Landmark will be largest of its kind in region
A Hindu sect whose ornate temples have won architectural awards in Chicago and Houston is laying the foundation this month for what is sure to be a Lilburn landmark.
The 27,243-square-foot temple, officially called Shree Swaminarayan Mandir, is rising on 30 acres at Lawrenceville Highway and Rockbridge Road. It will serve members of the Swaminarayan branch of Hinduism, which originated more than 200 years ago in India.
The traditional design will feature custom-carved stonework, a wraparound veranda and five prominent pinnacles reminiscent of the Himalayan hills. Giant stairs will mimic the climb worshippers have to make to mountainside temples in India. Decorative domes will embellish the temple’s roof, and spires rising from each pinnacle will fly red-and-white flags signaling the victory of good over evil.
Passers-by also might be able to see a mirror image of the temple in a reflection pool outside.
The temple should be finished by 2007, said Munitilak Swami, a saint at the sect’s current temple in the DeKalb County city of Clarkston. The Lilburn temple and another one under construction in Toronto will be the fifth- and sixth-largest Swaminarayan temples outside of India, he said. The others are in Chicago, Houston, London and Nairobi.
“This is something that comes once in a lifetime,” Munitilak Swami said. “We all know that there’s not going to be another temple like this in the Southeast.”
The temple’s construction spans three continents. Italian marble and Turkish sandstone has been shipped to Rajasthan state in western India, where artisans are carving intricate designs into each Lilburn-bound block. Some pieces are the size of a Volkswagen beetle; others resemble tiny flowers.
“Each one will have a number on it,” Munitilak Swami said. “It’s like a giant jigsaw puzzle.”
The boxtop, in this case, is Hindu scripture that outlines lengths, widths and heights of a temple. And this puzzle is designed for the ages. “The life cycle is a minimum of 1,000 years,” said Yogesh Patel, the engineer who designed the temple.
The congregation has outgrown the converted skating rink where its 500 or so worshippers now pray and meditate. It is one of 11 small Swaminarayan temples that dot the Southeast. The Lilburn temple would be the region’s only large temple where prayer is conducted five times a day rather than twice, Munitilak Swami said. It should draw religious pilgrims from around the Southeast, he said.
Lilburn Mayor Jack Bolton said he expects some tourists to visit, as well.
“It’s just going to be a phenomenal development,” Bolton said, ” in terms of being a landmark and putting Lilburn on the map.”
The temple won’t be the only contribution from the socio-spiritual organization officially called BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha, said Ritesh Desai, a temple member from Buford. Gwinnett will benefit from the Swaminarayans’ blood drives, food donations and other charitable efforts as well, he said.
The Swaminarayan branch of Hinduism originated with the 18th-century spiritual leader Bhagwan Swaminarayan. Leaders say there are now more than 1 million Swaminarayan followers worldwide who have taken lifetime vows of no alcohol, no addictions, no adultery, no meat and no impurity of body and mind.
The sect’s current guru, Brahmaswarup Pramukh Swami Maharaj, came to Lilburn last year and blessed the first foundation stones. The guru, who celebrated his 85th birthday this month, is scheduled to return to Lilburn in 2007 to sanctify the completed temple. Once nearly complete, a keystone weighing more than 5 tons will be twisted into place on the ceiling of the central dome inside. That, according to tradition, is the final piece of the puzzle.