CHINO, CALIFORNIA, January 4, 2013 (India Abroad, by Arthur J. Pais): Even as hundreds of devotees gathered for the dedication of the Bochasanwasi Shri Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Mandir in Chino Hills, California, December 23, and thousands watched the Web cast as the murthis were installed inside the temple, for the local organizers, there was also a satisfaction of having convinced the city authorities to sanction the completion of the temple, keeping intact most of the original project.
Constructed from 35,000 pieces of hand-carved Italian Carrara marble and Indian pink sandstone, the temple encompasses five pinnacles, two large domes, four balconies, 122 pillars and 129 archways. Its 6,600 hand-carved motifs depict a mosaic of tales. Situated on a 20-acre site with a 91-foot lotus-shaped pond, it also has a cultural center, gymnasium and classrooms. At least 900 volunteers including many second-generation Indian-American students gave their services, according to the temple authorities. At least 1.3 million man hours of construction was used.
In a script that has been reverberating in the past four decades whenever a new temple has been proposed, the objections of the city zoning board -- ranging from more traffic in the residential area around the temple to the size of the temple towers -- was slowly challenged by the temple builders.
The temple builders approached the opposition in several ways. Even as permissions for the temple facilities were being cleared, they were also convincing the city officials and residents that the devotees and tourists who would be coming to the temple would bring revenue to the city.
The devotees also asserted -- in private conversations and official discussions -- that as Americans, they had equal right to their house of worship. They also built goodwill for the community and over 1,000 Hindu families around by holding walkathons, medical camps, blood drives and Thanksgiving dinners in Chino Hills on the same day when BAPS members in more than 40 American cities and towns were hosting similar events.
'Building a Better Community, One Step at a Time' was the theme of the walkathons and over $5,000 was expected to go to local organizations, including the Chino Hills High School and the Wounded Heroes Foundation helping injured armed forces veterans.
BAPS doctors have conducted free medical checkups.
'It was amazing to see how willing the doctors were to help out the patients,' Ambika Rajyagor, a student volunteer from Chino Hills High School, was quoted as saying. 'Watching the doctors volunteer their time and effort gave me the incentive to help out more so that I can make the difference in the community.'
During numerous open houses, members also collected hundreds of letters of support from the community, including religious leaders, the adjoining residential communities, and coaches from the National Junior Basketball program, who were allowed use of the gymnasium on the temple ground.
Chino Hills Mayor Peter Rogers found out about BAPS's outreach activities from calling many California mayors.
"He even called the mayor of Chicago and came to be convinced we were carrying out good work," said Lenin Joshi of BAPS. "His discovery played an important role in city council giving the final approvals." The members of the temple's governing board also felt vindicated when local dignitaries attended the inauguration event and joined devotees and spiritual leaders including Satguru Bodhinatha Veylanswami, the head of Kauai's Hindu Monastery, and publisher of Hinduism Today.
Mayor Rogers said at the inaugural event, 'The Mandir and cultural center will indeed be a place that Chino Hills can be proud of for so many, many generations.' The temple, Mayor Rogers added, 'is a beautiful testament to the hard work of your congregation who has spent several years to build this place of worship.' The inauguration was a culmination of four-day events that began with BAPS guru Pramukh Swami Maharaj's 92nd birthday celebrations December 20.
Temple authorities also claimed it is the first earthquake-proof temple in the world; the upper structure of the complex is protected from earthquake damage by separating it from the base with a series of 40 base isolator units. It uses a solar power system. The temple complex reportedly cost $15 million, including the land. It could have cost nearly double, but for hours of volunteer work and fees of experts, temple authorities say.
'If one word could sum up the construction of this mandir, it would be sacrifice,' Rakesh Patel, the director of construction, was quoted as saying. 'It was, indeed, the dedication, service, effort and sacrifice of hundreds of volunteers from doctors to lawyers to engineers to architects who completed this mandir. Whether it was raining or sweltering outside, volunteers did everything from heavy duty labor to planning and execution of the smallest thing for making this mandir.'