If you see photos of the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, a Hindu temple that is adorned with intricate Italian Carrara marble hand-carvings and images sacred to the Hindu faithful, you may think that you’re looking at the image of a structure thousands of miles away.
But this otherworldly temple is right around the corner in Robbinsville, Mercer County, and has been attracting those of the Hindu faith as well as those interested in its architecture and significance since it was built in 2014.
“For the Hindus, this is a place to see God, purify themselves and increase their faith in God,” said Lenin Joshi, a mandir volunteer who lives in Lawrenceville and visits the mandir about twice a week. “For those who are not Hindu, they feel that coming here calms their minds and they experience peace. They learn the messages of tolerance, nonviolence and coexistence, and many also find the strength to give up addictions when they come.”
About 1,000 people come to the mandir each week, with many venturing from throughout the tri-state area and as far as Virginia. Although about 70 percent of visitors are practicing Hindus who come to the mandir to pray, many non-Hindus also come to see its stunning architecture.
“The mandir is a one-of-a-kind temple made completely out of marble carved by hand using the ancient knowledge of temple making,” said Joshi. “Be prepared to be blown away by the craftsmanship. Many say that being there made them feel like they were in a dream or they found it to be heavenly.”
The carvings that adorn the mandir feature unique depictions of animals, deities and designs. Each of the 98 seven-foot pillars that fill the mandir, it took four artisans about two months to carve.
Individuals and families are not required to book their visit in advance to the mandir, which has free admission and can accommodate about 150 people at a time, and on arrival, they can inquire about the availability of a tour guide or the audio tour guide. Tours last about 40 minutes to one hour, and visitors can learn about the artwork that adorns the mandir, Bhagwan Swaminarayan (to whom the mandir is dedicated), His Holiness Pramukh Swami Maharaj (who inspired the mandir), see the greenery surrounding the mandir as well as see an arti ceremony.
The arti ceremonies, which occurs three times per day at 7:30 a.m., 11:30 a.m. and 7 p.m., are ancient Hindu offerings made by waving lighted wicks before sacred images to the accompaniment of a musical prayer. Many visitors have described the experience as awe-inspiring.
Following a visit to the mandir, guests are encouraged to visit the on-site Shayona Café, which serves all-vegetarian traditional snacks from India, such as samosas, pav bhaji, chole puri as well as dry snacks and sweets.
In Sanskrit, the primary liturgical language of Hinduism, “mandir” means a place where the mind becomes still and experiences inner peace. Since ancient times, India’s sages have been enlightened with spiritual truths that served as basis of their rituals, philosophies, scientific discoveries and religious faith.
As an expression of their faith, the yogis created mandirs to uphold these traditions. Today, mandirs also seek to serve as a place of understanding and appreciation of Indian art, culture and religion. They also provide a platform to give back through charitable efforts like walkathons, health fairs, blood drives and more.
Linda Frye, a Salem, Virginia, resident, visited the mandir recently when she was on a trip to visit family in East Windsor and was interested in seeing it since she majored in art history.
“The mandir is humbling, quieting and very serene,” she said. “It makes me look outside of myself and realize how big the universe really is. The construction of this is a 1,000-year-old tradition that has been re-created on another continent.”
Under the guidance of the current spiritual leader of BAPS (the worldwide religious and civic organization Bochasanwasi Akshar Purushottam Sanstha within the Swaminarayan branch of Hinduism), His Holiness Mahant Swami Maharaj, the mandir is in its fifth and final phase of construction, in which an accompanying mandir will be completed by 2020 or 2021. Doing so is no easy task, as about 4.7 million man hours were required by craftsman and volunteers to complete the standing mandir as volunteers assisted in the construction work, cleaned up around the site and prepared food for the artisans on a daily basis.
Plus, each stone traveled 21,500 miles as it was quarried in Europe and sent to India, where hundreds of artisans hand-carved the stones before sending them to America.
“I always leave the mandir with a lot of peace,” said Joshi. “I feel that I have had hope renewed in me. This place can inspire everyone to live a better life.”
BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir
Where: 12 N. Main St., Robbinsville
Contact: baps.org/Global-Network/North-America/Robbinsville.aspx, 609-918-1212
Dress Code: Tops must cover the shoulders, chest, navel and upper arms. Legwear must be at least below knee-length.
Hours: 9 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. daily for tours/visits. Arti ceremonies take place at 7:30 a.m., 11:30 a.m. and 7 p.m.