“Mandir – A Place of Paramount Peace”


BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, Robbinsville, N.J.

You don’t expect to find one of the nation’s most astonishingly beautiful spiritual centers in tiny Robbinsville, New Jersey. However, on 247 acres a few miles from my home, a major center for Hindu religion, study, and celebration is quietly growing up. Only two parts of this multi-building complex are complete, and construction continues on the others—construction reportedly involving the largest building crane in North America.

This past week, with a group of friends I visited this complex, establish for the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan sect of Hinduism. Other major North America BAPS Swaminarayan centers are in Atlanta, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles and Toronto. Bhagwan Swaminarayan, who died in 1830, worked to assure the education of women and aid the poor. (Mahatma Gandhi criticized some of his teachings for doctrinal reasons I am not qualified to explain.) Differences of opinion about succession after Swaminarayan’s death led to several divisions among his followers, with BAPS one of those.

One of the first buildings to be completed was the Mandir, and I suspect I will never forget the profound awe this structure inspires (video tour here). The word Mandir means “a place where the mind becomes still and experiences inner peace.” It is a space for worship, constructed according to certain ancient rules and specifications, the Vastu Shastra. Much of this Mandir’s iconography is intended to convey a strong spirit of welcome and recognition of the divine spark within each person (the meaning of the word namaste).

Unusually, the Robbinsville Mandir has two equally sized domes—most have just one principal one—each thirty or thirty-five feet in diameter. Under these domes are floors of vari-colored stone beautifully inlaid in geometric patterns incorporating peacocks and elephants. The many carvings of the pillars, ceiling, and walls of course have religious significance, and it contains shrines to significant Hindu deities. If I understood the guide correctly, these deities’ garments are changed throughout the day to accord with various ceremonies.

Blocks of Italian marble—11.5 tons in all—traveled to India for initial carving, then to tiny Robbinsville for final carving and polishing by artisans and volunteers. Outside the Mandir proper, the builders have created a large box, made of more durable materials (Bulgarian limestone), to protect the sacred space within—making it a building within a building. The artistic photo at top doesn’t show this outer “box,” which also is decorated with elaborate carvings, including 236 stone peacocks on the entrance gate.

The mesmerizing video is great, but cannot convey how overwhelming it is to be inside! If Robbinsville is not on your travel itinerary, consider visiting one of the other major sites, each of which I suspect is spectacular in its own way. (Robbinsville is about 60 miles from New York and 45 miles from Philadelphia.) Visitors are encouraged, and check the website for visiting hours. At the bottom of the home page for the BAPS organization are links to its major centers around the world.



What Color Is It?

color, green

Emerald, Pantone’s 2013 “color of the year” (ijokhio, flickr.com, CC license)

The role of color in the creative process is one of those backgroundy things that no one really thinks about, and writers, filmmakers, artists, and fashionistas either get so right that the decisions involved seem invisible or perhaps intuitive, or so distractingly wrong that we forget that, somewhere along the line, a choice was involved.

Smart use of color hasn’t escaped web designers, either (some, of course, are beyond redemption; I’m thinking of those black backgrounds with tiny red and yellow type that mystery sites seem to favor). Most interested in color are designers of commercial sites that want you to “convert,” not in the religious, but in the wallet-opening sense. Their advisors cite data suggesting color is “85% of the reason you purchased a specific product.” And isn’t that just about the first question you ask when a friend buys a new car?

So, you might want to pay attention to these designers’ approach. Though brown is great in some contexts, research says women like blue, purple, and green (yes!) and not gray, brown and orange. Men like blue, green, and black, but not brown, orange, or purple. No red for anybody.

People designing brochures and adverts and a new color scheme for the living room might find some new thoughts in this infographic on color theory from designmantic. It includes the basic “meanings” attributed to each color and how colors can be combined successfully, for those throw pillows and whatnot.

Next time you look at a web page you particularly like, take a sec to see whether it’s because the color is just that exactly right shade of trustworthy blue. Thank you, Facebook.

P.S. Pantone’s “color of the year” for 2015 is Marsala, which the color company calls an earthy wine red that “enriches our minds, bodies and souls.” Looks like brown to me.

color, brown

(Frank Daugaard, flickr.com, CC license)