The South Asian Times

12 December 2019 18:11 PM

Making of historic BAPS Robbinsville Mandir

By Sadguru Pujya Ishwarcharan Swami Head of Akshardham Project

For quite some time, His Holiness Pramukh Swami Maharaj had envisioned of building an Akshardham in North America. In 1997, he finally voiced this desire to the devotees and encouraged them to begin the process of finding suitable land. Initially, Dr K.C. Patel and Board Members began this earnest search, which was later continued by a team of youths including Bharatbhai, Dipal, Hari, Sunil and Yogesh under the guidance and supervision of Pujya Yagnavallabh Swami and Kanubhai, CEO of BAPS North America. Based on Pramukh Swami Maharaj’s guidance of finding a substantial area of land, they scouted for land in all directions, visiting many locations.Finally, after a long search, a location was found in Robbinsville, New Jersey in 2007. Due to the grace of Bhagwan Swaminarayan and Pramukh Swami Maharaj, we acquired 102 acres and later on, an adjacent plot of 65 acres. Upon hearing such news, Pramukh Swami Maharaj responded, “It is good we have got the land. I had not been able to come, but I want to.” This was the first of many times Pramukh Swami Maharaj conveyed his desire to visit the Akshardham site.
Meanwhile, the arduous task of designing the entire Akshardham complex began. When Pramukh Swami Maharaj was shown the overall site plan, he expressed that the shikharbaddh mandir should be made completely out of marble, just as Shastriji Maharaj had made one in Gadhada. Not only this but he said the mandir should last for over 1000 years! To fulfil his wish, stone testing was performed on marble. Experts proposed to Pramukh Swami Maharaj to have the mandir enclosed inside a building so that it could be protected from the harsh climate changes in the northeast region of America. Pramukh Swami Maharaj gave his blessings to build the mandir within such a structure.
The mandir is ornately designed and made in alignment with the Hindu shastras. The mandir plans were drafted by a Sompura (traditional architect) and sadhus. Then, the stones were carved according to the designs and plans through the immense efforts of Harshadbhai Chavda, who runs a stone workshop in Pindvada, Rajasthan. The design for the shikharbaddh mandir was done by Prakashbhai Sompura (architect), Bhaktinandan Swami, Shrijiswarup Swami, Aksharvatsal Swami and others. Shri B.V. Chaudhary (New Delhi) and Ashwinbhai Patel (Ahmedabad) also provided their expert services as structural and civil engineers respectively.
The mandir was to be made out of Italian marble. To ensure the quality of the marble was suitable for the mandir, Pujya Muniraj Swami travelled to the quarries in Italy from time to time. The selected marble was then shipped to India and arrived in Pindvada, where it was shaped and sculpted by artisans according to various designs. Once carved, it was shipped to America and the mandir construction process began at the hands of Indian artisans and BAPS volunteers. Rohitbhai Patel of Sachi Construction and his team aided in the construction of the mandir, which had to conform to the American codes and conditions. In just over three years the entire mandir was ready and enclosed within a building. Large skylights were installed on top of the building to allow natural light to flow in to enhance the beauty of the mandir exterior. Pujya Bhaktinandan Swami, Harshadbhai and many sadhus and devotees made great efforts to finish the monumental task.
On 9th and 10th August 2014, the murti-pratishtha was celebrated festively in Pramukh Swami Maharaj’s presence. Prior to Pramukh Swami Maharaj’s arrival in America, a mahayagna was performed as part of the Mandir inauguration ceremony. Six sessions were arranged to accommodate all the devotees who had registered for the yagna rituals. On 10th August, Pramukh Swami Maharaj entered the garbhagruha (sanctum sanctorum) of the mandir and personally performed the murti-pratishtha rituals. Pramukh Swami Maharaj blessed all with divine memories.
Prior to Pramukh Swami Maharaj’s visit, the foundation-stone-laying ceremony of Akshardham Mahamandir had already been performed on 31st August 2011, with the foundation being laid on 26th October 2013. Despite this, everyone wished that Pramukh Swami Maharaj himself bless the land on which the Akshardham Mahamandir will be built. Thus, when Pramukh Swami Maharaj arrived to the US, he fulfilled the wishes of the devotees and touched the land. He sat on the main proposed garbhagruha area of Akshardham Mahamandir and placed the nidhikumbh.
Key Facts
Mandir Style: Nagara nShikhar Type: Phamsana
Length: 133 ft. nWidth: 87 ft. nHeight: 42 ft.
Material: Italian Carrara marble (approximately 68,000 cubic ft.)
Stone Pieces: 13,499
Each stone travelled a sea-journey of 11,000 miles (21,500 km.)
Pillars: 98 nBeams: 176
Domes: 2 domes of 30 ft. diameter; 34 ft. high
Wall Murals: 10 nArches: 66 nDecorative Grilles: 34
Decorative Ceilings: 58
91 elephants with various musical instruments and flowers
44 murtis of Ganapatiji offering devotion with various musical instruments
4.7 million man-hours were required by craftsmen and volunteers to complete the mandir

Inspiring Stories of Volunteerism

From conception to birth, the shikharbaddh BAPS Swaminarayan Mandir in Robbinsville, New Jersey, and its other buildings reflect an epic story of planning, execution, skill and divine grace.
Through the inspiration of Pramukh Swami Maharaj, the concerted efforts of thousands of artisans and over 4,764 BAPS volunteers working in 25 main and 81 sub-departments resulted in inauguration of the mandir on August 10,2014. The accounts of unsung heroes of volunteerism, young and old, male and female, resonate with relentless and selfless devotion, work ethic, focus, drive and discipline. We present a slice from the compendium of stories on volunteerism about the mandir and Akshardham site preparations.

  • Many BAPS volunteers and devotees had made great efforts in searching for a suitable site for Akshardham. Among them Dipal M. Patel resigned from his job to spend three years in scouting for land and in acquiring the Akshardham site. Dipal traveled to several parts of New Jersey State and studied the various land sites. Finally, his journey concluded at the Robbinsville site.
  • The devotees of Philadelphia Satsang mandal took up the seva of setting up the scaffolding during the mandir construction work. They toiled intensely for three-and-a-half years, traveling by car to the site twice a week. During the final countdown to the Mandir Mahotsav 30 volunteers came daily to rig or dismantle the scaffolding and to move the heavy stones on site. Out of the many noteworthy volunteers Bharatbhai (Bob), in addition to his 40-hour weekly job, spent an equal amount of hours in seva at the mandir site. He operated a crane for moving stones, thus cutting the cost of hired labor. Bharatbhai’s team included S.K. Patel, Alpeshbhai Patel, Jigneshbhai, Bhavinbhai and others.
  • Pujya Muniraj Swami made great efforts in acquiring stones for the shikharbaddh mandir and Akshardham Mahamandir from the mines in Italy.
  • For the past three years Vinodbhai Patel has been living in Bulgaria and Greece, away from his family who are in the US. The reason for his absence from the comforts of home lies in his steely resolve to serve for the Akshardham project in Robbinsville. He assesses and approves the quarried stones from the local mines for the project.
  • After graduating as a civil engineer from Vidyanagar, Bharatbhai F. Patel (Kavitha) joined the BAPS to offer his voluntary services. At Pramukh Swami Maharaj’s bidding he served as a project manager at various construction sites of BAPS shikharbaddh mandirs in Gujarat. Then he migrated to USA.
  • Once the Robbinsville mandir construction began Bharatbhai often travelled from Chicago to offer seva during weekends and then returned home. As the pace of construction increased, he started serving full-time from April 2013. A person of few words, he has never complained about or recoiled from working in the harsh weather conditions. Each day he put in 11 to 12 hours of exhaustive efforts on site.
  • Bhanubhai D. Patel’s (Piplag) seva in the construction department was noteworthy. He sold his booming business to spend all his time doing seva on site. Being multi-talented he operated giant machines and did welding work. He arrived on site daily at 8.00 a.m. and left after the artisans finished between 8 and 9.00 p.m. Sometimes, to give company to the other volunteers, he would join them in doing seva till 12 midnight. He would also serve hot meals to the volunteers at night. Bhanubhai served seven days of the week for the last four to five years, regardless of time and discomforts.
  • Ever since he settled in New Jersey in 1991 Bharatbhai (Bhavpura) has been offering his voluntary services in all the BAPS shikharbaddh mandir construction works in North America. Since 2009 he has served full-time at the construction site in Robbinsville.
  • Dipteshbhai and Mahendrabhai Patel of Lansdale and other volunteers shouldered the seva of naturally beautifying the mandir grounds. They developed 30 to 40 acres of landscape by acquiring and planting varieties of saplings and flowers. Their hard work saved a hefty sum.
  • For the last one-and-a-half years Hasmukhbhai and Rameshbhai cultivated vegetables at the Robbinsville site, shopped for food rations and humbly served food to the artisans on site.
  • A couple of decades ago Kanubhai I. Patel (CEO of BAPS in North America) fully dedicated his life for satsang seva after resigning from a prestigious and lucrative job. Ever since, he has been looking after the administration of BAPS activities in North America. In spite of his administrative duties Kanubhai never hesitates in doing menial seva like washing dishes or helping out the volunteers serving in the parking lot. All his family members were also fully engaged in the mandir construction seva. His brother-in-law, Gunvantbhai, despite having had heart bypass surgery has been doing seva in the construction department at the Robbinsville site for the last four years. Dineshbhai Ambalal Patel, originally from Bochasan, arrived in the US in 1988. When the Akshardham project commenced in 2009 Dineshbhai left his job to serve for one-and-a-half years in the construction and coordination departments.
  • Somabhai and his wife sold their booming businesses and settle near the Robbinsville mandir site to serve honorarily. Every day for two years, the couple made tea for the 38 artisans at their home and supplied it on site. They also supplied drinking water for all from their home. They have not taken any vacations nor attended any family functions for the past three years.
  • In 2009, Pankajbhai joined the construction department on site, full-time. During the 12-hour concrete pour for the Akshardham foundation Pankajbhai was on duty from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. From 2006, other than his physical seva, he and his wife have refrained from buying a new car, going on their annual holiday and buying expensive clothes, and instead donated their savings for the Akshardham project.
  • Harikrishna V. Patel graduated as an IT engineer and soon thereafter he rejected a prosperous job to enroll for seva at Akshardham. He had intended to serve for a few months but stayed on for five years, coordinating the mandir construction work.
  • Rajubhai S. Patel left his business in the hands of 35 staff members to serve full-time at the Akshardham site. He looked after the requirements of the artisans – related to food and accommodation – and also attended to parking and kitchen sevas. Rajubhai also took training in operating large cranes and other machines on site. He had never missed serving a single day on site.
  • Yatinbhai H. Patel served in the IT department. Ratibhai B. Patel contacted many people and inspired them to do seva. His efforts inspired 70 families into satsang and in various services.
  • From 2009 when work on the Akshardham site began, Babubhai C. Patel drove four to five hours every week from Boston to serve in the electrical department. He sacrificed his annual vacations to serve more.
  • Dilipbhai Mewavala served for four years, driving from Edison to Robbinsville.
  • For the last three years Vinubhai has served on site despite his advanced age and the harsh winters. He served daily from morning till 9.00 p.m. in a variety of services, like overlooking the construction work, accounting, wages of artisans, visitor’s reception and scrutinizing the quality of materials used on site.
  • Members of the Akshardham security team also offered noteworthy seva. Ghanshyambhai Patel’s security cabin was buffeted and overturned during a heavy storm but he came out unscathed. Pramukh Swami Maharaj had blessed Ghanshyambhai, saying, “Nothing will happen to you. There is still a lot of seva to be done by you.”
  • The stone artisans were transported by bus every morning and evening between their accommodations and the mandir site. Pankajbhai Patel volunteered to drive the bus. But before he could start his seva he had to take driving lessons and acquire a licence. With the twin responsibility of seva and business Pankajbhai managed both with alacrity. Kaushikbhai N. Patel also served for five years as a bus driver for the artisans.
  • The sacrifice and seva of Chirag Shah (Edison) in project administration and construction management were exceptional. To cope with his responsibilities he gave up his job and worked full-time for more than six months.
  • Brijeshbhai Patel served in the volunteer recruitment cell (swayamsevak dal) for the last five years. Ritesh Patel left his job to serve in the kitchen department. Dharmik V. Sheth, 27 years old, gave up his job in October 2013 to serve full-time for the development of the Akshardham site. He later resumed his job at the instance of sadhus, but he still offers seva in the evening after work. Kishorebhai Makwana left his occupation to serve for one year for the Mandir Mahotsav decoration and nagaryatra departments. In the last two years Deep Patel spent many hours in sincere seva for Aksharpith, the decoration department and Akshardham construction. Jitubhai contributed significantly in preparing drawings of mandir plans in AutoCAD.
  • Jagdishbhai and Jayantibhai Patel (Mandala) are brothers who performed the housekeeping services at the Akshardham precincts. They cleaned the washrooms, emptied the dustbins and did other menial seva. Hiral Patel, a young engineer, took two-and-a-half months leave to serve in the housekeeping department.
  • Dhirubhai, Rohitbhai, Ambalalbhai and others performed Thakorji’s seva for the past two years at the Robbinsville site. Their dedication and efforts in doing meticulous seva is also noteworthy.
  • Since 2011 Jitubhai Amin has sincerely served the stone artisans. In 2012, Jitubhai was confined to a wheelchair and used a walking aid for ten months. Even during such disability his spirit to serve did not ebb.
  • Naginbhai Patel is a veteran devotee who has been serving in the kitchen department for decades. For the seva at Robbinsville Naginbhai retired from his business two years ago. His son, Yogesh, offered seva in the Sanstha’s legal department, providing information and giving presentations to the township counsel for attaining permission for the construction work.
  • Jay Kapadiya and many volunteers serving in other departments during the Mandir Mahotsav had also put in tremendous efforts. Some worked hard to enroll devotees and wellwishers to participate in the mandir pratishtha yagna. Giteshbhai and Amitbhai (Washington DC), who looked after the yagna department, strived for long hours each day. 
  • Jignesh Rai, a young seva enthusiast, undergoes dialysis three times a week because of his failed kidneys. During the Mandir Mahotsav he volunteered his services for the parking department. From early morning till late evening Jignesh rendered his services unflaggingly. He stoically weathered the scorching summer sun all day, not revealing an inkling of the difficulties he was going through due to his failed kidneys.
  • Rajesh Jhariwala suffered a heart attack during the Mandir Mahotsav preparations. Subsequently, with the advice of doctors he had a pacemaker implanted. Three days after the implant Rajeshbhai returned to his seva.
  • During the Mandir Mahotsav a mass marriage programme had been arranged. In all, 18 couples were going to get married and 12 couples were to get engaged. Ashish Patel was one of the 18 bridegrooms who was neck-deep in seva. Because of his intense seva he could not spare time for his own marriage mandap-muhurt. He texted his invitees that his pre-marriage rituals were cancelled. Like him there were others who were also vigorously engaged in seva till the last moments before their marriage rituals. After their marriage, the couples attended the karyakar shibir or served during the shibir.
  • The story of Anilbhai Patel’s austerity is staggering. His ongoing 15 years of dharna-parna vrat till the completion of Akshardham Mahamandir is incredible.


Update: 10 Jan, 2015