An extract from the divine scripture, Shree Swaminarayan Gadi, Chapter 7 - Forest Expedition.

When He was 11 years old, Lord Shree Ghanshyam enlightened His parents with the knowledge of His true identity. Their physical bodies died and He granted them a divine status. Without the consent of His relatives, He assumed the guise of a brahmachari and left home. He embarked on a forest expedition (van-vicharan) to bestow salvation upon innumerable souls.

Bhaktimata was sent to Akshardham in Ayodhya in Samvat 1848 Kartik Sud 10 (Saturday 5th November 1791).  Dharmadev was sent to Akshardham in Ayodhya in Samvat 1848 Jeth Sud 4 (Friday 8th June 1792).

Shree Nilkanth Varni left home for His forest expedition at the age of eleven years, three months and one day in Samvat 1849 Ashadh Sud 10 (Friday 29th June 1792).

Forest Expedition
Shree Nilkanth Varni's
forest expedition

During His journey He passed through Badrinath, Kedarnath, Muktanath and many other places, where He came across many ascetics practising austerities. To teach them the correct method of performing these acts of self-discipline, He too performed acts of strict austerity. He stood on one foot in the intense cold during constant snowfall. In this manner, He taught the ascetics the manner of true asceticism. Crossing the snow-covered peaks of the Giriraj Himalayan range and the streams and rivers that flow there, He plunged into a four-mile wide river and let its current carry Him away. Eventually, after coming out of the river, He emerged at the foot of Mount Navlakha where He blessed the nine hundred thousand ascetics who lived there and thereby rewarded them for practising their austerities and yoga.

During the forest expedition, Lord Swaminarayan visited all the pilgrimage sites. In Hinduism, it is said that souls go to pilgrimage sites to rid and cleanse themselves of their sins. All these sins accumulate at the pilgrimage sites. When the merciful Lord visits these sites, He burns away the sins and purifies the pilgrimage sites. All the ascetics had been performing penances for numerable years to gain the darshan of the Lord and attain a spiritual status. Lord Swaminarayan provided them all with the reward of their spiritual endeavours, i.e. granted them His darshan. By this darshan, they would attain salvation, and their motives for performing their penance would have been fulfilled. This shows that until one is granted the darshan of the supreme Lord, true salvation is not attained.

Moving ahead from there, Shree Nilkanth Varni met a sage by the name of Gopal Yogi. In order to accept the Yogi’s service, Shree Nilkanth Varni used the pretext of wanting to learn yoga. Whenever Gopal Yogi faltered in his yogic practices, Shree Nilkanth Varni taught him the way to complete them. Eventually, He gave Gopal Yogi the lustrous darshan of His divine sakar Murti. Acknowledging Shree Nilkanth Varni to be the supreme Lord, Gopal Yogi bowed to Shree Nilkanth Varni’s lotus feet with sashtang-namaskar and began to serve Him.

During His forest expedition, Shree Ghanshyam Maharaj was known as Nilkanth Varni (as predicted by Markandeya Muni). Lord Ghanshyam left His home, leaving behind all but the necessary possessions. He merely carried: munj-mekhla – a grass waistband; japmala – a rosary; kamandalu – a water pot made of gourd; bhikhsha-patra – a small bowl made of wood meant for eating food; Shaligram – a small round stone worshipped as an idol of Lord Vishnu; gutko – a small booklet containing extracts from Hindu scriptures.

Lord Swaminarayan asked to learn yoga, so that He could remain in the service of Gopal Yogi. By this, Lord Swaminarayan has demonstrated the need for offering one’s services to elders and great ascetics.

In a nearby village, wild animals had been preying on the farmers’ livestock. In desperation, the villagers approached Gopal Yogi and asked him to rid them of this menace. Gopal Yogi told them that he was helpless in this matter and that he could do nothing for them. At that time, Shree Nilkanth Varni was sitting facing Gopal Yogi. He immediately said, “Blow your conch shell. All the wild animals will flee from the regions up to where the sound is heard.” Having faith in Shree Nilkanth Varni, Gopal Yogi blew into the conch. The sound generated was such that all the predators fled the region in which the sound was audible, and never again returned. In this manner, Shree Nilkanth Varni resolved the problems of the villagers through Gopal Yogi and subsequently granted him salvation.

A conch shell is usually blown as a signal, or to announce someone’s arrival. When Gopal Yogi blew the conch shell, not only did the sound cause all the animals to flee, but also, this sound heralded the imminent arrival of the supreme Lord Swaminarayan to the Satsang

Extracted from the scripture, Shree Swaminarayan Gadi, by Acharya Swamishree Purushottampriyadasji Maharaj. Chapter 7 – Forest Expedition