Visiting the Gods in Lilburn, GA

My son’s Sunday school class, at the local Unitarian-Universalist Church, is learning about other world religions this year, and visiting various places of worship. My son is an avowed atheist, as I was at his age (I ultimately became very spiritual in a non-church, agnostic, rationalistic sort of way), but his mother makes him go on the weekends he spends with her.

Yesterday, though, the group was going out to visit the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir (temple), the largest Hindu temple outside of India, which is in, of all places, Lilburn, GA, not what you’d generally consider a main center of culture of any kind, except maybe the sort you get at Walmart. I’ve been wanting to see this place since it was built, and have a huge respect for the Hindu faith, so even though it was my weekend with Nathaniel, I accepted his mother’s invitation for us all to go see.

The place is simply astonishing.

It’s built entirely of limestone and marble. No steel of any sort, no beams nor screws nor nails. No concrete, glue, nor grout. Just stone, hand-carved, precisely fitted in amazing architectural configurations made to last a thousand years.

It’s the most amazing structure I’ve ever visited, a place of awe. The fact that it exists in Georgia, one of the nation’s most steadfast supporters of the Bush worldview, always in the bottom two or three states nationally in education, still smoldering bed of racial and religious intolerance, is kinda boggling.

Here’s the Wikipedia info on the place:

The BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir Atlanta is the sixth BAPS traditional Hindu stone temple built outside of India. It is also the largest Hindu temple of its kind outside of India. It is currently open to the public. The 32,000-square-foot (3,000 m2) temple, officially called the Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, sits on 30 acres (120,000 m2). With hand-carved stone spires that tower 75 feet (23 m), it is the the tallest building in Lilburn, Georgia, dominating the intersection of Rockbridge Road and Lawrenceville Highway. More than 1,300 craftsmen and 900 volunteers dedicated their time in putting this 34,450-piece stone marvel together. More than 4,500 tons of Italian Carrara marble, 4,300 tons of Turkish limestone, and 3,500 tons of Indian pink sandstone was quarried and shipped to the craftsmen in India. Then, all of the nearly 35,000 pieces were shipped to the United States. It serves members of the Swaminarayan branch of Hinduism, which originated in India more than 200 years ago. The traditional design features custom-carved stonework, a wraparound veranda and five prominent pinnacles reminiscent of the Himalayan hills.

The Lilburn location is the largest temple in North America for BAPS. Built at an estimated cost of $19 million, the temple complex is only the third of its kind in the country, surpassing BAPS temples in Houston and Chicago. A similar mandir was recently opened in Toronto as well.

The temple’s sanctuary is open to all, as it is in Chicago, Houston, and Toronto.

The organization’s current spiritual guru, Pramukh Swami Maharaj, came to Lilburn in 2004 and blessed the first foundation stones. The guru, who celebrated his 86th birthday in 2006, returned to Lilburn in August 2007 to sanctify the completed temple. Upon completion, a keystone weighing more than 5 tons was twisted into place on the ceiling of the central dome inside.

We got a guided tour, and participated in the morning prayer, which was lovely. I experienced more of a sense of the sacred, of true spirit, in that very short ceremony than I’ve ever experienced in another official place of worship.

I encourage anyone who can to check the place out.

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