Significance: Poojaa comes from the root Sanskrit word 'pooj' which means to worship. Ritually performed at the start of the day, the goal is to remember God throughout the day.
Ritual: Shikshapatri verses 41-54 instruct devotees to remember the image of God after rising early, taking a shower, and applying tilak-chaandalo. This is done at a pure place either with the images of Swaminarayan Bhagwan, Gunatitanand Swami, and gunatit saints placed on a cloth or in front of one's home temple. The chanting of 'SwamiNarayan' accompanies doing maalaa (typically at least 11 rounds). During the morning poojaa, Yogi Bapa used to also do maalaa while standing on one leg and with both arms raised (remembering Neelkanth Varni's penance). Per Shikshapatri verses 208-209 and Vachanamrut Gadhada Last 1, the Shikshapatri should be regularly recited (typically 5 verses are read during the poojaa). Inspiring verses from Yogi Gita / Krupa Prasad are also read. At the end of the poojaa, dandvats (prostrations) are offered to the images. One also bows down to devotees or family members after the poojaa is completed.
References: In Vachanamrut Gadhada Middle 40, Swaminarayan Bhagwan states, "Everyday, after bowing to Shri Krishna Bhagwan, I used to pray, 'Maharaj if any feelings of ego or attachment to this body and its relatives exist, then please eradicate them.' Today, however, the following thought occurred to Me: 'No other sin causes more misery to a person than when he knowingly or unknowingly harms a devotee of God by thought, word, or deed.' Thus, I offered one extra prostration..." Thus, Swaminarayan Bhagwan instructs, "From today, all saints and devotees should observe the following vow: After performing pooja of God, offer prostrations according to one's daily practice. After this, to compensate for having knowingly or unknowingly harmed a devotee of God by thought, word, or deed during the day, one should offer one extra prostration daily."
In Vachanamrut Vadtal 5, Swaminarayan Bhagwan states, "Just as one performs the mental poojaa of God, if one also performs the mental poojaa of the highest-level devotee along with God...he will become a devotee of the highest caliber in this very life."
In Vachanamrut Gadhada Last 23, after stating that, "One who is a devotee of God daily performs mental poojaa of God," Swaminarayan Bhagwan Himself explains details of performing mental poojaa.
Significance: Swaminarayan Bhagwan initiated 500 saints as paramhansas one night in 1807 in the town of Kalavani. Then, during the Fuldol celebration of 1821 in Panchala, He asked the paramhansas (totaling ~3000) to resume Vaishnav traditions of sainthood. At that time, by Himself marking Gunatitanand Swami's forehead, Swaminarayan Bhagwan revealed the "SwamiNarayan tilak-chaandalo:" The tilak represents God, and the chaandalo, His Devotee.
Ritual: Per Shikshapatri verses 41-45, every morning (at the start of poojaa) one applies a tilak and chaandalo on the forehead, chest, and both arms. The tilak is a U-shaped mark of chandan (sandalwood) and the chaandalo is a circle of kumkum (red powder). In Shikshapatri verses 42 and 43, Swaminarayan Bhagwan indicates that the tilak chandan (sandalwood paste) should be offered to God, and the chaandalo kumkum (red powder), to Radhikaji and Lakshmiji.
References: Swami Ni Vato 4/144, 9/261, and 11/118.
Significance: Kanthi comes from the root Sanskrit word 'kanth' which means neck. Per Shikshapatri verse 41, all devotees wear a double-threaded kanthi or rosary made of tulsi beads.
Ritual: The kanthi is given by a guru (signifying initiation into satsang). At the time, the guru asks the devotee to recite, "Kaal, maya, paap, karma, yama-duta, bhayaat, aham, Swaminarayan sharanam prapannosmi" (Lord Swaminarayan, I have come to Your shelter, please save me from the forces of bad time, illusion, past deeds, death, fear, and ego), and then sip the water that was placed in his hand. The devotee always wears the kanthi, reminding him of the niyams (vows) of satsang. The 5 regular vows are: do not eat meat, do not consume alcohol, do not commit adultery, do not steal, and do not forcefully convert. The 11 common vows are: do not hurt anyone, do not commit adultery, do not eat meat, do not drink alcohol, do not touch widows, do not commit suicide, do not steal, do not falsely accuse or defame others, do not speak negatively of any deities, do not eat onions, garlic, and hing (asafoetida), and do not listen to the words of someone who is not a devotee of God or His saint. The 5 vows for saints are: nirlobhi (without greed or possessiveness), nishkaami (celibacy), nisvaadi (without taste), nisnehi (without attachment), and nirmaani (without ego).
Reference: The Shikshapatri Arthadeepika (Commentary) by Shatanand Swami (verse 41) explains that the double-threaded kanthi represents Lord Krishna and Radha, or God and His Devotee.
Significance: The aarti ritual (called niraajanam in Sanskrit) is common in the Hindu faith. The "Swaminarayan aarti" was written by Muktanand Swami. After Guru Ramanand Swami passed away, Swaminarayan Bhagwan began gracing all with samaadhi. Muktanand Swami heard about this and rushed from Bhuj to Meghpur (near Piplana) to meet Swaminarayan Bhagwan. Muktanand Swami rebuked Swaminarayan Bhagwan that it was not appropriate to give the difficult attainment of samaadhi freely to all. Swaminarayan Bhagwan pacified Muktanand Swami and then everyone left for Kalavani. There, in a forest of Khakhra trees, Ramanand Swami appeared in a divine form and told Muktanand Swami, "I told you I was just the 'drum-beater.' Believe Sahajanand Swami is the supreme God." Muktanand Swami then returned to the temple, and requested Swaminarayan Bhagwan to sit on Guru Ramanand Swami's seat. He then sang the first manifest aarti: Jaya Sadguru Swami (on Kartik sud 10, 1859 VS or November 5, 1802 CE).
Ritual: Accompanied with the singing of the aarti, jyots (lighted lamps) are circled clockwise around the temple images. In Harililamrut 6/4/6, it is stated that one performs 4 circles at the feet, 2 at the navel, 1 over the face, and lastly, 7 circles over the whole image of God. Bells and drums are loudly played to signal the aarti occasion and drown out all other thoughts and noises. Afterwards, water is put clockwise above the jyots and the aarti is offered to God. People then prostrate in front of the images and devotionally "take" the aarti. The aarti is performed at 5 times: mangalaa (early morning or upon waking up), shanagaar (morning or after getting ready), raajabhog (after lunch), sandhyaa (after sunset), and shayan (night or before sleeping).
Reference: Swami Ni Vato 9/211 and Bhaktachintamani chapter 49.
Significance: Devotees aim to remember God prior to doing all activities. Doing thaal gives one the practice of offering one's intake to God, and then eating the food which is now prasaad or sanctified food. Second, the practice makes one aware that God resides in the temple images. Thus one attends to the temple images with the same routine (waking up, bathing, getting ready, having breakfast, lunch, and dinner, sleeping, etc.) as one does with manifest God.
Ritual: A dish is specially prepared for God and offered to the temple images accompanied by the singing of thaal. There are several common thaals that describe lovingly serving different types of foods to God. The most common are: Aaviyaa Chhogalaadhaaree, Gvaala Baala Laala Jame, Jamo Jamo Re Maaraa, Jamo Thaala Jeevana Jaau Vaaree, and Roodee Raandhee Me Rasiyaajee.
Significance: Swaminarayan Bhagwan established methods by which a devotee who accepts sainthood is able to become liberated and offer devotion to God. The ritual guidelines are found in the Shikshapatri, Vachanamrut, Swami Ni Vato, and other scriptures of the sampraday.
Ritual: A devotee who desires to become a saint first gets paarshad dikshaa conferred by the acharya or guru. Paarshads get a janoi (triple-thread that is typically accepted by brahmins; replaced on Bhadarvo sud 3 or Samshravani), shave their heads, get a bowl (in which they are to mix and eat their food), and wear a white cloth (representing purity) on the bottom and top (as well as a headdress of the same color). After a "training" period, the devotee gets bhagvati/saadhu dikshaa. During Swaminarayan Bhagwan's time, brahmin saadhus called brahmchaari saadhus wore white on the bottom, and bhagvu (representing fire) on top. They were responsible for taking care of the temple images, and thus ate and resided separately. Low-caste saadhus remained as paarshads (also called palas or bhagats). Non-brahmin saadhus (as well as brahmin saadhus that are not assigned as brahmchaari saadhus), wear bhagvu on the bottom and top. Shastriji Maharaj removed the difference between brahmins and non-brahmins - all wear bhagvu on the bottom and top after the paarshad period. Prior to Yogi Bapa's time, paarshads followed less strict disciplines. Yogi Bapa however insisted that paarshads follow the same guidelines as saadhus (though they would not take care of the temple images). Around the time of Swaminarayan Bhagwan's 200th birthday celebration, Hariprasad Swamiji and Pramukh Swamiji removed the low-caste differentiation as well - all wear bhagvu on the bottom and top after the paarshad period. Shastriji Maharaj instructed saints to shave their heads (except a small tuft on the crown of the head) on the 13th day of the bright half of every month. Shastriji Maharaj gave initiation on auspicious occasions such as Shri Hari Jayanti; otherwise it is given on any ekaadashi day.
Many devotees whom Yogi Bapa asked to become saadhus were separated from the group. They however desired to uphold the life of sainthood as willed by Yogi Bapa. Kakaji and Papaji did not give them saadhu dikshaa, and they also needed to earn a living. So they remained as saadhakas (leading dedicated lives) while working in society. In 1978, the dedicated devotees accepted the uniform of a blue shirt and beige pants (representing the sky and the earth) from Kakaji and Papaji. They aim to follow the guidelines of sainthood as instructed by Swaminarayan Bhagwan.
Women devotees who desired to lead dedicated lives during Swaminarayan Bhagwan's time were called saankhya-yoginis. They typically wore a dark-red colored cloth. Today, women who lead elevated lives also wear a simple white or bhagvu cloth.
In Shikshapatri verses 128 and 62, Lord Swaminarayan asks devotees to take initiation from the Acharya and worship a sanctified image given by the Acharya.
In Satsangijivan 2/51/9, Shatanand Swami has stated, "Initiation should be given by a highly pious param-ekaantik saint; and the divine images, the basis of devotion, should be received from a sadguru - as images consecrated by a sadguru are worthy of meditation by devotees."
Namaskaar: Also known as pranaam, Hindus greet and show respect to one another by placing their palms together. Usually this is done while saying "Jay Swaminarayan" and bowing down one's head.
Charan-sparsh: It is a common practice in the Hindu faith to touch the feet of elders and saints. Bowing down and touching someone's feet displays respect and humility. The 5 gnyaan indriyas (knowledge senses), 5 karma indriyas (action senses), and 4 antahkarans (subtle faculties) have their respective devataas (demigods) associated with them. The legs are associated with Lord Vishnu. Thus, one offers respect to Lord Vishnu or God who resides within each soul.
Dandvat: Devotees also bow down in front of images and saints. 'Dand' means stick. Saashtaang dandvat pranaam is to completely prostrate with 8 parts of one's body touching the floor: thighs, feet, hands, chest, mind, head, speech, and eyes. In panchaang pranaam, one bows down by bending at the knees. The 5 parts that touch the floor are: head, hands, feet, mind, and speech.