New Jersey Akshardham: Yogi Trivedi thinks the marble and limestone that adorn the spires, pillars, and archways of the magnificent Hindu temple in central New Jersey would compose a psalm to the divine if stones could communicate, sing, and tell stories.
Unveiling the Core Values of the Swaminarayan Sect
According to Trivedi, a Columbia University researcher of Hinduism, the stories these stones convey are those of seva (selfless service) and bhakti (devotion), which make up the core of the Swaminarayan sect, a branch of Hinduism.
Crafting the Largest Modern Hindu Temple Outside India
About two million cubic feet of stone were hand-carved in a total of about 4.7 million hours of labour by artisans and volunteers. The four different types of Italian marble and Bulgarian limestone went almost 8,000 miles to India before arriving in New Jersey. Then, on a 126-acre site, they were put together like a huge jigsaw puzzle to form what is today regarded as the largest Hindu temple outside of India to have been constructed in the modern age. The public can access it starting on Monday, October 9.
Ankgor Wat and the Swaminarayan Sect’s Modern Temples
Ankgor Wat, initially built in the 12th century near Krong Siem Reap, Cambodia, and dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu by King Suryavarman II, is the largest temple complex in the world. It is one of 1,199 UNESCO World Heritage monuments and is currently referred to as a Hindu-Buddhist temple. The Bochasanwasi Shri Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha, also known as BAPS, is a global religious and civic organisation that belongs to the Swaminarayan sect. It has constructed numerous temples, including the one in Robbinsville.
The Third Akshardham Temple in Central New Jersey
“Service and devotion are the two basic elements that form the subtle foundation of how a temple so majestic gets built here in central New Jersey,” said Trivedi, a follower of and student of the Swaminarayan religious tradition. After two others in Delhi and Gujarat, the locations of the BAPS headquarters, this temple would be the third Akshardham or “abode of the divine” that the organisation has constructed. The former is the world’s largest complex of Hindu temples. The religion, which will mark its 50th anniversary in North America next year, is in charge of 3,850 centres and more than 1,200 temples worldwide.
Legal Controversy Surrounds New Jersey Akshardham
Following a legal case filed in 2021 that alleged forced labour, low pay, and unfavourable working conditions, the New Jersey Akshardham, which has been under construction for about 12 years, came under scrutiny and criticism. Now that 12 of the 19 plaintiffs have withdrawn their claims, the lawsuit has been put on pause while an inquiry is conducted “with which BAPS continues to cooperate fully,” according to Trivedi.
Legal Battle Sheds Light on Caste-Based Exploitation and Selfless Service Debate
According to the lawsuit, individuals who were exploited were Dalits or members of India’s formerly untouchable caste. Caste is a traditional system of social hierarchy based on birth that is connected to ideas of social rank and chastity. Concerns regarding the hazy distinction between unpaid employment and the idea of selfless service, which adherents of the faith claim to be their central conviction, were raised by the case among activists opposing caste discrimination and those campaigning for workers’ rights.
Allegations Challenge Faith’s Embrace of Equality and Service as Integral Values
These allegations, according to Trivedi, have a significant impact on the community because their faith has always instructed people to “see the divine in all and love and serve them as manifestations of the divine.” He said that Pramukh Swami Maharaj, the sect’s sixth spiritual leader, was a forward-thinking guru who cared passionately about social equality and who envisioned such a temple site in the US. “Caste and class do not divide us,” Trivedi said. According to him, the temple project encouraged volunteerism and service, which, like the chisel used by a sculptor, chip away people’s egos and prepare them to learn.
The Profound Goal Behind Temple Construction
“Through that learning, one becomes a better person within and that is the end goal of seva,” Trivedi said. “It’s not just to give to the community or build these (ornate structures), but to better oneself.”He said that thousands of volunteers, many of whom skipped classes and jobs to serve, were essential to the construction of the temple. According to him, this may be the first Hindu temple where women worked alongside the craftspeople to build the real temple.
Families Flock to the Temple Complex for a First Glimpse
Families from all across the nation have been pouring into the temple complex this week to get a sneak glimpse. The devotees bowed to the monks in saffron robes and to one another. A ceremony was being conducted in front of the 49-foot-tall monument of Bhagwan Nilkanth Varni, who eventually went by the name Bhagwan Swaminarayan and founded the sect that helped western India experience a moral and spiritual renaissance, as the sun was setting.
Devotees Embrace the Temple’s Inclusivity
Other devotees knelt on the ground and touched their foreheads to it in reverence. Nikita Patel meditated and lighted an incense stick in front of the god as night fell. “All religions and all communities are welcome here,” she said, “And here, they will feel at peace.” Avani Patel, her husband, and their two children, who are 11 and 15 years old, were in town from Atlanta. Her hands were clasped together in prayer as she knelt within the temple, admiring the elaborate ceiling. “It’s jaw dropping and mind-blowing,” she said. “You can see divinity radiating through it all.”
The Temple’s Role in Upholding Universal Values
Patel stated that she and her husband, Pritesh, were among the volunteers who donated their time to build the complex and that she is glad to be a part of a group that would create such a facility in order to carry these principles on to future generations. Trivedi claimed that the temple was more than “just a Hindu place of worship.” “It’s not even just Indian or Indian American,” he added, adding that the temple represents global principles that can be found in every religion literature as well as in the minds and hearts of great intellectuals and leaders throughout history. “What we’ve tried to do is express these universal values in a way that relate to all visitors,” Trivedi further said.