The largest Hindu temple in the US opened its doors in New Jersey. The temple in Robbinsville city is said to be the largest Hindu temple outside India in the modern era.
Thousands of miles away from India stands this majestic Maha mandir (grand temple) that is dedicated to Bhagwan Swaminarayan, a Hindu spiritual leader of the 19th century and was inspired by his 5th spiritual successor Pramukh Swami Maharaj.
The temple is built in the small township of Robbinsville, New Jersey. The 183-acre temple complex rivals major Hindu temples on the subcontinent.
The temple was officially inaugurated on October 8, and on the 18th, it will be accessible to the general public. For Indian Americans and Hindu Americans, this represents a significant milestone.
"Today is the most auspicious day as it is also Manswami's 98th birthday. And especially the dedication ceremony of this big Akshardham complex. The 'vidhi' (rituals) was specially done with the 'Vastu Shastra' which is with nine different bhaktis and Bhakti sastras. We have done this Puja Vidya (worship rituals), and it was with Pran Pratishta (consecration ceremony) as we call it. And Manswami Maharaj did in the murthy. He put in his prant basically the aliveness of the murthy. And these murthis can give all the moksh (salvation) to all the visitors who come by throughout the years and centuries to come," said Vipul Patel.
The construction of this Mahamandir began in 2015 and was inaugurated by Mahant Swami Mahara and dignitaries. Placing 2 million cubic feet of stone in Robbinsville Township was no easy task. The temple itself is a cultural mixture, with materials sourced from all over the world and nods to American history throughout.
"Today is a historic day. On October 8 will be written with golden words in the history of Sanatana Dharma and Indian culture, as the largest Hindu temple in the West has been inaugurated...Swami ji had vowed to make a grand temple on the land of America through which the Indian culture can be inculcated for ages. Today, this has been achieved and it is a very proud moment," the priest AksharVatsal Swami said.
Yagnesh Patel a volunteer said, "History is being chiselled here. With the temple opening up to all visitors, they will learn Indian art and architecture, culture. This Mandir adds to the fabric of this nation. It's not only a proud moment for many Americans to celebrate but, also when I brought my neighbour Joe, even he was very eager to know about Indian culture, Indian art, and more specifically about Hinduism. This would be one spot that we can bring them. They will not only learn about the culture, about the art, but also the devotion that over 12,500 volunteers who came together, either from three days to three years."
Like the other Akshardham temples in India, this religious structure was designed in India by a team of BAPS swamis and volunteers. The stone was quarried in several parts of Europe and shipped to India, where it was artistically chiselled.
To withstand cold New Jersey winters, the outside of the temple was built with non-traditional Bulgarian limestone. The inside features stone sourced from all over the world, including Greece, Italy and India, and a traditional Indian stepwell contains waters from 300 bodies in India and all 50 US states.
This Hindu temple is a testament to the love, dedication, and skill of over 12,500 volunteers who came together from all corners of North America to build an unprecedented landmark that will last for over a thousand years.
Sunday morning marked the Murthy pratistha of Akshardham, a ritual that is said to infuse life in the idols.
"It has been a very significant momentous occasion for all of us here in the community. It has been twelve years in the making. There have been volunteers from all walks of life who have given up their time, put their lives on hold to be able to be here and selflessly serve to make something this beautiful and this valuable and this meaningful," Chaitalin Inamdar, a volunteer said.
As the temple has veered towards completion, for more than 12 years, round the clock, varied generations of volunteers are meticulously adding finishing touches. The carvings demand expertise, patient effort, and attention to detail that has stretched across months. Stone pieces were then shipped to the US and assembled by volunteers from all over the world under the guidance of artisans from India.
"I have been very fortunate to be part of this project from the very beginning. And to sit there with my two boys who now get to experience that excitement that I felt sitting there understanding that this was not just a historic event from a Hindu perspective, Sanatana Dharma perspective but also that it was a very personal one," Patel said.
He added, "One that we were able to connect with our spiritual leader, his Holiness Mahan Sway Maharaj and be part of that connection that this temple or this Mandir, I should say this Akshardham is not just for me or my children. It's literally for anyone to come and visit".
A number of celebrations led up to the grand opening that took place at the site this week. New York City Mayor Eric Adams, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak also sent congratulations on the temple's opening. The New York tri-state area is known for its large Hindu American population and community of Hindu devotees. The temple is set to draw hundreds of visitors to New Jersey.
By Reena Bhardwaj