Sampraday is perhaps just beginning. A detailed study needs to be conducted on the presence of Krishna-bhakti in other aspects of the Sampraday—the bhakti songs of the other poet-musicians, the Sampraday’s theological and hagiographical texts, and of course, the performative and iconographic traditions lived today. Musical performances, youth counselling curriculums, and the iconography included in the newly constructed traditional stone mandirs are all domains that have yet to be explored to understand the place of Krishna and Krishna-bhakti in the community in India and the diaspora today. Perhaps it is this strategic manifestation of Krishna-bhakti in these diverse media, which allows for the Sampraday and its followers to walk a fine line between developing and transmitting their own theology while reaching over to engage with the other Vaishnav sampradays. Perhaps it was this desire to fit in and at once maintain an individual identity—to adapt and transmit—that inspired these Swaminarayan poets to sing the songs of both Krishna and Swaminarayan.



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(1.) All translations are the author’s.

(2.) Swaminarayan’s eight poet-musicians are Brahmanand, Premanand, Muktanand, Nishkulanand, Devanand, Bhumanand, Manjukeshanand, and Krushnanand. Some hagiographies replace Kṛushnanand with Yoganand.

(3.) Ghanshyam is Swaminarayan’s childhood name used in hagiographies and bhakti poems. The name also appears in poems written by earlier bhakti poets when referring to Krishna.

(4.) See Hawley, Horstmann, and Pauwels in Religious Cultures in Early Modern India, Routledge: 2010.

(5.) See Vachanamrut Gadhada Section II-64, Vadtal Section-3, Vadtal Section-18, Gadhada Section III-10, Amdavad Section-4, Amdavad Section-8; Bhaktacintāmaṇi 22:37, 39:33, 93:12, 94:23.

(6.) For a detailed comparative study of the many versions of the four-sampraday model in early modern and precolonial India, see Hawley, A Storm of Songs: India and The Idea of the Bhakti Movement (Harvard University Press: 2015); Hawley, ‘The Four Sampradāyas—and Other Foursomes’ (pp. 21–50) in Bhakti Beyond the Forest (Bangha 2013).

(7.) A few recently initiated sadhus in the BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha confided in me that the guru diksha mantra has now changed—Krishna has been replaced by Parabrahman who they were told is none other than Swaminarayan.

(9.) See Anantrai Raval (1978) and Pillai Rajam Natrajam (2000) for a detailed comparison of hagiographical accounts of Premanand’s life.

(10.) These epithets include govind, madhusudan, keśav, kānā, gopāl, mādhav, nandlāl, brajjīvan, vāsudev, murārī/morārī, śyām, nandnandan, banvārī, giridhārī, and so on.

(11.) These numbers reflect a cursory hand count of the bhakti songs and may contain a margin of arithmetic or counting errors.

(*) Lit. swans of the highest category; an order of ascetics initiated by Swaminarayan who practiced their vows in a way that allowed them to blend in with society and avoid persecution.

(12.) See Vachanamrut Gadhada Section I-38, 49, 56; Gadhada Section II-21, 32, 59; Loya Section 7; Vadtal Section 10, 19; Karyani Section 2, 8; Panchala Section 6.

(13.) King Uttam was also known in the hagiographical texts as Dada Khachar. Swaminarayan lived in his home for approximately thirty years. Dada also donated his residence so that Swaminarayan could build a mandir there.

(14.) Patīvratā (pativrata) literally means one who takes a vow of fidelity towards one husband, lord, or master.

(15.) For a more detailed explanation of the Swaminarayan metaphysical system, see Dave (1974).

(16.) In Swaminarayan theology, Akṣar (Akshar), Akṣarabrahman (Aksharabrahman), or Akshardham is the fourth metaphysical entity. It is Parabrahman’s abode and is beyond the third metaphysical entity: māyā (maya). It is also where the countless liberated jīvas (jivas) reside. Jivas and īśvars (ishvars), the first two metaphysical entities in the system, are bound by maya.