Swaminarayan Akshardham (New Jersey)

The BAPS Swaminarayan Akshardham is a Hindu mandir (temple) built by the BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha in Robbinsville, New Jersey. It is the largest Hindu mandir in the United States and the second-largest Hindu mandir in the world, rising 213 ft (65 m) above ground.[1] The 183-acre (74 ha) Akshardham campus contains the main Akshardham mandir, a smaller traditional temple, Nilkanth Plaza, a welcome center, a vegetarian cafe, the BAPS Swaminarayan Research Institute, a museum, and an event center.[2] The Akshardham mandir is dedicated to the religious leader Swaminarayan.[3]

Swaminarayan Akshardham
Akshardham in Robbinsville, New Jersey
Radha Krishna,
LocationRobbinsville, Mercer County, New Jersey, U.S.
Geographic coordinates40°15′15″N 74°34′40″W / 40.25417°N 74.57778°W / 40.25417; -74.57778
InscriptionsSpiritual-Cultural Complex

On October 8, 2023, Mahant Swami Maharaj, the spiritual head of BAPS, performed the consecration ceremony and formally inaugurated the mandir.[4][5] This is one of three Akshardham mandirs constructed by the BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha, the other two are in New Delhi and Gandhinagar.[6][7]

BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir

The BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Robbinsville in Central New Jersey is a Hindu place of worship built by the BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha and consecrated by Pramukh Swami Maharaj. The BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha, led by Mahant Swami Maharaj, is a denomination of the Swaminarayan branch of Hinduism. The mandir is built of hand-carved Italian Carrara marble, Indian pink stone and limestone. The mandir was constructed according to guidelines outlined in ancient Vedas, or Hindu scriptures. The mandir is open daily to visitors and for worship (darshan). In addition to the mandir, the complex includes a congregation hall.[8]

Mandir and daily rituals

The mandir is a shikarbaddha mandir, built according to principles laid out in the Shilpa Shastras, Hindu texts prescribing standards of sacred architecture.[9] Within the mandir, murtis, the sacred images of the deities, have been consecrated. The central shrine holds the murtis of Swaminarayan and Gunatitanand Swami, together worshipped as Akshar-Purushottam Maharaj. Similarly, different shrines hold other murtis, including Radha and Krishna; Shiva and Parvati; Sita and Ram; Hanuman; Ganapati; and the lineage of BAPS gurus who are Swaminarayan's spiritual successors.[10]

According to Hindu beliefs, once the divine has been invoked in a murti, it becomes an embodiment of the Divine.[11] Accordingly, Swaminarayan swamis, or monks, offer devotional worship to the deities throughout the day. Before dawn, they awaken the deities by singing prabhatiya (morning hymns). The deities are then bathed and offered food and garments depending on the time of the day and season.[12] Food that has been offered to the deities is considered sanctified and distributed to the devotees as prasadam.[12] Aarti, a ritual where devotees sing the glory of God while a lighted wick is circulated before the murtis, is performed five times a day and named mangala aarti, shanagar aarti, rajabhoga aarti, sandhya aarti and shayana aarti, respectively. Finally, swamis adorn the murtis with night garments and ask the deities to retire for the night.[12]


The BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Robbinsville, New Jersey was first proposed and envisioned by Pramukh Swami Maharaj in 1997 as a part of Swaminarayan Akshardham in North America.[13] The mandir's construction commenced in 2010. The mandir was built in the Nagaradi style using 68,000 cubic feet (1,900 m3) of Italian Carrara marble. The marble obtained from quarries in Europe was shipped to Rajasthan, India where hundreds of artisans carved the stones. After the finished pieces of stone were assembled in workshops, engineers sequentially numbered the pieces and shipped them to Robbinsville. Upon their arrival, the pieces were organized using the numbering system to facilitate the mandir's construction.[13]

A decorative mandap, or enclosure, was built around the mandir to shield it from harsh weather and facilitate its year-round use. The structure is 87 feet (27 m) wide, 133 feet (41 m) long, and 42 feet (13 m) high.[14] The entrance to the mandap, called the Mayur Dwar, contains carvings depicting peacocks, elephants, and celebrated Hindu devotees of past eras.

The mandir was constructed primarily through the efforts of artisans and volunteers who provided an estimated 4.7 million human hours.[13] Volunteers engaged in various tasks during the construction process, including design and engineering, carving coordination & stone shipping, site preparation, lighting and electrical wiring, polishing, cleaning the assembled marble, tent-building, meal preparation, and offering medical services.[14]


The mandir was officially opened to the public on August 10, 2014, after the murtis were consecrated in the presence of Pramukh Swami Maharaj and senior swamis of BAPS.[15] A number of dignitaries were present during the opening ceremony, including New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, Maryland Rep. Steny Hoyer, Pennsylvania Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick, New Jersey Rep. Frank Pallone, New Jersey Attorney General John Jay Hoffman, and Indian Consul General Dnyaneshwar Mulay.[15] The opening was part of a three-day celebration and featured a grand yagna in which participants prayed for world peace and a women's cultural program focused on interfaith harmony.[16] Over 20,000 visitors participated in the various events.[14] An expansive Shayona Cafe opened in June 2022, serving gourmet South Indian and North Indian cuisine.

Akshardham mandir

The Akshardham campus is in Robbinsville, New Jersey, and contains the main Akshardham mandir, a smaller mandir, Nilkanth plaza, a welcome center, a vegetarian Shayona Cafe, the BAPS Swaminarayan Research Institute, a museum, and an event center.[2] The Akshardham mandir is the largest Hindu mandir in the United States and the second-largest Hindu mandir in the world.[4][17]


The mandir has 13 shrines dedicated to various Hindu deities.[18][1] The central shrine is dedicated to Swaminarayan and Gunatitanand Swami. The other 12 shrines include the sacred images of Hindu deities like Radha-Krishna, Venkateshwara-Padmavati, Sita-Rama, Lakshman, Hanuman, Shiva-Parvati, Ganesha, and Kartikeya, as well as Swaminarayan's spiritual successors.[3][19]

Akshardham mandir

The Akshardham mandir was built according to the ancient Hindu scriptures.[18][1] The mandir is 191 ft (58 m) in height, 255 ft (78 m) in length, and 345 ft (105 m) in width. The central shikhar is 213 ft (65 m) above ground.[1] It was constructed from different stones including marble from Greece, Turkey, and Italy; pink sandstone from Rajasthan; granite from India; and limestone from Bulgaria and Turkey.[18][20] During its construction, the BAPS also incorporated sustainable practices by utilizing a fly ash concrete mix, planting over two million trees worldwide, and building a six acre solar farm that supplies electricity to the Akshardham campus.[21]

The outer foundational base plinth of the mandir is made of a 13-tiered structure of limestone, called the jagati.[21] It is also known at the wisdom plinth because it illustrates messages from ancient Indian scriptures, scholars, and other world luminaries.[22][23] Above the foundational base plinth is the main outer wall of the mandir, called the mandovar.[21] The mandovar includes carvings of poets, philosophers, and sages.[21] The Akshardham has nine shikhars and nine samarans atop of the mandir.[2][21]

The Akshardham mandir has the largest constructed elliptical dome of a traditional stone mandir.[1] Major domes within the mandir include the Parabrahma Mandapam, dedicated to Swaminarayan; Aksharbrahma Mandapam, to honor Swaminarayan's first spiritual successor Gunatitanand Swami; Mukta Mandapam, to honor followers of the faith that excelled on the spiritual path; and Aishwarya Mandapam, to honor various divinities in Hinduism.[21] It also houses more than 10,000 statues, statuettes, and carved motifs of Indian music and dance forms.[18][1][24] Carvings of all 108 Bharatanatyam poses, an ancient Hindu dance form, are depicted throughout the mandir for the first time in one structure.[2]

The entrance to the Akshardham complex begins with the Nilkanth Plaza which has a 49 ft (15 m) tall sacred image, or murti, of Nilkanth Varni, the name of Swaminarayan during his teenage years as a yogi on a seven year pilgrimage around India.[2][25] The height commemorates Swaminarayan's 49 years on Earth.[2] The plaza includes a map of Nilkanth Varni's pilgrimage route throughout India as well as 14 plaques that convey messages and values that he shared during his journey.[26]

The campus has a traditional Indian stepwell, called the Brahma Kund, which contains sanctified water from over 300 sources[27] including 108 holy rivers in India and rivers that flow across the United States.[25]

There are two rectangular ponds in front of the mandir which include four statues representing the four Vedas.[28] The mandir is surrounded by a 2,485 ft (757 m) long colonnade, or parikrama, made from red sandstone.[28]

The Welcome Center is designed according to Indian Haveli-style architecture to welcome guests in a traditional manner.[29] It is made from hand-carved Burmese Teak wood. There are 2,700 lanterns inside the welcome center to commemorate Diwali, the festival of light.[28] It also includes Indian design motifs on the walls.[29] The welcome center connects to a vegetarian Shayona Cafe.[2]

BAPS Swaminarayan Research Institute

On June 18, 2022, the BAPS Swaminarayan Research Institute was inaugurated by Mahamahopadhyaya Pujya Bhadreshdas Swami, author of the Sanskrit commentarial and philosophical texts, the Swaminarayan Bhashyam and the Swaminarayan Siddhanta Sudda, in the presence of representatives from over 50 Hindu mandirs and organizations. Bhadreshdas Swami delivered the inaugural speech which encouraged youths to explore the Hindu philosophy and the arts, and spoke to Mahant Swami Maharaj's messages of global harmony, public service, and educational excellence.[30][31]


The Akshardham campus was inspired by BAPS' fifth spiritual leader, Pramukh Swami Maharaj, in 1971.[2] His vision was to create a place of worship in North America for followers that could also enable visitors of different backgrounds to experience Hindu spirituality, architecture, and peace.[22] The land in Robbinsville, New Jersey was purchased in 2008 and the Akshardham mandir construction began in 2015.[21] The first marble pillar installation ceremony took place on September 4, 2017, in the presence of Mahant Swami Maharaj, the sixth spiritual leader of BAPS.[32]

About 75% of the Akshardham campus is designed, constructed, managed, and maintained by swamis and volunteers.[21] Between 2011 and 2023, over 12,500 people volunteered to build the mandir.[17][33][34] Volunteers carved and installed about 2,000,000 cubic feet (57,000 m3) of stone, equating to about 4.7 million hours of work.[24] The volunteers came from various backgrounds which included students, business executives, physicians, and architects.[22] Volunteers who did not have prior stone mandir construction experience received training on mandir architecture and construction by experts.[21]

In May 2021, a lawsuit was filed against BAPS by several volunteer artisans from India[2] who were involved in the construction alleging that the temple administrators violated labor laws.[35] In relation to this, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Department of Labor, and Department of Homeland Security visited the site on "court-authorized law enforcement activity."[35][36] The lawsuit alleges that over 200 Indian men, mostly of the Dalit caste, were brought from India to the US and were subject to wage theft, forced labor, and human trafficking.[37][35]

In April 2023, two homes housing BAPS volunteers were ordered to be vacated by Robbinsville Township, deeming them unsafe, being used as unapproved boarding houses, containing unsafe equipment and lacking carbon monoxide and smoke alarms.[38] The buildings had been illegally converted to house large numbers of occupants, in violation of building codes.[39] On March 15, 2023, a home with barricaded entrances was discovered housing 33 women[40] tied to BAPS by emergency services. Late in April 2023, another home was found The home was found to have dangerously high carbon monoxide levels, violations of the fire code, and the New Jersey Uniform Construction Code.[41] In a letter to the mayor's office, mandir coordinator Chandresh Patel and women's volunteer outreach coordinator Nisha Shah stated that the occupants of the homes were American volunteers, that BAPS did not own the buildings, and detailed the buildings as "communal dormitory settings" provided by individuals associated with the volunteers, and stated the buildings did not meet their standards for safety and that the organization had a responsibility to ensure so. The letter detailed that BAPS had since relocated volunteers staying in the aforementioned "communal dormitory settings".[42]

BAPS Spokespersons rejected the allegations listed in the lawsuit as false stating that the artisans had come to the US as religious volunteers to offer seva, or religious service, as part of their devotion.[43] They further stated that federal, state, and local government agencies had been regularly inspecting and approving the various mandir projects where artisans in this program have volunteered over the last 20 years.[43]

As of July 2023, 12 of the plaintiffs have withdrawn from the lawsuit,[44] stating that they were coerced into making false charges against BAPS by a US based lawyer named Swati Sawant with threats of imprisonment, promises of US citizenship and large sums of money for them and their families.[45][43][46][47] The dozen withdrawn plaintiffs stated that they have been offering service at BAPS temples in the US and India for many years and had "never experienced any pressure, any casteism or discrimination".[47] The lawsuit is on-hold, pending an investigation.[2] Some news outlets characterized the trial as raising questions about the ability of US labor laws to account for certain forms of religious volunteerism.[44][2]


To celebrate the completion of the Akshardham, BAPS hosted a three-month-long celebration called the "Festival of Inspirations" leading up to its inauguration.[48] During the celebrations, BAPS launched various community programs, including a 10-week-long blood drive and the Days of Giving campaign. The 10-week blood drive had over 4,470 donors, potentially saving upwards of 12,000 lives. It was recognized as one of the longest running blood drives in the state.[3][49] The Days of Giving initiative donated over 12,000 school supplies, hygiene essentials, and food items to the local community.[19] A "My Country, My Duty" program celebrated police and law enforcement throughout the country.[50] The inaugural celebration also included a three-month-long Vedic Mahayagna to invoke peace around the world through ancient rituals.[3]

Akshardham Mahotsav

The inaugural ceremony, called the Akshardham Mahotsav, was split over nine days (September 20 - October 8, 2023). Each day celebrated aspects of the mandir or the values it represents. Daily themes included celebrating Indian culture, non-violence, women's contributions to society, interfaith harmony, and community day. On October 5, 2023, Robbinsville Mayor, David Fried, joined the community unity day program and said, "Every time I reached out to BAPS, they never failed to answer the call, and for that, I'm incredibly grateful." During the program, Fried and Mayor John Higdom from Matthews, North Carolina, both offered the "Key to the City" to Mahant Swami Maharaj.[3]

On October 8, 2023, Mahant Swami Maharaj performed the consecration ceremony[51] and formally inaugurated the mandir.[52][53] The inauguration was joined by Delaware Governor John Carney and Congressman Steny Hoyer.[53] Carney said, "I was struck by what Swami said that the temple is a bridge, a bridge from the past to the future; a bridge from one community to the next. It is an incredible place of devotion."[54] Additionally, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi extended wishes for the inauguration of the mandir.[6] Sunak stated, "We were amazed and awed by the beauty of this temple and its universal message of peace, harmony, and becoming a better human being. This is not only a place of worship, but a landmark that also portrays India's values, culture, and contributions to the world.[6][17]

Charitable initiatives

Since 2012, BAPS Charities has hosted charitable events at the Robbinsville mandir, such as health fairs and seminars led by volunteer medical professionals. Donations collected from annual walk-a-thons have supported humanitarian causes, like planting 300,000 trees to support the Nature Conservancy's initiative to plant 1 billion trees by 2025.[55][56]

During the COVID-19 global pandemic, BAPS Charities has provided relief and assistance worldwide.[57][58][59] On March 29, 2020, all six BAPS shikharbaddha mandirs in North America broadcast a special mahapuja performed by the swamis to pray on behalf of all those affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Over 12,000 families in North America participated.[60][61]

Within one month of the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, 5,500 N95 face masks were donated to Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in Hamilton and New Brunswick, Capital Health Hospitals, Penn Medicine at Princeton Medical Center and Robbinsville Township and other medical organizations throughout New Jersey.[62] Over 4,000 hot meals were served to first responders in New York and New Jersey, including Robbinsville Township Police Department and Fire Department and Saint Francis Medical Center.[63] BAPS Charities delivered care packages to seniors in New Jersey.[64] A food drive was also organized to collect non-perishable food items for the Robbinsville Township Food Pantry and NJ Rise.[65]

On April 30, 2021, BAPS Charities hosted a vaccination drive in conjunction with Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital at the mandir.[66] US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy praised BAPS Charities for hosting vaccination clinics at mandirs which increased accessibility for the elderly.[67][68]


See also


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External links