Pramukh Swami Maharaj is the Guinness World Record holder for building the most mandirs worldwide. Over a period of 45 years, Pramukh Swami Maharaj built two Akshardham mandirs and complexes, 37 traditional stone shikharbaddha mandirs, over 1,100 hari mandirs, and inspired thousands of families to install ghar mandirs in their homes.
He inspired volunteers and artisans to contribute to the task of building mandirs, which attract millions of devotees and tourists every year. These mandirs serve as centres for a spectrum of spiritual, social and cultural activities and celebrations. Pramukh Swami Maharaj was indeed a master builder. But, one wonders: Why build so many mandirs? For whom did he build these mandirs?
Highlighting the tradition of building mandirs initiated by Bhagwan Swaminarayan, Mahant Swami Maharaj writes in shloka 90 of the Satsang Diksha:
Thus, in accordance with Bhagwan Swaminarayan’s noble objective of granting moksha to everyone, Pramukh Swami Maharaj built mandirs to help people eradicate their vices, transform and strengthen their minds, and offer devotion to God. The mandirs he built are vibrant hubs from where activities that benefit individuals, families and society are performed.
Mandirs have helped thousands of people eliminate their vices, like drug and alcohol addiction, gambling, smoking and others.
Birju Patel of Toronto, Canada, was a drug addict. From a young age of 16, he began experimenting with drugs. He soon became hooked and from his $500,000 annual salary, he spent a substantial $120,000 on purchasing cocaine. According to his doctors, he was taking enough cocaine to kill a horse. These vices shattered his family and personal life.
In early 2016, after much convincing and insistence by his friends and family, Birju reluctantly came to the BAPS Mandir in Toronto. Sirish, a friend of Birju, accompanied him to the mandir for darshan. Hesitant at first, Birju climbed the steps and began doing darshan of all the murtis. When they reached Pramukh Swami Maharaj’s murti, Sirish noticed that Birju suddenly became still, and his eyes began tearing. He somehow felt connected to Swamishri. Pointing to his chest Birju described his experience as “a sense of being full. I feel that there is something in here.” He added that for the first time in many years, he felt emotions like love, hope and peace.
Thereafter, Birju regularly visited the mandir for three months and performed seva. He would meet the resident sadhus and listen to their discourses. Despite numerous previous attempts at rehabilitation, Birju had relapsed. However, visiting the mandir helped Birju to stay positive and refrain from taking drugs. He developed a deep love for the mandir and Swamishri. On 11 April 2016, Birju had the opportunity to personally receive blessings from Pramukh Swami Maharaj in Sarangpur. While Swamishri was informed of his situation, Birju began saying his prayers in tears. Just a mere five minutes with Pramukh Swami Maharaj brought new hope in Birju’s life.
Today, because of the BAPS Mandir in Toronto, Birju has overcome his addictions. He has restored his broken relationships. He has also become an active volunteer. He helps others fight addictions by motivating them and bringing them to the mandir.
Birju is one of the thousands of people who have been helped by the mandirs built by Pramukh Swami Maharaj to eradicate addictions, harmful habits and vices.
During times of despair, a person needs support and guidance to prevent them from falling prey to depression and inappropriate actions. Mandirs provide mental stability in such trying times.
In 2001, to raise funds for the construction of a shikharbaddha mandir in Bharuch, Gujarat, the local devotees went house-to-house to collect old newspapers. The collected papers would then be sold to recycling centres. One evening, at 8:00 p.m., devotees arrived at a home and rang the doorbell.
After a few minutes, a man opened the door and the devotees explained, “We are disciples of Pramukh Swami Maharaj. He is building a mandir here in Bharuch. Do you wish to take part in seva for the mandir?” The man expressed his interest, “You’re building a mandir by collecting old newspapers?” After explaining the details of the fundraising project, the devotees described some of the mandir’s socio-spiritual activities and Pramukh Swami Maharaj’s pious, selfless life. As they continued talking, the man suddenly began crying. The devotees became confused, “What’s wrong?” The man’s answer left them speechless.
He explained, “When you rang the doorbell, my wife, two kids and I, had collectively decided to take poison to end our lives and free ourselves from the dire problems we are facing.” Hearing this, the devotees spoke at length about Bhagwan Swaminarayan’s teachings about the value of life. They also asked the family to come to mandir, seek advice from the sadhus and meet Pramukh Swami Maharaj.
At the mandir, sadhus and devotees supported, comforted and guided this family during a pivotal period. Their negative thoughts were eliminated and replaced with positivity. By coming to the mandir, this family gained spiritual strength and learned to see past their crisis. In this manner, by stabilizing their minds, the mandir helped to saved the lives of the family. Today, the entire family is living happily, while regularly taking part in mandir activities.
Mandirs have played a vital role in stabilizing people’s minds and giving them the inner strength to overcome the challenges of daily life.