BAPS Swaminarayan Akshardham/Inspirations Blog/Time Travel Really Does Exist!

Time Travel Really Does Exist!

Dhira Patel
Dhira Patel

Detroit, Michigan • Neuropsychology Postdoctoral Fellow

BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, Robbinsville, NJ

BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, Robbinsville, NJ

Timeless. It’s a term we use to often give our stamp of approval to something that’s been created. Whether it’s an article of clothing or a work of art, we aim to create a product that will have a lasting impact on generations to come. When we start to examine traditions and rituals that have been passed down for centuries, one of the first examples that comes to mind is religion. Hinduism is believed to be one of the oldest religions in the entire world. But how does an ancient religion continue to thrive so consistently and expansively for over thousands of years? What keeps millions of people from all different backgrounds engaged and connected to this way of life? How has it become timeless? To try and answer this question, I invite you to travel back in time with me, to the years 600 CE to 1,000 CE, and visit a place called the Ellora caves.

Ellora caves is a site in Maharashtra, India where over 100 caves have been carved as ancient temples. For four hundred years, a multitude of Hindu, Jain, and Buddhist deities and monuments sprung from the basalt cliffs of the Charanandri Hills to serve as vessels for countless of devotees’ worship and offerings. As an Art History major, I have always had an appreciation for the etymology of the art and architecture I view around me. I take notice of the nods to ancient Roman architecture in the neoclassical buildings in our nation’s capital. I wonder about Anish Kapoor’s inspiration for Chicago’s all too famous Cloud Gate.

So, in 2017, when I found myself standing in the nearly perfectly preserved ruins of the Ellora caves, I was transported back over 1,000 years, knowing that for one of the first times, I was in a place from which countless places of worship have drawn inspiration. As I spent the better half of the day wandering through the select caves of Hindu monuments, I saw the remnants of the sculptures of deities Shiva, Parvati, Ganga, and many others echo what was once a likely vivid life-like depiction, surrounded by countless detailed carvings of flowers, animals, and groupings of unidentified individuals. I imagined how devotees must have gazed in awe during their daily prayers as their offering of fire illuminated the intricate carvings that artists probably spent pain-staking hours to create. I recognized that, amidst miles of cliffs in this foreign land, there was still something that felt oddly familiar.

Cave 14, Mahishasuramaridmi (

Cave 16, Kailasha Temple (

The subsequent millennium following the construction of the Ellora caves manifested many Hindu mandirs. Despite the numerous styles stemming from the geographical regions of the country, there were a few key elements that remained consistent, such as the ancient stone carving techniques originally documented in Hindu shastras, a dedicated central shrine to the deities, an ode to nature and devotion through intricately carved motifs, and a grandeur presentation of shikars, or domes, that would put any modern sky scraper to shame. Despite the advances of modern technology, Hindu mandirs, grounded in millennia of Vedic teachings symbolize a universal purpose for paramount peace.

Even a mandir as new as the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Robbinsville, New Jersey, which has stood erect for less than 10 years, encapsulates thousands of years of timeless traditions. Its white Carrara marble is the canvas upon which elephants line the perimeter, signifying a strong foundation. Symmetrical floral patterns adorn the sides of the mandir’s ceilings. Multiple pillars are dedicated to Hinduism’s most significant devotees. Deities encircle the diameter of the shikar, waiting to welcome whoever enters. There are many unique details that make this mandir stand out on its own, yet when I stand inside, I see myself standing in the epitome of Hinduism, the footprint of God. It is the same feeling I have felt when standing in any modern shikarbaddh mandirs across the world. But as I visit each of these mandirs to do darshan (viewing of deities with devotion) and study the innumerable sculptures and carvings, it’s one of the only times I do not wonder about the etymology behind these works of art. With each step I take, I find myself transported across the world and throughout the last two millennia. As I take in the majesty of this mandir, my mind flashes with countless images of other sculptures and motifs I have seen at other Hindu mandirs, not exactly the same, yet very similar to one another.

The art and architecture of these mandirs, inspired by Hinduism, serve as a symbolic expression of faith, devotion, and philosophy. It is the edifices themselves that have continued to propel this ancient religion into the modern 21st century. They have remained a resounding constant for all those following this spiritual path by creating opportunities for people to connect to God. Although a mandir serves as a place of worship and gathering amongst fellow devotees, its unique aesthetic has grown to capture an even broader audience. As Hinduism continues to spread away from its cultural epicenter of India, it will thrive because of what mandirs have to offer. Even for those who may not identify with Hinduism, many still demonstrate an appreciation for the serenity and divine beauty mandirs evoke. And for those who do, this beauty simply serves to catalyze the connection they feel between with God. When I see the sacred images of God and deities in the shrines before me, I am humbled that I am but one mere speck in the infinite universe. This mandir is simply one of countless mandirs that have been built across time, precipitated solely by their grace. I am one of the countless individuals, across generations, who have felt the inspiration flowing from the mandir. How can I not find myself even more drawn towards God?

A mandir has the power to make anyone feel like they are at the center of peace, sparking moments of authentic inward reflections and connections with what truly matters in life. To me, that is what makes Hinduism timeless.