One of our favorite “off the beaten path” places to visit in our city is BAPS Hindu Mandir Atlanta – officially known as BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir. Nestled across from a strip mall in Lilburn, just 20 minutes outside the city, BAPS Atlanta seems quite out-of-place – a beautiful white Hinduism place of worship across from a Subway and Publix grocery store. But don’t let the drive to the mandir discourage you. It’s well worth the time it takes to get there from downtown.
The mandir, one of the largest in the United States, was completed in 2007. The intricate marble and limestone was carved in India and brought to Atlanta in about 35,000 pieces. Each piece was labelled with a code and assembled like a 3-D jigsaw puzzle. From inception to completion, the project took only 17 months. There’s not a single nail or bolt in the building (with the exception of those used for electricity and wiring, of course). The mandir was designed and assembled using instructions that are hundreds of years old. The BAPS Atlanta mandir is important to us, not only because it’s an artistic masterpiece, but because Halef’s old company worked on the landscape architecture for the project.
Arriving at BAPS Atlanta Mandir – the Outside
When you first arrive at the mandir, you’ll give your name to the gate attendant and park in the lot, which always has plenty of spaces. You can walk around the mandir and take as many photos as you like. Be aware though, you can only take photos outside. And, you can only take them up to a certain point. Once you get to the top of the stairs, all photography is forbidden.
Also, no smoking on the premises. BAPS devotees follow many rules in their everyday lives. They are vegan, they don’t eat things like garlic or onions – basically, they don’t put bad things in their bodies. This includes cigarette smoke. So put that cigarette out before you get to the gate.
As you walk around the outside of this Hindu temple of Atlanta, you’ll be overwhelmed by the intricacy of the way the Turkish limestone is carved. No detail is spared. The amount of work put into the BAPS Atlanta mandir over just a few months was astonishing. I can only imagine the amount of absolute love that must go into designing and building a place like this. You have to see it to believe it. You’ll feel like you’ve immersed yourself, at least a little bit anyway, into Hindu culture.
But outside is only the beginning. It’s when you walk inside that you finally understand what attracts visitors to this special place. Sadly, you cannot take photos inside, as it is considered disrespectful. I’ve been given permission by BAPS Atlanta to share a few photos.
Inside BAPS Atlanta Mandir
Because it is a place of worship and peace, the same rules apply in the BAPS Atlanta mandir as would apply to any house of worship. Be respectful and quiet when inside. You should dress conservatively. If you wear shorts to the mandir, you should cover your legs in a sarong. If you don’t have one, don’t worry. They provide them. The same thing goes for women as for men. You’ll also need to remove your shoes.
If you’re in a wheelchair or have other mobility issues, no problem. There is an elevator for you to use to get to the upper floor.
The Arti ceremony is performed at 11:15 AM. It’s less than 10 minutes long, and we highly recommend you take part. There are separate seating arrangements for men and women. Basically, everyone sits on the floor and sings (if you know the words) and claps (even if you don’t!) Near the end of the service, a collection tray will be passed around. You can add money to the basket if you wish, but it is not required. There will also be a candle on the tray. Use your hands to motion the glow if the fire over your face.
Just do what others do!
The artwork inside
Though I am not a religious person, I consider BAPS Atlanta to be a piece of art. When you enter the building, you may be a little taken aback by the detail. It almost seems impossible that marble could be carved so delicately without breaking – especially considering it had such a long journey to its destination. I often think to myself that I would have to start over so many times. In 17 months, I doubt I would get much work done.
Each column tells a different story. You may notice that some of the columns are encased by plexiglass. This is simply because they are the most important and most delicate of the carvings.
It would be easy to get lost in wonder just looking at the marble columns, but don’t forget to look up! Each section of the mandir has a different chandelier-like ceiling, and all of them are completely different and tell different stories. This one, in the center of the mandir, is the keystone. And it is huge.
Murtis at the Mandir
Below are three of the many Murtis you will see at the mandir. Chances are, they won’t look the same when you see them. Each Murti at the mandir, including the Ganesh temple, is cared for as though it is alive. It is washed, fed, and clothed. When you visit, each murti will be dressed differently than the clothing you see here. For example, in Atlanta right now, it’s fairly cold, so the murtis will likely be dressed warmly. For special occasions, they’ll be dressed completely different. If you go one week, they’ll be dressed differently than the last time you were there.
Worth the visit
The BAPS mandir in Atlanta is the center of religious and social life for BAPS devotees in Atlanta. If your travel plans include Atlanta, I highly recommend visiting. If you live in Atlanta and have guests visiting, this is a unique idea – a great way to spend the first part of your day. Although I wouldn’t consider it a touristy place, it’s something different than your run of the mill tourist traps. We have taken dozens of guests and each of them has enjoyed the visit immensely. They even have audio tours available in many languages for just a $5 rental fee.
Finally, after you have toured the BAPS Sri Swaminarayan mandir, stop by the gift shop. They have an excellent selection of tasty vegetarian and vegan food and snacks. They also have some really good books – all very reasonably priced. Want to eat lunch? There is a BAPS restaurant in a building just off site called BAPS Shayona Café. We recently ate food from the cafe during the Diwali celebrations there. It is delicious!
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Fireworks at BAPS Hindu Mandir
Updated: October 27, 2017
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