Hindu Temple in New Jersey Largest Outside India, Symbol of Community

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BAPS Swaminarayan Akshardham opened its doors on Sunday, October 8, in the Robbinsville city of New Jersey. The temple said to be the largest Hindu temple in the world built outside of India in the modern era, was constructed by volunteers from around the US for over 12 years. Spread over 185 acres, the complex is said to be the culmination of the dedication, devotion, and love of 12,500 volunteer workers across North America who came together to build this magnificent landmark of faith.

The massive complex is the third globally and a cultural landmark showcasing Hindu art, architecture, culture, and values. It has been praised by dignitaries, including President Bill Clinton, President A. P. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and British Prime Minister David Cameron have visited J Abdul Kalam and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. The temple’s inauguration in Robbinsville is an occasion of profound spiritual significance for the vast legion of devotees worldwide. PM Modi has conveyed his best wishes for the successful inauguration of the temple and stated that it will help connect the Indian diaspora with their heritage and instill pride in “Maa Bharati” (Mother India).

Located about an hour’s drive from New York City and an hour’s drive from Philadelphia, the temple is said to have a capacity of 27,000 people. It features a five-story high main temple with gold-plated domes and silver-plated statues. There are also multiple shikars, or spires, that are decorated with various images. The complex has 10,000 sculptures and figurines, carvings of Indian musical instruments and dance forms, and is inspired by old Hindu scriptures.

But behind the scenes, controversy has surrounded the construction of the temple. In a lawsuit filed Tuesday, workers accused the Bochasanwasi Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha or BAPS. This group runs the temple, recruiting men in India to work for it for as little as $1 per hour and confining them on the temple grounds. The complaint said the workers, employed by a firm that does not carry workers’ compensation insurance, did not receive proper wages or overtime pay.

In an open letter to BAPS Swaminarayan Akshardham, PM Modi wrote that the inauguration of the temple is an occasion of great spiritual significance for devotees worldwide and is a manifestation of the principles of the Swaminarayan sect, which follows a philosophy of service and devotion. He added that the inauguration will also showcase India’s architectural excellence and the nation’s rich ancient culture and ethos and will inspire all humanity. The temple is now open to the public and will offer regular services daily. It will also have a series of exhibitions, concerts, and performances on the themes of faith, harmony, culture, and community. BAPS has many other temples in the US, but this one is the largest by far.

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