Driving down a nondescript grass- and tree-lined four-lane highway in the middle of New Jersey, there’s little indication that an immense spiritual complex sits a few hundred feet away. It’s not until you take a turn off that highway that the size and scope of the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir and the supporting complex around it comes into view.
Situated in Robbinsville, N.J., the mandir—a Hindu place of worship—itself is a modern architectural marvel. The interior structure is more than four stories high and is composed of 13,499 individual carved stone pieces, the vast majority of which are Italian marble.
The mandir is impossibly ornate, with virtually every square inch adorned with intricate carvings or inlaid stones, all done by craftspeople in India. The mandap—the building that houses the mandir—isn’t too shabby either, standing 55 feet tall with an imposing decorative gate that is studded with 235 peacocks. The cultural complex is designed to honor Indian culture, heritage and values as a tribute to Bhagwan Swaminarayan, the founder of the Swaminarayan philosophy who led spiritual and social reforms throughout India.
Marble Marvel. The New Jersey mandir is merely one of a number of such edifices built by Bochasanwasi Shri Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha (BAPS), a worldwide religious and civic organization within the Swaminarayan branch of Hinduism.
The organization has constructed some of the biggest Hindu temples in the world, most notably the Akshardham complex outside the Indian capital of New Delhi, which was completed in 2007, and another in the western state of the Gujarat, where BAPS is headquartered.
From a logistics perspective, the construction of the Robbinsville temple, located roughly equidistant from New York City and Philadelphia, was in and of itself a significant undertaking. Sourcing the materials used for the mandir, contracting the artisanal work done on those materials, and transporting them to their eventual destination required true global supply chain management.
And that management is far from over. Although construction on the mandir and protective mandap began in 2010 and was completed in 2014, BAPS is still in the process of building a visitor center and exhibition hall, a youth activity center, and the BAPS Swaminarayan Akshardham Mahamandir, a nearly 15-story temple that will be the tallest of its kind in the world.
The mahamandir is intended to represent 10,000 years of Indian culture and evoke India’s ancient architecture. Among the highlights are 13 spires, called shikhars, and a red stone colonnade.
An estimated 4.7 million hours of work by craftsmen and volunteers was required to build the temple with roughly 68,000 cubic feet (about 11.6 million pounds) of Italian Carrara marble.
“There is a spirit of volunteerism that pervades the entire project,” BAPS said in a statement to American Shipper. “This mandir has been built on the dedication and sacrifice of countless volunteers who contributed their time and resources in differing forms.”
An estimated 4.7 million hours of work by craftsmen and volunteers was required to the build the temple with roughly 68,000 cubic feet (about 11.6 million pounds) of Italian Carrara marble.
Artisan Employment. The marble was shipped by container from multiple Italian ports to the Port of Mundra in the Gujarat region of western India. Limestone sourced from Bulgaria was shipped via the Greek Port of Thessaloniki, also to Mundra. From Mundra, the raw stone was moved by truck from the port to the neighboring state of Rajasthan.
In a number of small villages in Rajasthan, artisans carved the stone to roughly 90 percent completion before the individual pieces were packaged, palletized, trucked back to Mundra, consolidated into containers, and shipped to the Port of New York and New Jersey. The containers were offloaded at three different terminals in the port and once again placed on trucks to be brought to the Robbinsville site.
Once they arrived, the stone pieces were labeled and numbered in sequence in such a way as to make it easier to construct the mandir, kind of like putting together a giant ornate three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle.
In all, each piece of stone traveled roughly 9,300 miles to reach its destination.
The stones were finished on site and assembled by local artisans and companies that donated time and resources to the project. BAPS volunteers were heavily involved throughout the process, both directly and in supporting roles.
(or temple) in Robbinsville,
N.J., contains thousands of
pieces of intricately carved
marble and inlaid stone.
According to BAPS, the organization’s goal isn’t just to build inspiring spiritual edifices, but to provide employment to artisans in India that have seen demand for their craft diminish. The supply chain that enabled stones from Europe to move to New Jersey via India made that possible, the organization said.
And this already massive project is not even halfway completed. The large mahamandir is expected to be completed over the next five to seven years.
The BAPS mandir is a spiritual sight to behold. But as with all modern marvels, modest or massive, there’s a supply chain behind it all.
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