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Historic and majestic inaugural of the BAPS Swaminaryan Temple

September 2007
Historic and majestic inaugural of the BAPS Swaminaryan Temple

Once in a while comes an event that is simply impossible to capture in a mere report. The historic inauguration of the "largest Hindu temple in North America"—the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Temple, built over 29 acres in Lilburn, GA, in record time of under three years, was one such event.

"Mind-boggling" is how many of the 10,000 visitors (over a period of the five days of the inauguration celebrations) described everything about the temple (mandir): the size, the scope, the grandeur, the process and the logistics. (Take for example, the fact that not a single screw or metal part has been used to assemble the numerous intricately carved ensembles, several of them weighing several tons).

Cultural programs, youth programs, tours for dignitaries and invited guests, folk dances, multi-media presentations, thought provoking drama, pravachans (spiritual discourses), yagnas, and a grand nagar yatra (festive parade through the city of Lilburn) were some of the many highlights of the five-day celebrations. All this in the midst of thousands of volunteers helping with the proceedings, putting the finishing touches, helping visitors from around the world, cooking meals for thousands?made it a busy beehive of a complex.

The inauguration program culminated on Sunday, August 26th in murti pratishtha (consecration of the deity) by His Divine Holiness Pramukh Swami Maharaj, the spiritual head of the worldwide BAPS organization. Amidst the background of holy chanting, Pramukh Swami performed ancient Vedic rituals which are said to infuse divinity into the sacred stone forms. The event was broadcast live around the world via satellite channels such as Aastha, TV Asia, and others, as well as through the BAPS website.

BAPS is an international socio-spiritual Hindu organization with about 9000 centers worldwide and over 60,000 volunteers. The organization has gained prominence and repute in recent years thanks to its grand temples all around the world, as well as its well lauded social services, especially during calamities—whether an earthquake in Gujarat, a September 11 in New York, a Tsunami in Asia, or a Katrina in New Orleans. The Akshardham, a grand temple complex completed in 2005 in New Delhi, India has surpassed centuries' old monuments to become the most visited tourist spot in Delhi.

According to Pramukh Swami Maharaj, "Mandirs preserve the cleanliness of the soul and keep it from becoming diseased. Some diseases cannot be seen, only experienced. Our scriptures have shown the medicine to be mandirs." In a discourse on Saturday, 25th, Pujya Anandswarup Swami highlighted the particular significance of temples abroad. According to him, temples serve as a nerve center for our communities, a safe-haven for our children, and a means to maintain and strengthen our heritage in a foreign land.

Constructed from 34,671 pieces of meticulously hand carved Italian carrara marble and Indian pink sandstone, the temple involved the efforts of over 1500 skilled craftsmen in India and 400 local BAPS volunteers. This masterpiece of intricate carvings and cultural art has a spiritual meaning and purpose for every dome, spire, and column in the grand scheme of the mandir. They depict a mosaic of tales of inspiration, devotion and dedication, along with historical figures from Hinduism. The temple complex also consists of a reflection pool with a miniature waterfall and hand carved marble sculptures.

Local and regional BAPS volunteers, both young and old, tirelessly dedicated their time and effort to see their collective dream come to life. Many came from miles to volunteer their time. "I used to drive down once a month to help out with garbage cleaning, gardening and stone polishing" said Tanvi Patel, a student from Charlotte. Hundreds dedicated their weekends and free time to ensure the successful and timely completion. Young children prepared for the festivities through dance and drama practices and also saved money from their weekly allowances to donate to the mandir. Men and women spent hours cooking in preparation for the opening weekend.

Other highlights of the five-day festival included BAPS Centenary where 100 years of BAPS were celebrated. A vishwashanti mahayagna (prayer for world peace, prosperity and happiness) was performed in accordance to the organization's emphasis on living in harmony with others.

The inauguration

Appreciating the temple for its outstanding social activities and declaring the day as "BAPS Mandir Lilburn, Georgia Day," the Chief Guest of Honor Congressman Henry Johnson, Jr. unveiled a plaque officially opening BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, Atlanta. Georgia's Attorney General Thurbert Baker proclaimed Pramukh Swami Maharaj as Honorary Attorney General for the State of Georgia. Also present on this occasion were The Honorable Mayor Jack Bolton and the Commissioner of Gwinnett County Mr. Charles Bannister.

The Berkmar High School Choir then sang the American national anthem with great enthusiasm; this was followed by the Indian national anthem with similar fervor.

Part of the festivities also included an afternoon procession known as Nagar Yatra, with the BAPS "Akshar Dhwani" marching band leading a parade of decorated floats, elephants, vintage horse drawn carriages, and dancing troupes in traditional Indian costumes. The procession began at Lilburn Middle School and culminated at the new temple, where a series of traditional dances and speeches were given. The evening ended with a fireworks show illuminating the night sky.

Atlanta's BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir:

BY THE NUMBERS

5 pinnacles

86 decorative ceilings

116 archways

340 pillars

34,000 carved pieces

17 months to complete stone work

8 tons, heaviest stone

37 grams, lightest stone

4,500 tons of Turkish limestone

4,140 tons of Italian carrara marble

3,065 tons Indian sandstone

1,500 craftsmen involved at 26 different sites in India

900 volunteers gave their services

1.3 million man hours of construction

1000 years life expectancy


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