Miracle Set in Stone

Southern California’s Largest Hindu Temple Found in the Outskirts of Chino Hills

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Urvashi Amin, volunteer, stood outside of BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, a Hindu temple in Chino Hills, CA on April 7. Photo credit: Lauren Berny/ SAC.Media.

The beauty of the temple draws you in; its height and pink hand carved Indian sandstone and water fountain that shoots up water in a dance-like motion is almost overwhelming. There are men with white robes and women in all different shades of vibrant colors. When they pass each other, they bow to the knees and greet each other in smiles. The peaceful atmosphere is unmistakable within the tight-knit community that made this all happen.

One would never guess that this can be found on the outskirts of Chino Hills.

BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir is a traditional Hindu temple located just off the 71 freeway. It is one of the largest Hindu houses of worship in Southern California and one of the only five traditional temples in North America. The lights all around the temple are solar efficient, and it is also the first earthquake proof temple in the world.

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BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, a Hindu temple in Chino Hills, CA. Photo credit: Lauren Berny/ SAC.Media.

When the elevator doors open to the inside of the temple, it is all white hand carved marble. The carvings are just as intrequette as the outside, occasionally you see with small figurines with a name attached to the bottom of past dedicated Hindu followers. There is a soft calming music in the background as you walk around the temple. There are several shrines scattered all around, each wearing beautiful robes.

The temple, however, is a relatively new addition to Southern California. Before there was ever a temple, the 200 families of Bochasanwasi Akshar Purushottam Sanstha BAPS organization started out in a hall based in Whittier. The outset of the temple began in 1996 with a blessing from spiritual leader Pramukh Swami Maharaj. A group of volunteers looked at over 100 locations for a new temple before Pramukh Swami Maharaj decided on Chino Hills. “When our spiritual guru [arrived] they [the volunteers] had taken him to the different lands that we had chosen. In this one in particular, he took [his] time, saw the land. Then he told us, ‘Hey, let’s make an effort at attaining this parcel here, so we can build a template here,’” Kal Mistry, 50, volunteer, explained.

The process of getting the temple started went somewhat smoothly, with getting permission from the Chino Hills City Council on moving forward with building in 2003. However, there was some dispute on the height of the temple in 2007 that was then turned over to allow the temple to be 78 feet high.

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Bottom of the stairs of BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir on April 7. Photo credit: Lauren Berny/ SAC.Media

Construction finished in 2012 and BAPS Mandir officially opened in December of that year. Mistry recalls the day of the opening ceremony. It was a perfect day, with the sunny weather and every family, every volunteer who helped make the temple possible volunteered hundreds of hours of hard work, dedication, and time to make the traditional Hindu temple what it is today. “It’s almost like a miracle of God… Everything was perfect that day,” Mistry said as he recalled back to the day the temple was open.

Sabitri Zala and Priya Patel, volunteers, also recall the significance of that day. “This project is what brings us all together and so it was like a really, really rewarding moment because it’s… like reaching it to fruition,” Zala said.

Hindu culture is a vibrant mix of art, music, dance, and cuisine, and BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir aims to provide the connection through its traditional environment. Temples serve as a link between Hindus and their deities, and the importance of a traditional temple is not overlooked. “I feel like in awe. Every time I’m here it’s like I can’t believe we have a traditional Hindu [Mandir] in my hometown, you know?” Zala said.

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BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir has traditional pink hand carvings all along the outside of the temple. Photo credit: Lauren Berny/ SAC.Media

The peaceful ambiance of the temple is also an important aspect of Hinduism. “It’s a constant. When you walk into the temple, the peace that we feel… just kind of hits the reset button, you know, with everything else going on in life. It reminds us… who we are,” Patel said.

Zala agreed that this is the case. “It really helps for me to silence the noise to like really focus on what’s important and basically allow my spirituality to permeate all aspects of my life.”

Volunteers and visitors alike visit from all over the L.A. basin. As it is open to all faiths, visiting is not limited to religious purposes. “We don’t have too many places like that here in Southern California where we can share the heritage of our faith, right. So I think this is one of the biggest impacts of a Mandir can make is that… it’s an educational experience […] for the community to get to learn more about Hinduism in general and its origins and its practices and traditions and so forth,” Patel said. Mistry suggested that the best day to go is on Sunday. Reservations for tours of the campus are available online.