Shikharbaddha Mandirs and The Swaminarayan Tradition
In the Swaminarayan tradition, “the construction of mandirs has remained an important means of expressing and promoting Swaminarayan ‘’upasana‘’.” From the time of Swaminarayan, groups of devotees worshipped at home in small, family shrines called ghar mandirs. Then, as families needed to congregate, they built hari mandirs, typically simple buildings often converted from a warehouse or something similar, and which housed simplified rituals that did not require sadhus as pujaris. In turn, as the community of devotees grew in size and could bear the expense, the devotees built shikharbaddha mandirs as expressions of their devotion; the first six such shikharbadhha mandirs were built by Bhagwan Swaminarayan himself. Scholar Hanna Kim explains, “The carved stone mandir, in other words, reveals in the most concrete way, the devotional commitment of satsangis to Swaminarayan teachings and their determination to direct their resources towards its realization.”
In the BAPS organization, mandirs are built through thousands of voluntary contributions, considered to be an expression of the devotees’ devotion. Scholar Hanna Kim notes, “From the fund-raising to the final stone polishing, thousands of satsangis have voluntarily contributed to mandir projects as a means by which to cultivate themselves into an image of the ideal devotee, the one whose behavior is mimetically connected to the Guru and is therefore, like the Guru, in a constant state of serving Bhagwan. As satsangis recount, this devotionally prescribed posture of service and sacrifice, as exemplified by the Guru, prompts their commitment to sponsor and build shikharbaddha mandirs in record time, ranging between sixteen months to just over two years.”
Shikharbaddha mandir complexes also encompass numerous associated structures. Sadhus serving in the temple typically reside in residence halls within the compounds. A striking feature of the Swaminarayan temples are the guest houses (dharmashalas) which are provided for visitors. Raymond Williams observes, “Overnight accommodation is provided for members upon request in simple but comfortable rooms. Food and lodging are provided for individuals or families who wish to make a visit to the temple on their travels or who are making a religious pilgrimage to visit the main temples. Provision is made for large numbers of persons who come to the temples for festivals lasting several days. No charge is made for the accommodation; nevertheless, most visitors make a donation. Small temples may have only two or three guest rooms, but larger shikharbaddha mandirs have several buildings with the capacity to house hundreds of pilgrims. The BAPS temple in Amdavad constructed an eight-story dharmashala that houses a modern medical facility on the ground floor where pilgrims can obtain a complete physical examination. New buildings are being constructed at many temples, mainly to accommodate the increased number of pilgrims."
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