The Truth About Robbinsville Akshardham
Learn about the largest Hindu temple in the Western hemisphere — which is currently under construction!
All resources have been credited and linked to its appropriate location.
Part 1 | What is Akshardham?
What does ‘Akshardham’ mean?
‘Akshardham’ means the divine abode of God.
Akshardham is seen as the highest abode of the Divine. Akshardham is the name of the divine abode of Parabrahman Bhagwan Swaminarayan — the pinciple deity of the BAPS Swaminarayan tradition. It is hailed as an eternal place of devotion, purity, and peace.
Akshardham is the divine place that one strives to attain in this life. It is a personification of the highest spirituality, ideal devotion and ultimate bliss. The symbolism is uncanny for one’s spiritual journey in this mortal life to the eternal life.
“The reason of build Akshardham, as inspired my guru Yogiji Maharaj, is to inspire values, feel inner-peace and develop harmony with one’s family, country and society… Akshardham is for the liberation and peace of all.” — Pramukh Swami Maharaj
To fully appreciate Akshardham, it is important to understand the place which this devotion comes from. For those of the BAPS Swaminarayan tradition, the goal of one’s life is to ultimately understand oneself as the eternal, pure, blissful soul by acquiring the qualities of the guru and worshipping God with devotion and humility.
To explain this, I defer to Professor Hannah Kim, who eloquently discusses this topic of the meaning behind Akshardham in her research paper titled, Thinking through Akshardham and the Making of the Swaminarayan Self,
“The creation of Akshardham on earth points to a determined community of devotees whose sense of happiness in daily life has arisen due to their wish to serve the guru as unrelentingly as [the guru], in his daily life, serves God.”
Akshardham is not to physically show what the heavenly abode looks like. Akshardham provides a sacred space for all who visit to reflect and introspect on one’s personal journey through life and walk away with a sense of bliss in one’s heart.
What is the sentiment behind building Akshardham?
His Holiness Pramukh Swami Maharaj —a world-renowned spiritual leader, the guru of BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha from 1971–2016 and an ambassador of love, harmony and faith — has built two such Akshardham complexes in Gandhinagar (Gujarat) and New Delhi in 1992 and 2005 respectively.
Swaminarayan Akshardham are complexes to showcase the timeless teachings of Hinduism through the architecture of traditional stone mandirs and a modern campus. Through a fusion of ancient art and architecture alongside modern technology allows one to leave with a tangible spiritual experience.
Pramukh Swami Maharaj built Swaminarayan Akshardham in Gandhinagar as a means for people to learn about his God — Bhagwan Swaminarayan’s — life and teachings. In 1992, Pramukh Swami Maharaj inaugurated the Swaminarayan Akshardham in Gandhinagar (Gujarat) in honor of his guru, Yogiji Maharaj’s birth centennial celebrations.
Pramukh Swami Maharaj built Swaminarayan Akshardham in New Delhi on the wish of his guru Yogiji Maharaj. In 2005, he inaugurated the Swaminarayan Akshardham in New Delhi alongside a Muslim President, a Hindu opposition leader, a Sikhi Prime Minister and leaders across various faiths, regions and communities.
While these two Akshardhams were built in India to educate all on Bhagwan Swaminarayan’s teachings, Hindu ideals and universal values, a greater need was seen to educate the global community on Hinduism and universal values.
He wished to build a complex that would promote peace, harmony, mutual respect, tolerance and selfless service.
He wished to build a complex that would last a thousand years.
He wished to build the third ‘Swaminarayan Akshardham’ complex.
Why build Akshardham in North America?
Mandirs in North America
Mandirs are an integral part not only for Hindus, but for the greater community. And this need can be seen especially for Hindus living in North America.
According to the Pluralism Project from Harvard University, Hindu principles began showing up in North America around the 1890s through the Enlightenment-era thinkers and scholars. Following Swami Vivekananda’s famous speech at the World’s Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893, Hindu societies and organizations began to grow across the United States and Canada. The passage of the 1965 Immigration and Nationalities act created a rush of immigrants from India. Understanding the need for a physical, sacred location in which the community can gather, the first Hindu mandirs in North America were created in 1970s and 1980s.
In 1974, His Holiness Pramukh Swami Maharaj inaugurated the first BAPS mandir in New York. Since then, over 100 BAPS mandirs have been opened as a place of learning, spirituality and service. Outside of the BAPS Swaminarayan tradition, there are over 2,500 Hindu mandirs across United States, Canada and Mexico.
Although there are a number of mandirs to accomodate for the large populations, there is also a need in providing a space of education and learning of the religion and culture.
According to the Pew Research Center, over 78% of Hindu Americans attend a religious service at least once a month or more. However, with a frequency of once a month or more, only 22% read a scripture of their tradition, 22% participate in a study/religious education group. With many Hindus trending to the younger age demographics (18–39) and the growing second generation, a hub of worship, education and values was needed in North America.
In 1997, His Holiness Pramukh Swami Maharaj inspired a third cultural and spiritual complex in the Western hemisphere in Robbinsville, New Jersey. The ‘BAPS Hindu American Religious Center’ is a spiritual and cultural campus dedicated to devotion, learning, and harmony.
The Mandir is a humble tribute to Bhagwan Swaminarayan (1781- 1830), his spiritual successors, the avatars, devas, devis, and great sages and devotees of Hinduism. It is an embodiment of the Hindu values of service, devotion, harmony, spirituality and faith.
This complex is also commonly known as the ‘Robbinsville Akshardham,’ ‘Swaminarayan Akshardham, North America.’
Today, His Holiness Mahant Swami Maharaj (spiritual leader of BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha from 2016-present) is continuing Pramukh Swami Maharaj’s vision and work of Swaminarayan Akshardham.
This complex will be unique in showcasing the importance of harmony, mutual respect, dialogue and religious tolerance of Hinduism within the United States.
Part 2 | Swaminarayan Akshardham Tour
The 250-acre BAPS Hindu American Religious Center is a unique complex showcasing art and architecture, spirituality and culture, volunteerism and unity, history and hope. The entire complex includes six main phases, which is expected to be completed in 2023:
- Satsang Activity Center
- Traditional Hindu Mandir — BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir
- Youth Activity Center
- Welcome Center & Exhibitions
- Swaminarayan Akshardham Maha-Mandir
- Nilkanth Plaza
Phase 1: Community Activity Center (2012)
This center is where a majority of the weekly activities are held, including:
- Weekly Sunday spiritual assemblies
- Children and Youth classes and activities
- Women’s Activities
- Cultural programs and celebration of festivals
- Charitable events through BAPS Charities
- Community events, outreach and local initiatives
Phase 2: Traditional Hindu Mandir — BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir (2014)
Pramukh Swami Maharaj wished for a traditional-stone Hindu temple (known as a shikharbaddh mandir) within the Akshardham complex.
This is to cater the devotees in individual prayer and meditation, daily worship of the deities and regular festivities to place.
Additionally, each region in North America has a traditional-stone temple such as Chicago (Midwest), Houston (Southwest), Atlanta (Southeast), Los Angelas (West) and Toronto (Canada). Hence, it is fitting to also have one in the Northeast region within the Akshardham complex itself.
The Mandir is with a unique casing — known as the Pramukh Mandapam.
A Unique Addition: Tapomurti Shri Nilkanth Varni (2021)
In front of a traditional step-well and garden stands a 49-foot murti of Bhagwan Shri Swaminarayan in his teenage years performing austerities — known as ‘Tapomurti Shri Nilkanth Varni.’
In 1792, Bhagwan Swaminarayan left the comforts of his home in Northern India and set out on what turned into a 7-year, 8,000-mile journey touching the farthermost corners of the Indian subcontinent. During this 7-year teenage period, he was known as Nilkanth Varni.
This murti (sacred image) of Tapomurti Shri Nilkanth Varni is a homage to his travels around the Indian subcontinent for 7 years during his teenage years. Nilkanth Varni is portrayed in an ascetic pose performing tapas, or penance and worship with intense self-discipline. He performed rigorous tapas for six months, standing on one leg in a yogic posture, and mastered yoga during his travels in the Himalayas.
The bronze murti is 49 feet tall to commemorate the 49 years Bhagwan Swaminarayan lived on earth.
Behind the sacred image is a unique stepwell modeled after historical stepwells in Gujarat and Rajasthan. The stepwell has been sanctified from 108 sacred rivers of India.
Phase 3: Youth Activity Center
Children and Youth Activities is a foundational aspect of weekly BAPS activities. These activities allow for children and youth to connect with their faith, connect with one another and connect with themselves.
The Youth Activity Center will hold recreational facilities such as an indoor gym for children and families as well have additional classrooms and multi-purpose rooms for the Children and Youth Activities.
The Youth Activity Center will provide ample resources for the youth, including a gym and collaborative classrooms for physical, emotional, and spiritual growth.
Phase 4: Welcome Center & Exhibition
Opposite of the traditional shikkharbaddh Mandir is the Visitor’s Center.
This center will house various orientation theatres and exhibitions on Indian culture, history and Hindu values. This center will be an interactive place for all to learn more about India and the Hindu faith.
The center will also house Shayona Cafe — a sattvik, vegetarian food court — and Swaminarayan Aksharpith — a book stall.
Other aspects of the center include offices and spaces of learning and dialogue with other spiritual and community organizations to promote harmonious living.
One space is the Akshardham Center for Applied Research in Social Harmony (AARSH), which is under the umbrella of the BAPS Swaminarayan Research Institute. BAPS Research Institute is an area that aims to bring greater study, collection and discussion on manuscripts, Indian culture, language, Sanskrit, and Hindu theology and philosophy.
The Welcome Center will also house multimedia, interactive exhibitions in the future, which will house various exhibitions and interactive spaces to learn more about Hinduism, India and its universal values.
Phase 5: Akshardham Maha-Mandir
The heart of the complex is 189 feet high Akshardham Mahamandir mandir.
Similar to how shikkharbaddh mandirs are built, the Mahamandir is built without the use of ferrous metal in construction and according to the prescriptions in the ancient Hindu scriptures.
This Mahamandir is a tribute to Bhagwan Shri Swaminarayan and the philosophical tradition established by Bhagwan Shri Swaminarayan, known as the Akshar-Purushottam Darshan.
The Mahamandir will house the spiritual lineage of Bhagwan Swaminarayan and various deities of Hinduism. The stories of historic sages, saints, men and women of Hinduism will be forever etched in the walls of the Mahamandir.
Some facts about the Mahamandir:
- Over 1.4 million cubic feet of stone used
- Main maha-shikhar (spires/pinnacles), 12 large shikhars, 32 pyramid-shaped shikhars
- 4 domes — including the very first stone oval-shaped dome in any traditional Hindu mandir
- 9 maha mandapas (ornate sanctums)
- 430 Pillars
- 572 Arches
- 112 thematic ceilings designs
- 3 levels of an ornate mandovar (exterior wall of the mandir)
- 1 Main garbh-gruh (sanctum sanctorum) housing the sacred images of Shri Akshar-Purushottam Maharaj (Bhagwan Shri Swaminarayan & Aksharbrahman Gunatitanand Swami)
- 12 smaller sanctums — 4 sanctums housing the major deities of Hinduism 4 sanctums housing the spiritual successors of Bhagwan Swaminarayan as per the BAPS tradition, and 4 sanctums dedicated to Bhagwan Swaminarayan.
A 1-kilometer parikrima (pillared path) is an outdoor circumambulatory walkway that spans the perimeter of the campus.
Part 3| History of Swaminarayan Akshardham
To read the detailed timeline from 1997 to 2014, read this Swaminarayan Bliss article.
- December 8, 1997: His Holiness Pramukh Swami Maharaj wished to build a traditional cultural complex in North America.
- 2005: Pramukh Swami Maharaj wrote a visionary letter of building Akshardham in New Jersey.
- 2006: Pramukh Swami Maharaj offered prayers at Mehlav, Gujarat — the birthplace of Shastriji Maharaj (the guru of Pramukh Swami Maharaj) — for the vision of Akshardham in North America to come to fruition.
- 1997–2007: His Holiness Pramukh Swami Maharaj guided the devotees of North America to search for land. Volunteers visited 246 sites for the project. In 2007, Pramukh Swami Maharaj expressed his wish that Akshardham should be built on the 102-acre land in Robbinsville, New Jersey.
- 2007–2008: Multiple meetings were held with the Robbinsville Township Planning Board and the community to approve of the project. On October 29, 2008, the project was approved by the Board.
- 2009: The ground-breaking ceremony were performed on July 7th and construction began shorty after of Phase 1 and 2.
- August 21, 2010: Foundation-laying ceremony for the Satsang Activity Center and the Traditional shikkharbaddh mandir.
- October 6, 2011: Foundation-laying ceremony for Akshardham Mahamandir.
- 2012: Opening of the Satsang Activity Center.
- August 10, 2014: At the age of 92, Pramukh Swami Maharaj opened the traditional-stone BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, Robbinsville. Although his health was fragile due to age, his single visit to the site was a memorable occasion for thousands of devotees and well-wishers as he inaugurated the sixth traditional stone mandir of BAPS in North America. This was also his first and only time visiting the complex and blessing the site of the Akshardham Mahamandir.
The process behind building a such a Mahamandir is similar to how a shikkharbaddha mandir (traditional stone mandir) is built. The Mahamandir is built in accordance with the Hindu scriptures of architecture — Vastu Shastra and Shilpa Shastra. The Mahamandir uses a variety of stones, in which volunteers helped ship the stones from Europe to Rajasthan, India. The stone marble was quarried and sent to India through sea cargos. Once the stones reach Rajasthan, the stones are carved (hand-carved and laser-carved) by over 3,400 skilled artisans from 25 different locations in Rajasthan. The art of building mandirs have been passed down in the families of artisans and craftsmen for generations. The pieces were then disassembled, packed with care and shipped to America, where the pieces were organized to begin the process of assembling the Mahamandir. From Europe to USA, each stone travelled a distance of 21,500 miles.
Today, hundreds of swamis (Hindu monks) and volunteers from all walks of life are offering their selfless services in Robbinsville to bring Pramukh Swami Maharaj’s vision and Mahant Swami Maharaj’s inspiration to a reality.
And in 2023, the Akshardham complex will be complete and open to the public.