Sankari is a very small village with a population of no more than a hundred people and a single street of homes. Lush farms and trees surround the village. The heart-throb of Sankari is the Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Mandir consecrated in 1971 by Pramukh Swami Maharaj.
The principal people behind the building of the first mandir in Sankari were Ramanbhai Patel, Govindkaka, Jivankaka and Somakaka. After the small mandir was built, Somakaka and the citizens of Sankari and the neighboring villages were looking for someone to consecrate the murtis of Laxminarayan Dev. On meeting Yogiji Maharaj in UK, in 1970, Somakaka requested him to grace and consecrate the mandir. Yogiji Maharaj agreed and told him, "I will come to perform the murti-pratishtha of the mandir." But on returning to India Yogiji Maharaj passed away in Jan. 1971. To fulfill the wish of Yogiji Maharaj and the request of the villagers, Pramukh Swami Maharaj consecrated the murtis of Akshar Purushottam Maharaj and Laxminarayan Dev on 3 June, 1971. It was Swamishri's first murti-pratishtha of a shikharbaddh mandir.
Over the decades the efforts of Swamishri and sadhus saw the fluorishment of Satsang in the region of Sankari. They travelled to the tribal villages and inspired thousands to give up addictions and superstitions. The Sankari mandir soon burgeoned into a center for spiritual and moral regeneration. In 1988 a portion of the mandir land was transformed for over six months into an ideal cattle camp for the drought-stricken cattle. Every Punam, 6,000 to 7,000 devotees come for darshan at the mandir. The entire region has 88 Bal Mandals, 61 Balika Mandals, 98 Mahila Mandals and over 155 BAPS Satsang Mandals. These centers have spread and consolidated the Hindu ideals and messages of moral living among the tribal and educated masses. Two BAPS Mobile Health Vans offer their services to the poor tribal people in that region. With the growing magnitude of Satsang, the need for a bigger mandir complex became necessary. To satisfy the increasing needs, Swamishri performed the ground-breaking ceremony for a new shikharbaddh mandir on 15 January 1996. Within 5 years the intricately carved mandir made of pink sandstone was ready. It stands like a resplendent jewel in the lush green surroundings of Sankari.
The mandir is 196 ft long, 135 ft wide and 65 ft high. It has 5 towering shikhars, 15 domes, 84 profusely carved pillars, 100 filagreed arches, 290 statues of incarnations, acharyas and devotees and an impressive entrance gate. The inauguration ceremony of the newly built Shri Swaminarayan Mandir was performed by Pramukh Swami Maharaj on 18 May 2001. The three main features of this festival were: the diksha and yagna ceremony, procession and murti-pratishtha ceremony.
Diksha Ceremony: 17 May (Thursday)
After Swamishri's morning puja, the diksha ceremony of 11 parshads and 7 sadhaks commenced amidst Vedic chantings. Swamishri gave the guru mantra and initiated the novices. In all, 7 sadhaks were given the Parshad diksha and 11 parshads were given the Bhagwati diksha.
Thereafter Swamishri inaugurated three new publications published by Swaminarayan Akshar Pith:
1. Chakhadi na Chatke by Swami Viveksagardas
2. Dharmik Stotram by Swami Shrutiprakashdas
3. Antyeshti Sanskar by Swami Shrutiprakashdas
Yagna: 17 May (Thursday)
At 10.10 a.m. Swamishri arrived at the yagna-shala for the yagna. The Vedic rituals for the purification and worship of the murtis of deities to be installed in the mandir were being held. The yagna-shala was traditionally decorated with festoons of leaves and banana trunks. It resonated with the chantings of over 50 Brahmin pundits. Around the 63 kunds the yagna rituals were being followed by 536 yajmans (participants). Swamishri performed the pujan of the deities of Akshar Purushottam Maharaj, Ghanshyam Maharaj, Laxmi Narayan Dev, Harikrishna Maharaj, Shiv-Parvatiji, Shivling, Sita-Ram, Hanumanji, Ganapatiji, Shastriji Maharaj and Yogiji Maharaj for the Sankari mandir. Swamishri also worshiped murtis for the Hari mandirs of Khushalpura and Shahpur, and then blessed the assembly.
Grand Procession (Nagar Yatra) : 17 May (Thursday)
On the afternoon of 17 May 2001, a spectacular procession of floats was carried out a day prior to the murti-pratishtha ceremony. The 1 km long procession comprised of torch-bearers, bands, horse riders, tribal dancers, devotees and sadhus singing bhajans and dhuns, floats with the murtis of the deities and women devotees singing bhajans and carrying auspicious pots. The 3 km route from Rayan village to Sankari was a moving spectacle of sound, color and devotion. Swamishri blessed the procession when it concluded by the mandir.
Women's Convention (Mahila Sammelan) : 17 May (Thursday)
A Women's Convention was also organized on the occasion of the murti-pratishtha festival, with district collector Mrs. Sangitaben Sinha gracing the Chief Guest's chair. The convention started off with a welcome dance by girls, followed by addresses by the chief guest and others. A socially relevant drama staged by girls appealed to the audience.
Murti-pratishtha Ceremony: 18 May 2001 (Friday)
At 8.52 a.m., Swamishri inaugurated the main gate, Akshar Dwar, of the Shri Swaminarayan Mandir. Amidst Vedic chantings Swamishri offered prayers to Shri Harikrishna Maharaj and smeared kumkum and swastik to the two main pillars of Akshar Dwar. After Pujya Tyagvallabh Swami split the coconut, Swamishri untied the nada-chhadi and declared the gate open.
Swamishri then entered the mandir and performed the pratishtha rituals of the murtis of Akshar Purushottam Maharaj. Pujya Mahant Swami performed the rituals of Ghanshyam Maharaj, Pujya Dr. Swami performed the rituals of Harikrishna Maharaj and Laxminarayan Dev and other senior sadhus performed the rituals of the murtis of Shastriji Maharaj, Yogiji Maharaj, Shiv Panchayatan and Ram Panchayatan. Swamishri then performed the pujan of all the murtis. While the annakut was being placed before the deities Swamishri offered prayers for the alleviation of the drought in Gujarat and happiness of the earthquake victims, for a good monsoon and peace in the world. Thereafter, Swamishri performed the pratishtha arti and finally offered dandvats before the deities.
After the consecration ceremony, Swamishri presided over the pratishtha assembly. Discourses on the importance of mandirs in society and the philanthropic activities inspired by Swamishri were given by senior sadhus. Dignitaries and state ministers were then honored. Shri Mangubhai Patel, Minister for Tribal Development, lauded Swamishri's philanthropic activities. Finally Swamishri blessed the assembly.
Over 32,000 people had attended the murti-pratishtha festival and partook of the prasad.
The newly inaugurated mandir complex will in future have a large auditorium, health center, convention (shibir) facilities, library, lodging arrangements and beautiful gardens.