The US state of New Jersey is set to inaugurate the world's second-largest Hindu temple outside India on October 8. The BAPS Swaminarayan Akshardham in the little Robbinsville Township of New Jersey has been built by over 12,500 volunteers from across the US in over 12 years.
The temple spans over 183 acres and measures 255 feet x 345 feet x 191 feet. It is currently being visited by thousands of Hindus and people from other faiths across the country. It also includes 10,000 statues and statuettes in accordance with ancient Hindu scriptures and culture.
The temple is considered a landmark of Hindu culture and architecture in the US and will open for visitors from October 18, ten days after the inauguration under the guidance of Mahant Swami Maharaj.
“Our spiritual leader (Pramukh Swami Maharaj) had a vision that in the Western hemisphere there should be a place which can be a place for all people of the world, not only for Hindus, not only for Indians, not only for certain groups of people; it should be for all of the world where people can come and learn some values, universal values based in Hindu tradition,” Aksharvatsaldas Swami from BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha told news agency PTI.
The BAPS Swaminarayan Akshardham Temple is the world's second-largest Hindu temple after Cambodia's 12th-century Angkor Wat Temple, which is now a UNESCO heritage site. The BAPS Swaminarayan Akshardham is also the largest Hindu temple outside India in the modern era.
How has the temple been designed?
The historic temple has been designed to reflect ancient Hindu culture with statues, carvings of Indian instruments and dance forms. It includes a main shrine, 12 sub-shrines, nine shikhars and nine pyramidal shikhars.
Furthermore, four types of stone have been used in the construction of the temple - imestone, pink sandstone, marble, and granite - imported from different countries that can help the architecture survive extreme heat and cold.
It also includes the Brahma Kund, a traditional Indian stepwell, which contains water from over 300 bodies of water from around the world, including the rivers of India. A solar panel farm, a fly ash concrete mix, and the planting of over two million trees worldwide has been initiated by BAPS authorities as part of sustainble practices.
“It (voluntarism) is our tradition. There are so many references in our traditional Hindu Parampara (tradition), or scriptures or our lineage where you can Seva in building a temple is very meritorious,” said Aksharvatsaldas Swami, in a reference to the contribution of volunteers in the construction of the temple.
Thousands of volunteers devoted millions of hours in the creation of the temple, according to BAPS officials. They comprise of all age groups after 18 years, from students to CEOs, doctors, engineers and more. Some even left their occupations to devote their full time to the temple, while several took leave for months and rented condos near the site.
Kalash Pujan at BAPS Swaminarayan Akshardham
Last month on the occasion of Rakshabandhan, a historic Kalash Pujan took place in the BAPS Swaminarayan Akshardham temple in the presence of spiritual leader Mahant Swami Maharaj on August 30. The event was held to honour the contributions of volunteers over several years in the creation of Akshardham.
"To the volunteers who collectively contributed millions of hours in the making of Akshardham over 12 years, this event signified the fulfillment of their late spiritual leader, His Holiness Pramukh Swami Maharaj’s wish to create a place where one and all can feel at peace and find inspiration to lead a virtuous life," read the release.
The Kalash signifying an essential element of traditional Hindu temples and holds great religious significance. The 'Nidhi Kalash' at the base of the Akshardham temple was consecrated by Mahant Swami Maharaj in 2011.
During the event, Mahant Swami Maharaj said that the Kalash at the top of the Akshardham temple symbolises the divine culmination of all efforts. "Today, as we embrace the significance of Rakshabandhan, the day of protection, remember that Bhagwan Swaminarayan himself stands as our shield," he added.
What is BAPS?
BAPS is a spiritual, volunteer-driven fellowship dedicated to improving society through individual growth, through the values of faith, service, and global harmony. It employees thousands of full-time and part-time volunteers in over 100 communities in North America and 3,500 communities globally. Its current spiritual leader is Mahant Swami Maharaj and works to promote spiritual equality.
The Swaminarayan Akshardham temple in New Jersey was created by BAPS as a landmark of Hindu architecture and culture and was created by thousands of volunteers over a span of 15 years under the inspiration of spiritual leaders Pramukh Swami Maharaj and Mahant Swami Maharaj.
Mahant Swami Maharaj is the sixth and current spiritual successor of Bhagwan Swaminarayan. He was ordained a swami by Yogiji Maharaj in 1961 and named Sadhu Keshavjivandas. As he was appointed the head (Mahant) of the Mandir in Mumbai, he became known as Mahant Swami. He became the President of BAPS after Pramukh Swami Maharaj’s passing in 2016.
(with inputs from PTI)