By Usha Das
TORONTO: George Bernard Shaw once said, “The Indian way of life provides the vision of the natural, real way of life. We veil ourselves with unnatural masks. On the face of India are the tender expressions which carry the mask of the creator’s hand.”
The above saying is marvelously reflected in the opulence of BAPS Swaminarayan Mandir in Toronto.
BAPS stands for Bocasanvasi Akshar Purushottam Swāminarayan Sanstha – which is a major organization within the Swaminarayan sect of Hinduism.
During my weekend visit to the temple, I was awe-struck by the magnificence of this magnificent spiritual abode on the outskirts of Toronto. Believe me, it brought immense serenity and peace to me.
Headed by His Holiness Pramukh Swami Maharaj, the fifth spiritual successor of BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha, this man-made Mandir or temple is not only a place of spiritual solace but also a symbol of great craftsmanship.
Imagine how they built this beautiful place without steel, wood or nails! Indeed, this temple is the only one of its kind in Canada to boast a hand-crafted design. Ornate pillars, arches, imposing domes and intricate architecture tell the unique story of this place.
We were told that more than 24,000 pieces of marble, limestone, and sandstone were carved to perfection by about 400 volunteers who put in one million hours of service to give shape to this temple
Its construction is based on Vedic tenets dating back to millennia and its uniqueness lies in its eco-friendly construction, preserving carbon footprint and green space. Calculations say the temple is built to last 1,000 years!
The focal point of the shrine is its sanctum sanctorum which houses Hindu deities in royal attire.The deities are made from five metals according to the ancient Hindu tradition. Its ornately carved pillars have six dome-shaped ceilings above, with no one ceiling is similar to the other.
Another breath-taking part of this place is its hand-carved Haveli. Its traditional courtyard beckons visitors to a stunning display of a richly ornamented wooden foyer with designs of peacocks, elephants, and lotus flowers..
With motifs of poets, dancers and musicians crafted into its teak wood, the Haveli transports one to the good olden days of India. An enclosed pathway connects the Haveli to the temple.
As I continued my journey, I was beckoned by its Heritage Museum. This journey was worth its time, as I experienced the vastness of Indian heritage unknown to me.
The museum has a wealth of knowledge for anyone thirsty to know the essence of Hinduism. I discovered uniquely crafted exhibits, 3-D dioramas and original oil-paintings, educating visitors about India’s contributions to art, architecture, science, democracy, education, culture, pluralism and spiritual values. I would recommend people to visit this place to experience what makes the Hindu way of life so special.
There is also a gift shop that sells books on Hinduism, souvenirs, idols and other curios.
This unique Mandir on Canadian soil was formally opened by Prime minister Stephen Harper at a huge ceremony on July 22, 2007.
I would like to end my article by quoting Mark Twain who said, “In religion, India is the only millionaire … The one land that all men desire to see, and having seen once, by even a glimpse would not give that glimpse for all the rest of all the shows of the globe combined.”