Ambalal Muljibhai Patel (A. M. Patel)
7 November 1908
|Died||2 January 1988(aged 79)|
Dada Bhagwan (7 November 1908 – 2 January 1988), also known as Dadashri, born Ambalal Muljibhai Patel, was a spiritual leader from Gujarat, India who founded the Akram Vignan Movement. He was religiously inclined from the early age. He worked as a contractor for a company maintaining dry docks in Bombay before attaining "self-realization" in 1958. He left business and focused on his spiritual goals. The movement around his teaching grew into the Akram Vignan movement gaining followers in western India and abroad.
Ambalal Muljibhai Patel (A. M. Patel) was born on 7 November 1908 in Tarsali, a village near Baroda (now in Gujarat, India). His parents, Muljibhai and Jhaverba, were Vaishnava Patidars. He grew up in Bhadran, Kheda district in central Gujarat. A. M. Patel credited his mother for instilling an early appreciation of the values of nonviolence, empathy, selfless generosity, and spiritual penance within him. It is said that he was blessed by a saint when he was thirteen who told that he would attain liberation. He married a local village girl named Hiraba in 1924. Their children (born in 1928 and 1931) died a few months after birth so they had no surviving children. During this period, he was also influenced by the writings of Shrimad Rajchandra a Jain Monk who was also the spiritual Guru of Mahatma Gandhi and householder and religious teacher whose teaching inspired new religious movement later. He began practising temporary celibacy and later vowed lifelong celibacy. He was a contractor by profession. He moved to Bombay where he worked successfully as a contractor for the company Patel & Co. The company used to maintain and construct dry docks in the Bombay harbour.
He claimed to have attained self-realisation in June 1958 at Surat railway station while sitting on a bench at platform number 3. It was about 6 pm and it lasted 48 minutes. However this was not revealed initially by him.
After his experience, a close relative began to address him by the spiritual name of Dada (a Gujarati term for "Revered Grandfather") Bhagwan (Lord) became his spiritual name. The experience or self-realization is described as revelation or manifestation of the god within, or pure self, supreme self manifested through body; which he later called Dada Bhagwan. He had differentiated between self and his empirical self as Patel and Dada Bhagwan.
He left his business to his partners to concentrate on his spiritual goals. He continued to live on the dividends of his shares of company. He continued his householder life as his teaching did not require renunciation or asceticism.
Dada Bhagwan formed a movement which he termed Akram Vignan Movement. Unlike the step-by-step purification according to Jain principles, Akram Vignan promises instant salvation through the grace of Simandhar Swami, for whom Dada Bhagwan serves as a medium. His followers believe that they will be reborn in two lives in Mahavideha, a mythical land described in Jain cosmology from where they can achieve Moksha (liberation) as they are in connection with Gyani (knower). Flügel regards the movement to be a form of Jain-Vaishnava syncretism, a development analogous to the Mahayana in Buddhism.
Initially, he had not revealed his experiences to the public but his some close relatives and friends knew it. In 1962, during a conversation with him, a person name Chandrakant Patel from Uganda experienced sudden self-realization. Such experience is described in traditional Jainism as kshayaka samyatva which is only achieved in presence of Tirthankara. Kanubhai K. Patel was the second person, who was also his business partner, who received instant knowledge in 1963 from Dada Bhagwan.
Between 1962 and 1968, very few close people received "knowledge" through Dada Bhagwan. Following 1968, he bestowed "knowledge" who requested to be blessed. This is the foundation of the movement. He said that he was initially reluctant due to fear of public opinion as in case of Shrimad Rajchandra but after his visit to a Rishabha temple in Khambhat he decided to public performance of Gnanvidhi, a practice to transfer of "knowledge" for self-realisation. In 1968, the first Gnanvidhi was held at Bombay. Over the years, the Gnanvidhi became more elaborate and achieved its present form in 1983. He continued to give spiritual discourses all over the world. He emphasized contact of "knower" (jnani) to gain knowledge over scriptural or ritual knowledge. His followers were initially spread in his hometown Vadodara and Bombay. The movement expanded in the 1960s and 1970s to southern Gujarat and Maharashtra and in Gujarati diaspora in East Africa, North America and UK. In 1983, he had reportedly around 50,000 followers.
Jay Sachchidanand Sangh, the major organisation of Akram Vignan movement, was founded under the auspices of Dada Bhagwan in Mumbai. Khetsi Narsi Shah, head of local Dada Bhagwan Vitarag Trust, was appointed as the first sanghpati, the community leader of it. He was succeeded by G. A. Shah of Ahmedabad. The organisation manages activities, community funds and supervises building activities along with the publication of books and magazine, Akram Vignan (first published in 1979). Now the organisation is led by local sanghpatis in Ahmedabad, Surat, Mumbai, London and US.
Soon after the death of Dada Bhagwan, the movement split into two factions. One led by Kanubhai Patel and backed by Jay Sachchidannad Sangh and other led by Niruben Amin. Niruben claimed that she was instructed and trained in Gnanvidhi by Dada Bhagwan. Niruben formed her own organisations; Dada Bhagwan Foundation Trust and Simandhar Swami Aradhana Trust in Ahmedabad and Mahavideh Foundation in Mumbai. She became a popular leader of the movement and was addressed as Niruma by her followers from 1999. After death of Niruben in 2006, she was succeeded by Deepakbhai Desai.
Kanubhai Patel, also known as Kanudada, was close to Dada Bhagwan before 1978. He claims succession and presents a recorded tape in which he had instructed about it. He is seen as future Tirthankara by his many followers. His fraction refers their teaching of Akram Vignan as Vitrag Vignan.
Dada Bhagwan has authored the following books now translated in English: