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Dear Mandir
August 12, 2009 9:16 AM   Subscribe

When you think of Hinduism, you probably don't think of suburban Lilburn, Georgia, yet it is home to BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, at over 30,000 square feet the largest Hindu temple in the world outside of India. The beautiful temple was assembled from 34,000 pieces of Turkish limestone, Indian pink sandstone, and Italian Carrara marble hand-carved by some 1500 craftsmen in India, then shipped to Georgia, where about 900 volunteers put in over a million man-hours to bring the architects' vision to fruition (YT), at a cost of about US$19m.

There is no steel in the mandir's structure (YT) at all, which was built in the Nagara style common in 8th to 10th century India. The mandir is stunning at night, thanks to the multicolored LED lighting used to highlight architectural details, add color to festival celebrations, and comply with religious rules that the lighting be hidden from view.

Related
posted by notashroom (36 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
Wedding Cake Architecture.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 9:19 AM on August 12, 2009


BAPS is doing this all over North America. There's a big, extremely ornate, marble temple less than a few miles from my present location. It's an impressive structure, but something about it ultimately feels lifeless and contrived to me.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:21 AM on August 12, 2009


Awesome. I love how unabashedly complex Indian architecture is. None of this "clean, simple lines" for them. It's like living inside a fractal.
posted by DU at 9:21 AM on August 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


Shame about the generic building in front of it, with the red roof.
posted by smackfu at 9:22 AM on August 12, 2009


Instead of "Indian" maybe I should have said "Hindu, relgious". Also, this temple looks oddly out of scale. Maybe I've always imagined temples as bigger, but doesn't it seem tiny?
posted by DU at 9:23 AM on August 12, 2009


Bear in mind that BAPS is a Hindu sect. The point of this temple is mainly to go and pray in front of statues of its leader.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:25 AM on August 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Wow. I wouldn't have imagined there was a large enough Hindu population in and around Lilburn to support this, but I guess, in retrospect, they probably pull folks from all over Georgia.

(As an aside, I thought it was a little funny that the marching band in the opening ceremony video was playing "She Drives Me Crazy" by The Fine Young Cannibals.)
posted by darkstar at 9:26 AM on August 12, 2009


Shame about the generic building in front of it, with the red roof.

There's a drugstore at the corner and a shopping center across the street that do mar the view in my opinion. I wondered at their choice of location when the project began.

Maybe I've always imagined temples as bigger, but doesn't it seem tiny?

In some of the photos it does, but not if you're standing in front of it. Bear in mind all photos are supposed to be taken externally at ground level, and most photographers are either going to stand back to try to get the entire building in the shot or zoom in on an aspect they found interesting, so scale is somewhat lacking.
posted by notashroom at 9:31 AM on August 12, 2009


It's not really anything new or different. I've visited lots of them here.
posted by anniecat at 9:49 AM on August 12, 2009


I'll amend my comment: It's nothing new or different aside from being the largest one built in the US so far...wait and watch, there will be bigger ones built here.
posted by anniecat at 9:53 AM on August 12, 2009


I'm taking donations to build an ornate shrine to me.
posted by dortmunder at 9:55 AM on August 12, 2009


Bear in mind that BAPS is a Hindu sect. The point of this temple is mainly to go and pray in front of statues of its leader.

I'll go anywhere, actually. I'll go to the Hare Krishna temple, I'll go to the Balaji Sri Venkateswara temple, I'll go wherever. My impression is that most of us really don't care. We're just there to worship and celebrate the important festivals.

They have more than the one sect leader's statue there. They have lots of the deities. That's why it's such a huge temple. They have all the deities (not all, but you know...)
posted by anniecat at 9:59 AM on August 12, 2009


oh my.
posted by shmegegge at 10:00 AM on August 12, 2009


I thought it was a little funny that the marching band in the opening ceremony video was playing "She Drives Me Crazy" by The Fine Young Cannibals.

I wouldn't have bothered with the video links if you hadn't pointed this out, darkstar. Those all-too-brief nine seconds of "wait, what?" just made my afternoon.

1) Want more! and 2) I would love to hear the story of how that cultural mashup came to be.
posted by EvaDestruction at 10:07 AM on August 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Atlanta (of which Lilburn is a suburb) has a very large Indian community. Recent estimates put the Indian population in the metro area at around 80,000 people, and there have been discussions about opening an Indian Consulate here.

This isn't the first large Hindu temple in the area. There has been a Hindu temple in Riverdale (south of Atlanta) since the mid-1980's.

Lilburn, at least as I remember it, was always sort of a generic white flight suburb, so it's good to see something like this adding some color and diversity to what I always think of as sort of a bland and boring place.
posted by ralan at 10:07 AM on August 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


They completed a pretty gigantic one in Toronto not too long ago, as well. It was interesting to be whizzing down the 427 and seeing this huge old-timey masonry building going up. Because most of the parts were made elsewhere and shipped to the site, the project seemed to take around as long as a normal contemporary building of comparable size. Maybe even less.
Completed pic @ BAPS toronto site
posted by Casimir at 10:16 AM on August 12, 2009


Somehow New Vrindaban and the Palace of Gold are a bit more surprising in terms of location. This one in GA should be able to get people from Atlanta, anyway. Is the all-white standard for these, or was it a choice?
posted by dilettante at 10:21 AM on August 12, 2009


This is pretty cool. I grew up in the suburbs south of Atlanta (Forest Park, Jonesboro and Fayetteville) until I moved to AZ in the early 80s. I still have family there, but the demographics have obviously shifted significantly in the nearly 3 decades since I lived there.
posted by darkstar at 10:30 AM on August 12, 2009


I visit BAPS regularly. I'm not Hindu, but I am Pagan and I find their temple to be such a beautiful meditative place. I like watching the parents (mainly fathers?) teaching their children to bow and pray in front of the statues, but the kids wanting to play by spinning around the large marble columns. It feels so good to walk barefoot in there too. The marble is so cold and smooth beneath your feet.

The festivals they have are fun, sometimes vibrant (annual kite flying), and always a really good place for the best Indian food. I wouldn't call it extremely friendly to outsiders, they don't really explain things if you just pop in or show up at a festival (groups 10 or more can have a scheduled tour). You're free to roam around the temple, but try not to go into the red roof building. That's where they have their "sermons" (I don't know the actual term, sorry) and we were frowned upon entering. We did get to go in there, but I really got the vibe that we were interfering. But that's not to say that everyone wasn't nice, they are. Just stick to the main part if you're unsure of where to go.
posted by czechmate at 10:31 AM on August 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


Is the all-white standard for these, or was it a choice?

It's pretty de rigeur. Sometimes the stone is yellowish or pinkinsh, but I think that's just a variation in the stone/concrete (old school temples were carved out of rock) itself. I've never heard of this BAPS organization, but I love visiting big temples.
posted by bluefly at 10:38 AM on August 12, 2009


Lilburn, at least as I remember it, was always sort of a generic white flight suburb, so it's good to see something like this adding some color and diversity to what I always think of as sort of a bland and boring place.

I think Lilburn is still majority-white, but probably not by much. Unless you've been there in the last couple of years, you've missed some fairly big demographic shifts. There's the mandir, plus the smaller Hindu temple just a few miles away in Norcross which have drawn an increasingly large South Asian community to the area, and the mosque on Harbins with the housing community across the street and associated school just over on Burns and the other mosque on Dickens, which have drawn a number of Muslims to live in the area, and of course there is the spillover from Norcross' considerable latino population. Lilburn in particular and Gwinnett in general are very diverse.
posted by notashroom at 10:46 AM on August 12, 2009


See also: Fairfield, Iowa.
posted by Pollomacho at 10:47 AM on August 12, 2009


The point of this temple is mainly to go and pray in front of statues of its leader.

Add in some all-american silent judgment of your fellow believers and that sounds like every Protestant Church I've ever been to.
posted by Ufez Jones at 11:00 AM on August 12, 2009 [3 favorites]


Add in some all-american silent judgment of your fellow believers and that sounds like every Protestant Church I've ever been to.

Except for protestant churches generally tend to not have icons of John Calvin, Martin Luther, or John Wesley on the actual altar.
posted by Burhanistan at 11:06 AM on August 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure what your point is. That some kinds of religion are wrong?
posted by smackfu at 12:13 PM on August 12, 2009


On the point of whether it is the biggest temple outside of India, there is another one of these which I saw recently in London which claims the same record:

The Mandir was cited in Guinness World Records 2000,[2] as follows:

"Biggest Hindu Temple outside India: The Shri Swaminarayan Temple in Neasden, London, UK, is the largest Hindu temple outside India. It was built by His Holiness Pramukh Swami Maharaj, a 79-year-old Indian sadhu (holy man), and is made of 2,828 tonnes of Bulgarian limestone and 2,000 tonnes of Italian marble, which was first shipped to India to be carved by a team of 1,526 sculptors. The temple cost £12 million to build."
posted by marmaduke_yaverland at 12:24 PM on August 12, 2009


On the point of whether it is the biggest temple outside of India, there is another one of these which I saw recently in London which claims the same record:

The same group erected both temples, and it appears that the Atlanta site is moderately larger.
posted by Burhanistan at 12:28 PM on August 12, 2009


I've been to the one in Neasden and it was beautiful. I also found the staff very helpful and falling over themselves to answer any questions we had.
posted by reverend cuttle at 1:05 PM on August 12, 2009


That record is from 2000. The temple in Lilburn was built in 2007.

Add in some all-american silent judgment of your fellow believers and that sounds like every Protestant Church I've ever been to.

There is no topic Mefites can't use for LOLXIANS.
posted by rahnefan at 1:45 PM on August 12, 2009


Except for protestant churches generally tend to not have icons of John Calvin, Martin Luther, or John Wesley on the actual altar.

I wouldn't say that necessarily. I'm pretty sure there was at least a wood carving of either Calvin or Luther in my church when I was a kid.

Also, worship (as in actual bowing down/praying to inside of a church) of saints in Catholicism is pretty common.
posted by DU at 3:56 PM on August 12, 2009


Beautiful. I'd love to see how much better it looks in around 1,000 years time.
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:53 PM on August 12, 2009


Beautiful. I'd love to see how much better it looks in around 1,000 years time.

This is one of the reasons that I think temples built here in the US will never be as beautiful to me as the ones built all over Asia. They need 17 centuries of rice, milk, turmeric, flowers, and just general people's grime ground into them in order to develop the true patina of a temple in my mind. Modern temples are just so clean; they often have marble or granite tile floors and are air conditioned. Although, I think this temple has the right idea bringing a cow and an elephant into the mandir -- they're on their way.
posted by bluefly at 6:01 PM on August 12, 2009


Aye, it is a beautiful thing what happened to Gwinnett. When I lived there, the white majority rejected public transit because then those people might afford living there. Now most of the population is those people.
posted by 0xdeadc0de at 6:25 PM on August 12, 2009


Take that, Southern Baptists. Let's see who gets the best tables at Waffle House now. HA.

(Oh, wait. Statement redacted. Waffle House is tamasic. Carry on SoBaps, you're safe at that booth by the griddle— for now.)
posted by functionequalsform at 6:29 PM on August 12, 2009


"The Mandir was cited in Guinness World Records 2000,[2] as follows: "'Biggest Hindu Temple outside India: The Shri Swaminarayan Temple in Neasden, London, UK, is the largest Hindu temple outside India. "

Anyone else think it's weird that a book of world records would include records that are qualified by geography?
posted by Mitheral at 9:59 PM on August 12, 2009


Beautiful. I'd love to see how much better it looks in around 1,000 years time.

I agree. I think it will be improved with much passage of time.

Aye, it is a beautiful thing what happened to Gwinnett. When I lived there, the white majority rejected public transit because then those people might afford living there. Now most of the population is those people.

I remember the public transit debates and I also took the "No MARTA in Gwinnett!" position to be racist, but it appears that at least some of the influential folks who argued that position meant it as a rejection of MARTA and its chronic mismanagement rather than the demographics of its passengers. Gwinnett and Cobb each have their own public transit authorities which connect to MARTA but are not linked financially or by management.

Take that, Southern Baptists. Let's see who gets the best tables at Waffle House now. HA.

Funny you should mention WaHo, since their corporate headquarters is here in Gwinnett, just a couple of miles from where I sit, and very near to the other Hindu temple (warning, music auto-starts).
posted by notashroom at 6:33 AM on August 13, 2009


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