Why visit the Mandir? When my friend Margaret called me to ask if I wanted to go to the Dawali Festival I jumped at the idea. The BAPS Shri-Swaminarayan Mandir is by no means a Toronto landmark but has drawn many visitors from near and far. The temple is the first Canadian place of worship for Hindus. Dawali is the Hindu festival of light and it celebrates the victory of light over darkness that is good over evil.
Hinduism is attracting Western enthusiasts through related cultural practices such as yoga. Westerns, who are drawn by yoga, benefit from the emotional and physical healing. They are introduced to the Hindu philosophical system of artfully crafted messages tuned to contemporary interest, taught by yoga teachers.
I rushed to battle the cold and join my friend on the long ride north of the city. I felt a little out of place as we approached the grounds and everyone was draped in traditional clothes. Women were in colourful and embellished silk suris and men were moving about in white lungi.
The tension was soon made to vanish by encouraging hearty smiles. As we made our way to the temple, we were instructed to remove our shoes and lead through a long corridor. A stairway paved in marble lead us upstairs with the sound of our bare feet slapping on the floor. We began to move about the Hindu’s house of God where visitors alike circulated in the centre, all covered by imported marble from Carrara Italy and executed by experts in crafting.
A guide came to talk to us and explain and tell us a bit about the purpose and history of the Mandir. The temple is the first handcrafted place of worship for Hindus; it is a space and structure designed to bring human beings and gods together. Built in the Vedic tradition, it dates back many millennia. More than 95,000 cubic feet of hand carved marble from Italian limestone and sandstone have been assembled. 24,000 stones were assembled in 18 months and 1,500 special skilled craftsmen have carved, with devotion, the ceiling columns and all the elements to incorporate Hindu cosmology. 400 volunteers offering millions of hours of services and donations make it all possible without any financial aid from the government.
Most prominent themes in the temple include the proper goals or aim in life, namely Dharma (ethics , duties), Artha (prosperity/work), Kara (desire/passion), Moksha (liberation/freedom), Karma (action, intent and consequences), and Sam Sura (cycle and rebirth/yoga).
Hinduism has been called the oldest religion in the world. Some scholars refer to it as “Sunothora Dorma” or “the eternal law,” beyond human origins. Hinduism is regarded as a fusion of various cultures and traditions, with diverse roots and no founders. There are three daily rituals that take place during the day. Arti Is the most important ceremony of the Hindu faith. It is a form of prayer offered in greetings and thanksgiving to God, Abhishek is an ancient Vedic ritual where water is ceremoniously poured over the murti of God amidst the chanting of holy mantras. Then, the Thal is a ritual, an offering of food items to God deities.
The Museum is a journey of discovery. Exposed artifacts tell about India’s contribution to science. Spiritual exhibits of text remind us that Hinduism has been called the oldest religion in the world. India’s history is older than Greek and Roman history. Discoveries and famous names of the Western World like Pythagoras, Euclid, and Copernicus come much later than theirs in India.
Different historical events mark love, good deeds and loyalty. Mythical stories advocate vegetarianism and respect for all living things and symbolize the victory over darkness, good and evil knowledge over ignorance, and hope over despair.
Back in the corridor we pushed into the crowd. Always moving, we made our way into the food court. I guess at some point it was even some kind of lesson, a kind off model of eating habits, as only vegetarian food was allowed. We purchased our ticket for a meal and gathered, standing around circular tables, feeling all along this place, pure and incorruptible, commanding peace and order.