An Insider’s Guide to the World’s Second Largest Hindu Temple that Opened in New Jersey

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The design for the temple was partly based on descriptions in Hindu scriptures. Darren Tobia/Jersey Digs.

The first thing a visitor should do when entering the welcome center at the Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, a Hindu temple in New Jersey, is look away momentarily from the sumptuous murals and carvings, and the flickering of hundreds of Diwali candles. Instead, locate the statue of the late Pramukh Swami Maharaj, because with him this incredible story unfolds.

“His vision created what you see today,” said Shivani Patel, a volunteer who recently guided Jersey Digs on a tour of the temple.

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BAPS Swaminarayan Akshardham took 12 years to complete. Darren Tobia/Jersey Digs.

BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir New Jersey History

In the 1990s, Pramukh Swami Maharaj, who built hundreds of temples worldwide during his 45 years as maharaj, came up with the idea to build a temple in New Jersey dedicated to a sect of Hinduism called Bochasanwasi Shri Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha, or BAPS. He settled on 185 acres of land in Robbinsville, NJ, and with a legion of more than 12,500 volunteers, including Patel, commenced construction in 2011.

For Pramukh Swami Maharaj, who unfortunately passed away before the temple was completed last year, the location — smack dab between two cities and amid a major diaspora of Indian-Americans — was worthy of what would become the world’s second-largest Hindu temple. 

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An arcade near the temple’s welcome center. Darren Tobia/Jersey Digs.

Visting BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in New Jersey

A maharaj — which is a title given to Hindu religious leaders — is believed by his worshippers to be the spiritual successor of Bhagwan Swaminarayan, the 17th-century incarnation of God on earth. The temple is a reflection on different stages of Bhagwan Swaminarayan’s life. The 49-foot-tall statue at the entrance plaza of the temple depicts him as a teenager, pretzeled into a one-legged yoga pose.

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A 49-foot-tall statue depicting Bhagwan Swaminarayan, who in the Hindu faith is the 17th-century incarnation of God on earth. Darren Tobia/Jersey Digs.

This initial, staggering monument sets the tone for the entire experience. Even my Uber driver, a local who said he had never been to the temple, got out of the car to snap a photo. Everything on this sprawling campus is grand, ornate, and symbolic of a spiritual journey. It uses Bhagwan Swaminarayan’s seven-year pilgrimage through India as a metaphor for the visitor’s own spiritual journey.

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The position of a statue’s hands often represents a welcoming gesture. Darren Tobia/Jersey Digs.

The limestone temple itself, called the Akshardham, has five spires, or shikhara. Beneath each dome is a tableau depicting Bhagwan Swaminarayan at various moments in his life. Photography is not allowed inside the temple. The purpose, Patel explained, is to preserve the sanctity of the experience. In an age when influencers sometimes compromise the spaces where they film content, that prohibition is wise. Those who want to glimpse inside this architectural marvel will have to make the trek for themselves.

This guide is only meant to orient the visitor — a starting off point for exploration. Everyone will take away something different and that’s a testament to the rich symbolism, incredible attention to detail, and the craftsmanship of the carvings that include 10,000 statues across the temple grounds, all carved in India. For instance, Patel pointed out a row of marble elephants, all depicted as wearing unique headdresses. There are also many references to the Akshardham’s two sister temples, one in Gandhinagar, India and another in New Delhi, where the sect’s current spiritual guru, 90-year-old Mahant Swami Maharaj, lives.

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A plaque outside the temple features Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Darren Tobia/Jersey Digs.

Another thing that stands out at the temple is the blending of ideas of the Western world. In the dome of one of the spires, you can see astrological signs. Elsewhere are plaques to Dr. Martin Luther King and Albert Einstein. The intention is to be inclusive and nondenominational.

“While it is a Hindu place of worship, it intends to bring everyone together on their own spiritual journeys and reflections,” said Chaitali Inamdar, a volunteer who accompanied Patel on the tour.

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Elephants are a common motif inside Hindu temples. Darren Tobia/Jersey Digs.

What to Know Before Visiting

The sheer scale of the temple and its surrounding 185-acre campus can be a bit daunting to first-time visitors. When you first arrive, volunteers wearing pink saris will help guide you along your way and you should take advantage of their warm introductions. There are also small theaters that play short orientation films.

No shoes are allowed inside the temple. Visitors must wear socks or go barefooted — but the floors are heated.

No photography is allowed inside the temple. Inside the welcome center and all outdoor vantage points are fair game.

The temple has a gift shop and its own cafeteria that serves food, coffee, and tea.

When you’re viewing statues, take note of how their hands are positioned, often holding traditional Indian instruments or representing welcoming gestures. 

How to Get to BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Robbinsville

The temple is easiest to get to by car. But it’s only an hour-long train ride from Newark Penn Station. Take the Northeast Corridor line to Princeton Junction. From there, call a $15- $20 rideshare.


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