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  • Writer's pictureMark Vogel

The BAPS Swaminarayan Akshardham Mandir Hindu Temple: Architectural Majesty Meets Spiritual Harmony in Robbinsville, New Jersey

Robbinsville, New Jersey


BAPS Swaminarayan Akshardham Mandir Hindu Temple in Robbinsville, New Jersey
BAPS Swaminarayan Akshardham Mandir Hindu Temple in Robbinsville, New Jersey

My recent visit to the BAPS Swaminarayan Akshardam Mandir in Robbinsville, New Jersey, was an enlightening experience that offered a deep dive into the architectural brilliance and spiritual ethos of Hinduism. This temple stands as a testament to the dedication and craftsmanship of the Swaminarayan sect, a branch of Hinduism focused on devotion and service. I visited the temple with two of my friends who were in town from Mexico.

 

Location and History

 

Located in Robbinsville, New Jersey, about an hour and twenty-minute drive from midtown Manhattan, this Hindu temple is part of a global network of mandirs established by the Bochasanwasi Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha (BAPS). The Robbinsville Mandir, one of the largest Hindu temples in North America, embodies peace, spirituality, and architectural excellence. Construction began in 2010 and, due to the intricate craftsmanship and detail involved in its creation, it's still ongoing, though significant sections are completed and open to visitors.




“The BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Robbinsville is more than just a place of worship; it is a monument to human devotion, artistry, and the timeless traditions of Hinduism. Its free entry and parking make it accessible to everyone, inviting visitors of all religious persuasions to experience its serene beauty and spiritual grace. Whether you're drawn by the architecture, interested in Hindu culture, or seeking a moment of peace, this temple is a must-visit landmark in New Jersey.”

BAPS Swaminarayan Akshardham Mandir Hindu Temple in Robbinsville, New Jersey
BAPS Swaminarayan Akshardham Mandir Hindu Temple in Robbinsville, New Jersey

Architectural Marvel

 

Entry to the temple and parking are complimentary, reflecting the welcoming nature of the temple to all visitors. The temple's architecture is awe-inspiring, blending ancient Indian traditions with modern technology. The Mandir is constructed from Italian Carrara marble and Indian Pink sandstone, materials chosen for their durability and beauty. Every piece was hand-carved by skilled artisans in India before being shipped to New Jersey and assembled like a giant 3D puzzle.


My exploration started at the brass statue of Nilkanth Varni, the youthful form of Swaminarayan, which set a tone of tranquility and reverence. The 49-ft tall statue represents his life of 49 years on earth lived serving others, as well as inspiring social and spiritual reform. The statue is in the Tapomurti pose, engaged in deep meditation or penance (tapasya).

 

Nilkanth Varni is a revered figure in the Swaminarayan sect of Hinduism, known as the adolescent form of Bhagwan Swaminarayan. Born as Ghanshyam Pande in Chhapaiya, Uttar Pradesh, India, in 1781, he embarked on a spiritual pilgrimage at the young age of 11, after the passing of his parents. Renouncing his home and adopting the name Nilkanth Varni, he traversed the length and breadth of India on foot, covering thousands of miles over a period of 7 years. His journey through the Indian subcontinent is celebrated for its spiritual significance, as he visited numerous sacred sites, practiced severe asceticism, and met with many spiritual luminaries of the time.

 

Nilkanth Varni's pilgrimage is noteworthy not only for the physical and spiritual endurance it demonstrated but also for the profound impact he had on the people and the religious communities he encountered. His travels were marked by episodes of deep meditation, acts of kindness, and the spreading of spiritual teachings. These encounters are often recounted in the Swaminarayan tradition as instances of his divine consciousness and miraculous abilities to impart wisdom and guidance.

 

At the age of 18, Nilkanth Varni concluded his pilgrimage in the state of Gujarat, where he eventually met his guru, Ramanand Swami, and was given the name Sahajanand Swami. He later became known as Swaminarayan, after the sect that he founded. Under his leadership, the Swaminarayan movement emphasized moral purity, devotion to God, and social service, principles that continue to guide his followers to this day.

 

Swaminarayan's teachings and life story, including his early years as Nilkanth Varni, hold a central place in the faith's doctrine. His journey as Nilkanth Varni symbolizes the ideal of spiritual seeking, renunciation of worldly attachments, and the pursuit of dharma (righteousness). Temples and monuments dedicated to him, including statues and exhibits, often depict episodes from his pilgrimage, serving as inspiration for devotion and spiritual growth among his followers.

 

BAPS Swaminarayan Akshardham Mandir Hindu Temple in Robbinsville, New Jersey
BAPS Swaminarayan Akshardham Mandir Hindu Temple in Robbinsville, New Jersey

The Exploration Continues

 

After soaking in the serene atmosphere around Nilkanth Varni's statue, I walked towards the water feature, which is meticulously landscaped with fountains and flora, offering a moment of reflection and calmness before entering the temple complex.

 

My next stop was the Welcome Building, a structure that impresses with its extensive use of teak wood, known for its elegance and strength. Inside, the design and craftsmanship pay homage to traditional Indian artistry. A brief ten-minute video provided an insightful overview of the temple's history, significance, and the efforts behind its construction, enhancing my appreciation for what was to follow.

 

Towards the Akshardham

 

Exiting the Welcome Building, I headed towards Akshardham, marveling at the exquisite craftsmanship of the temple's exterior. Made from the same Italian marble and Indian sandstone, Akshardham in Robbinsville mirrors the grandeur of its namesake in India, albeit on a different scale. Its intricate carvings of deities, flora, fauna, and geometric patterns are a sight to behold, encapsulating centuries of Hindu culture and artistry.

 

BAPS Swaminarayan Akshardham Mandir Hindu Temple in Robbinsville, New Jersey
BAPS Swaminarayan Akshardham Mandir Hindu Temple in Robbinsville, New Jersey

Inside the Temple

 

Upon entering the temple, I first visited the shoe room to leave my shoes on a rack - a customary practice before entering such a sacred space. Inside, photography is respectfully prohibited, ensuring the spiritual ambiance is preserved and allowing for a more personal and introspective experience. The interior is a symphony of carvings, murtis (sacred statues), and an aura of peace that envelops you.

 

After exploring the temple's interior and soaking in its tranquil spiritual atmosphere, I visited the gift shop, which offers a variety of religious artifacts, books, and souvenirs. It's a good place to find meaningful gifts or keepsakes of your visit.

 

My visit concluded with a brief walk past the food court and the grocery store. The food court offers a taste of traditional Indian cuisine, providing a perfect ending to your visit.

 

Facts and Features

 

The BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir is not only an architectural masterpiece but also a center for community service, cultural activities, and spiritual learning. Here are additional aspects of the temple that highlight its significance:

 

BAPS Swaminarayan Akshardham Mandir Hindu Temple in Robbinsville, New Jersey
BAPS Swaminarayan Akshardham Mandir Hindu Temple in Robbinsville, New Jersey

Community and Cultural Engagement

 

- Cultural Programs: The temple regularly hosts cultural events and festivals that are integral to Hindu traditions. These include Diwali, the Festival of Lights; Holi, the Festival of Colors; and Janmashtami, celebrating the birth of Lord Krishna. These events are open to the public and provide a vibrant, immersive experience of Indian culture.

 

- Educational Activities: The mandir offers educational programs for children and adults alike, focusing on language, music, and spiritual classes. These activities aim to preserve and promote Indian cultural heritage among the diaspora.

 

- Volunteerism: A cornerstone of the BAPS organization is seva, or selfless service. Volunteers play a crucial role in the temple's operations, from conducting tours to organizing events and maintaining the premises. This spirit of community service is a defining characteristic of the temple's ethos.

 

Architectural Significance

 

- Eco-Friendly Construction: In addition to its traditional craftsmanship, the temple incorporates eco-friendly practices. The use of natural light, energy-efficient lighting, and water conservation techniques underscores BAPS's commitment to environmental stewardship.

 

- Artisanal Craftsmanship: Over 2 million man-hours from artisans and volunteers have gone into the temple's construction, showcasing skills passed down through generations. The work involves intricate stone carving, woodworking, and metalwork, which are emblematic of India's rich artisanal heritage.

 

BAPS Swaminarayan Akshardham Mandir Hindu Temple in Robbinsville, New Jersey
BAPS Swaminarayan Akshardham Mandir Hindu Temple in Robbinsville, New Jersey

Spiritual Haven

 

- Daily Rituals and Worship: The temple conducts daily rituals and arti ceremonies, offering a peaceful sanctuary for meditation and worship. Visitors and devotees can participate in these rituals, providing a sense of community and spiritual connection.

 

- Library and Exhibits: The Welcome Center houses a library and exhibits on Hindu philosophy, the history of the Swaminarayan faith, and the life of its founder. These resources offer deep insights into the temple's spiritual foundation.

 

Access and Inclusivity

 

- Welcoming Atmosphere: The temple is designed to be welcoming to people of all faiths and backgrounds. Informational signs, guided tours, and friendly volunteers make it accessible to first-time visitors and those unfamiliar with Hindu practices.

 

BAPS Swaminarayan Akshardham Mandir Hindu Temple in Robbinsville, New Jersey
BAPS Swaminarayan Akshardham Mandir Hindu Temple in Robbinsville, New Jersey

- Community Services: Beyond spiritual activities, the temple also engages in charitable efforts, including health fairs, blood donation drives, and disaster relief operations. It serves as a hub for social welfare and community support.

 

In sum, the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Robbinsville extends beyond its physical beauty and architectural marvel, embodying a living tradition of faith, culture, and community service. Its role in fostering spiritual growth, cultural preservation, and social welfare makes it a unique and important institution within the broader American and global context.

 

BAPS Swaminarayan Akshardham Mandir Hindu Temple in Robbinsville, New Jersey
BAPS Swaminarayan Akshardham Mandir Hindu Temple in Robbinsville, New Jersey

The BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Robbinsville is more than just a place of worship; it is a monument to human devotion, artistry, and the timeless traditions of Hinduism. Its free entry and parking make it accessible to everyone, inviting visitors of all religious persuasions to experience its serene beauty and spiritual grace. Whether you're drawn by the architecture, interested in Hindu culture, or seeking a moment of peace, this temple is a must-visit landmark in New Jersey.


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