Lord Swaminarayan was only 21 years old when He was given the Achryaship of the Uddhav Sampraday of Ramanand Swami. Ramanand Swami was a great saint of his time, and most of his followers were spiritually realized.
Lord Swaminarayan as Nilkanth in Loj, started the separation of assemblies. Muktanand Swami was the elder saint and He used to conduct spiritual lectures at a nearby Ram Mandir. He used to sing Ramcharitmanas very beautifully.
One day Nilkant decided to visit these lectures. As he entered the premise, he saw that all the men and women were sitting together. Nilkanth immediately walked away with other saints. Muktanand Swami saw this, and being as astute as he was, he understood Nilkanth’s desire, and he concluded the assembly saying, “This is my last Jay Shri Ram to ladies.” And henceforth, the assemblies were conducted separately.
Later, when Lord Swaminarayan was given the Acharyaship after Ramanand Swami’s demise, He arranged a large gathering for all the followers of Ramanand Swami. In this assembly, all the saints, female ascetics and all the devotees from far away were present.
All the elder saints were given a special seat. One of those elder ascetics were Harbai and Vaalbai, they were Guru-sisters(followers of same Guru of Ramanand Swami-Atmanand Swami, refer(-God has a form and I will show it to you….. ). They were Brahm-realized and almost 80 years old.
Seeing their special seat in ladies section, they felt inconvenient and asked Sahajanand Swami (Lord Swaminarayan) to keep their seats along with other male saints And proceeded forward to sit there.
Lord Swaminarayan politely asked them,” Why are you behaving this way? The Satsang has certain rules and all of us have to follow it. I have arranged special seats for in the ladies section, why don’t you sit there?”
They told Maharaj, “We are jivanmuktas. Our association with men is not going to affect
us. For us, there is no difference between men and women. They are all creatures made of flesh and blood. From childhood, we have been celibate. If lust could not touch us in our youth, how is it going to lure us when we are old? Again, neither Atmanand Swami nor Ramanand Swami had ever rejected us like this. Who are you, a newcomer, to advise us so? So, we are not going to pay any heed to your advice. And if you still insist, then we will leave along with our disciples, and shall find a separate sect.”
Lord Swaminarayan explained“The way men are tempted in the company of women; women too are lured by men. It is like the coming together of ghee and fire. None should be proud of their self-control. Even the great muktas, who have attained complete control of their indriyas, remain away from women to set an example for others. It is very essential to continue this practice.”
Maharaj(Lord Swaminarayan) cited many examples from the shastras of how the free association of men and women leads to moral lapses. But the two women would not accept.
Then Lord Swaminarayan once again calmly tried to convince them, but they stubbornly refused to accept. They refused to leave their seats. Maharaj declared to the assembly that Harbai and Valbai were excommunicated. On hearing Maharaj’s pronouncement, the two women, followed by their male and female disciples, left the assembly. They founded a new sect at village Tramba, but it did not last for long. Thus the lapse in dharma was completely uprooted and the Satsang earned great prestige as a pious Sampraday.
A Spiritual perspective.
The above story is narrated to emphasize Lord Swaminarayan’s firm stand in dissociation of the two sexes.
Lord Swaminarayan wanted to establish a corruption-free sect, and the main cause of corruption is the association of men and women. And one of the major steps was the separation of assemblies of men and women.
People usually question why is there such a partiality in the Swaminarayan Sect, that women are made to sit behind and men sit in front. Well, it is so that the saints are the ones who deliver sermons, and it is in the best interest of the saints as well as the women. It is not to disrespect or to disregard women, but it is for the betterment of all the people seated in Satsang. Whose mind will not waver in the company of the opposite sex? Who will be able to concentrate one’s mind in the company of the opposite sex?
It is an appeal to the Satsangis that they should promote such pious practices firmly rather than doubting our Lord Swaminarayan. It is imperative that we do not get carried away by what other people say, and that can be done only by understanding the strong reasons behind these practices. It is in the best interest of the followers. Women should help us maintain the piety of the Satsang, they should promote maintaining purity, Lord Swaminarayan will unquestionably bless us.
Even if the saints or the folk seated in front are realized souls, yet the association of the two is sure to cause a moral lapse. Even the great Rishis in Sat-yuga failed in their conduct. what can be said of us laypersons in Kali-yuga? Let us not forget that Harbai and Vaalbai were Jivanmuktas(realised souls), yet He made it clear that if they wanted to stay in Satsang, they will have to follow the disciplines of Satsang.
Hence, Lord Swaminarayan established a firm stand in separating the assemblies for men and women.