Located in the suburban maze of one of the country’s largest cities is a unique Hindu structure called BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir Houston. Made completely of white marble and sandstone, it has a very different feel from the rest of this large Texas city. To get to know more about this fascinating place of worship, we took a Saturday afternoon and paid this unique temple a visit. Here’s what we learned.
BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir: An Overview
The very first center of its kind in North America, the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir is a Hindu place of worship located on the outskirts of Houston, Texas. Constructed in 2004, it is made entirely of Turkish limestone and Italian marble, giving the entire structure a brilliant shade of white. Inside the complex, there are over 33,000 intricately hand-carved statues from India on display. Many members of Houston’s Hindu population come here to worship.
So…what exactly is a mandir?
A mandir is a Hindu place of worship, where Hindus in the community gather regularly to pray to certain deities. In many cultures, these also often serve as community gathering places for those who worship there. BAPS Shri Swaminarayan has a large gathering hall and an ornate mandir, along with a gift shop and a few administrative offices.
Here’s more on the history of the complex, from the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir website:
In the early 1970’s and 80’s a handful of Swaminarayan devotees in the Houston area began meeting at each other’s homes on a weekly basis to hold religious gatherings. As the number of devotees and the Asian Indian community in the surrounding area steadily increased, a special place of worship was needed, and with the help of devotees from around the southwestern states, a Hindu Mandir in 1988 was inaugurated on a five acre land adjacent to where the current traditional Mandir stands.
Etiquette and Dress Code
When visiting the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, be sure to wear clean, conservative clothing. Make sure your shoulders and knees are covered – no shorts, sleeveless shirts, or mini skirts are allowed. Before entering the Mandir building itself, you are required to remove your shoes and place them in the cubbies provided. Photography is permitted on the premises, but is prohibited inside the mandir.
Visiting the Complex
When driving in Stafford, TX, the Mandir seems to come out of nowhere. Situated in between vast highways, apartment complexes, and suburban housing, the grounds are a serene break from the busy city and highways that surround it. After parking our car, we took some time to walk around the grounds. Filled with fountains and beautifully landscaped green spaces, it offered a peaceful respite.
The interior of the mandir was absolutely beautiful. Although photography was not permitted, I’ll attempt to describe it to you here. Surrounded by floor to ceiling windows, the interior of the temple was completely made of white stone, laid out in a geometric fashion. Spread out along the walls were statues of various deities, with short descriptions of who they are. Alongside each of the large deities sat a donation box.
Towards the back of the temple, there was a room for ceremonies and certain rituals. While we were there, a ritual called abhishek was going on. We didn’t want to interrupt, so we didn’t go see it, but upon further research, it is a prayer ritual that involves pouring liquid libations as offerings to a particular deity.
Once we’d thoroughly explored the mandir (it was fairly small), we headed over to the gift shop. Much to my surprise, the gift shop was full of colorful Indian snacks. There were a few books on Hinduism and small items to bring home, but the majority of the shop was filled with candy, sauce mix, and a food stand. Yum!
When we left the complex, I felt like I’d learned a bit more about Hinduism than I had ever known before. It ignited a desire to learn even more about the history and culture of new religions and places. To me, the most surprising thing about the temple was how it felt like being transported into a different country, despite being in the middle of suburban Houston.
Address: 1150 Brand Ln, Stafford, TX 77477
Phone: (281) 765-2277
Public open hours: 9 am – 8:30 pm daily
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Featured image by Thomas Hawk (Flickr)