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November 12, 1999
Plans For Toronto Swami Narayan Temple Announced
A P Kamath
"Your new mandir is going to be out of this world,'' Toronto Mayor Mel Lastman announced.
He was addressing over 3,000 people who had gathered for Diwali celebrations at the Swami Narayan mandir last week in Toronto.
Earlier, the temple authorities had announced the city has approved the plans for a $ 10 million mandir, a cultural center and restaurant complex adjacent to the existing facility in Etobicoke, a suburb of Toronto.
Lastman said he was "astounded" after viewing the temple model, which has five huge pinnacles, 10 domes and 108 stone pillars.
"I've never seen anything so beautiful. It is going to be something the young people are going to really enjoy.''
"This will be the biggest mandir in Canada," said Narendra Sachdev, one of the main movers behind the project, adding that it will be patterned after the fabled Swami Narayan mandir in Neasden, near London. There are about 400 temples and 5,500 cultural centers in Europe, India, Australia, Southeast Asia and North America run by the revivalist Shree Akshar Purushottam Swami Narayan Sanstha.
The complex, for which the groundbreaking ceremony will take place in July next year on Gurupurnima day, will be ready by the end of 2002 and will hold about 3,000 people. Prakash Swami Maharaj, supreme leader of the organization, is expected to attend the groundbreaking ceremony.
The current temple is situated in an industrial building. The new temple, which is being built on a 9.2-hectare site near by will be a thorough traditional mandir, Sachdev said.
Over the decade, Swami Narayanis have emerged as the most enthusiastic of temple-builders across America, putting up mandirs in over a dozen cities. Work has started on a sprawling temple on the outskirts of Chicago. Swami Narayanis have raised an estimated $ 70 million for their temples and cultural centers in America in the past decade.
The Neasden mandir has drawn top British politicians and Princess Diana and her estranged husband, Prince Charles. Former American president Jimmy Carter visited the temple recently. In America, mainstream politicians and community leaders have also been visiting the Swami Narayan temples. The Reverend Jesse Jackson visited the Swami Narayan temple in Flushing, New York about two years ago.
In contrast to the ugly controversy that had erupted 15 years ago when the Swami Narayanis announced a $ 100 million temple, cultural center and school complex in Newtown, New Jersey, the other temple projects have attracted no negative attention.
In Newtown, the Swami Narayanis were drubbed as cultists, with some critics comparing them to the Rajneeshis who were attracting attention then with their advocacy of free sex and communal living in their Oregon ranch.
The Swami Narayanis abandoned the project but contacted an American public relations firm to put together literature about the movement. They also brought their movement to the attention of an American professor, Raymond Brady Williams, who would explain the origin and growth of Swami Narayanis in his book, Religions of Immigrants from India and Pakistan: New Threads in the American Tapestry, published by Cambridge University Press in 1988.
The Swami Narayanis also decided that instead of concentrating on one huge temple complex, they would build medium-sized temples in many states.
"A lot of people have come to know what Hinduism is about since then," Sachdev says. "Besides, people in the mainstream are also realizing that our guru does not preach spirituality alone.
"There is a lot of emphasis on community service and family values," he says. "Others are seeing clearly that we are good citizens."
Swami Narayanis organized walkathons in a dozen cities last month to assert the importance of family values and discipline. They have also started holding free one-day medical camps in association with local hospitals in several cities. Many Indian doctors and their American colleagues offered free services this year in a number of cities.
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