BAPS Swaminarayan Akshardham/Inspirations Blog/Mandirs: A Beacon of Inspiration

Mandirs: A Beacon of Inspiration

Mahima Dave
Mahima Dave

Student in Public Health Chicago, IL

BAPS Mandir in Bartlett, IL

BAPS Mandir in Bartlett, IL

Regularly visiting my local mandir has been the one constant in my life in the years leading up to college. To this day, I have vivid memories of learning and performing traditional Indian dances at the mandir, a Hindu place of devotion and worship. I always looked forward to the rehearsals and celebrating Hindu festivals with the other dancers. Personally, dance has always allowed me to express gratitude for the gift of life. Through each expression and movement rooted in spirituality, I have the opportunity to offer devotion to God in a deep and meaningful way. The peace that I find upon physically seeing the mandir can be recreated when I dance with genuine intentions.

On August 12th, 2021, I visited the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Bartlett, Illinois, as I had done so many times before. However, this would be my last visit before moving down to Florida. I focused on the peaceful silence, the beauty of exquisite art, and the intricately carved white marble stone architecture enshrining the murtis (sacred images) of God. I spent time observing these living stones depicting wondrous geometric patterns, various celestial beings, and motifs of Hindu lore. I came upon carvings depicting traditional Indian music and dance forms — such as playing of the tambourine or classical dance stances.

Carving at the BAPS Mandir in Bartlett, Illinois Depicting a Traditional Indian Drum

Bharatanatyam performance at the BAPS Mandir in Boynton Beach, Florida

These art forms are a reflection of Indian culture, derived from the Sangeet and Natya shastras, ancient Vedic texts, and passed on from generation to generation. Each artist shares a common purpose of seeking spiritual progress through these art forms. These carvings illustrate that such art forms are devotional when offered to God with humility and pure intentions. They are a reminder that God accepts humble offerings of all types when performed with a selfless heart. This revelation renewed and recharged my perspective of the mandir. Although I was physically moving away from Bartlett and the convenience of driving to the mandir in three minutes, the values I learned from the mandir would remain forever! This new understanding provided me with a greater appreciation of the mandir and the inner courage to embrace this upcoming change.

Moving halfway across the country could have felt extremely isolating and challenging without the comforts of all that I held dear and familiar in Bartlett. However, throughout my time in college, I was able to routinely visit the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Boynton Beach, Florida. When I offered my prayers to the murtis there, I felt at home. I came to peace. Furthermore, by witnessing how other students remained level-headed through various challenges and regularly offered their devotion to God, be it through prayer or selfless service (seva), I felt a sense of community every time that I went to the mandir. We all shared a common goal of progressing spiritually and improving from within.

During my last few months in Florida, I performed seva by volunteering my time to help choreograph a Bharatanatyam piece, a form of classical Indian dance, for a cultural program at the mandir. The meaning of kirtan (a devotional musical composition) that we performed to, describes the true purpose of a mandir:

“A mandir is a place of eternal peace. A mandir is a place where darkness goes away, and individuals are enlightened with knowledge. With compassion, love, and unity, everyone finds a place to learn. One’s internal vices are destroyed. A mandir is a place to offer devotion to God.”

This dance performance was precious! Listening to and reflecting on the lyrics of the kirtan, choreographing the dance at mandir, and explaining the meaning of the kirtan to my fellow young dancers strengthened my belief of mandirs inspiring personal and spiritual growth.

On May 5th, 2023, I packed my car to return home to Bartlett, IL, after graduating from college in Davie, Florida. I have only one word to describe this moment: bittersweet. Growing up in the frigid Illinois winds, I had quickly fallen in love with the sunshine of Florida, its fresh fruit, and the countless occasions to fulfill my love of drinking bubble tea. I appreciated having opportunities to learn about public health from my professors, and their moral support and guidance which was instrumental in my college journey. A huge part of me didn’t want to move away from all that seemed to be a part of my most recent life experiences, but at the same time, I was looking forward to returning to the comfort of my home and family. Visiting the mandir in Bartlett would provide me with some normalcy, while I now navigate this new chapter of life.

Upon my first visit to the Bartlett mandir after returning home and observing the same carvings that had once inspired devotion in me, I walked in to offer my prayers to the murtis. I again became at ease with my thoughts. The silence within allowed me to recognize that spirituality will always be a constant in my life, no matter where I go or how my life changes!

The majestic center dome at BAPS Chicago Mandir.

Mandirs are a place where I find peace, fulfillment, and an opportunity to introspect. They are a source of vigor and inspiration, and a deep part of my identity. Seize the opportunity to be inspired and listen to your most authentic thoughts. These moments of self-discovery guide us to keep love, passion, and purpose at the forefront of all that that we do and achieve in life.