On October 10, 2021, families around the world participated in the momentous occasion of the inauguration of Tapomurti Shri Nilkanth Varni in Robbinsville, New Jersey. His Holiness Mahant Swami Maharaj joined the event virtually from Sarangpur, India. Sadguru Pujya Ishwarcharandas Swami led the ceremonies in Robbinsville, New Jersey. 
 
In 1792, an 11-year-old boy named Ghanshyam left the comforts of his home in Northern India and set out on what turned into a 7-year, 8,000-mile journey touching the farthermost corners of the Indian subcontinent. During this 7-year teenage period, Ghanshyam was known as Nilkanth Varni. He would eventually settle in Gujarat and be known as Bhagwan Swaminarayan (1781-1829). His journey was one of not only sheer physical and mental determination, discipline, and discovery, but one that has, for over two centuries, inspired individuals throughout the world to apply the universal concepts of unconditional love, empathy, simplicity, and service in both ordinary and extraordinary situations.
 
This murti (sacred image) of Tapomurti Shri Nilkanth Varni is a homage to his travels around the Indian subcontinent for 7 years during his teenage years. Nilkanth Varni is portrayed in an ascetic pose performing tapas, or penance and worship with intense self-discipline. He performed rigorous tapas for six months, standing on one leg in a yogic posture, and mastered yoga during his travels in the Himalayas. His emaciated body glows with the aura of his determined posture and inward drawn eyes. The bronze murti is 49 feet tall to commemorate the 49 years Bhagwan Swaminarayan lived on earth while affecting social and spiritual reform in India. Large outdoor murtis such as these have been installed for centuries to express reverence and inspire spiritual living in Hindu, Buddhist and Jain traditions. 
 
The murti stands tall at the entrance of the Swaminarayan Akshardham campus to not only remind visitors of the 14 timeless lessons from his voyage that inspire a life of balance, success and peace, but also to invite all visitors that they too are about to commence a journey through the Swaminarayan Akshardham Mahamandir campus to better understand the life and lessons of Bhagwan Swaminarayan, of the universal values espoused in Hindu traditions and of the commonality of mankind that binds all of us together as one. Traditional Hindu rituals of arti and thãl will be performed at the murti shrine daily. Visitors and pilgrims are free to also perform arti with incense sticks to offer their worship and prayers.
 
Behind the murti of Nilkanth Varni is a stepwell modeled in the tradition of historical stepwells and architectural masterpieces of his time, such as Rani ki Vãv in Patan, Gujarat. The stepwell has been sanctified with the waters from 108 sacred rivers of India, four of which (Ganga, Yamuna, Saraswati and Saryu) have been represented by bronze murtis on each of the four sides of the stepwell.
 
Prior to the inauguration, a Mahayagna was performed with the virtual live presence of Mahant Swami Maharaj as well as a traditional procession (nagar yatra) overseen by Pujya Ishwarcharandas Swami. 
 
After the inauguration, he explained in his speech that Bhagwan Swaminarayan would often say doing tapa is extremely dear to Him and encouraged everyone to honor these sentiments by performing a small tapa in our day-to-day life. Thereafter, Mahant Swami Maharaj gave blessings from Sarangpur, India. He first blessed and congratulated all who participated in the construction and the inauguration ceremonies. Swamishri then explained the importance of the Tapomurti Shri Nilkant Varni and said that whoever has darshan of the murti will find peace and happiness.
 
The work of the temple complex continues with the help of the swamis and volunteers who contribute their skill, time, and energy to offer their service to the community and to society at large.

 

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