Last Sunday in Stafford (Houston), Texas, we visited the BAPS Swaminarayan Mandir. This is the same temple of which we attended the inauguration ceremonies in 2004. It was exciting to be back after almost seven years at this ornately carved marble and sandstone temple in exquisite Gujarati style. We were hosted by Pujya Kaivalyamurti Swami, one of the BAPS swamis who was born in the United States and who currently staffs the Houston mandir full-time along with three or four other swamis.
The main event, of course, was a talk by Bodhinatha for a group of about 700 devotees who had gathered for their usual Sunday satsang. Now you can begin to get an idea of the size of the Hindu community in Houston with several groups having weekly satsangs of such size!
The BAPS Swaminarayan Mandir in Houston is one of several such temples that have been erected around North America in a massive temple-building spree inspired by Pramukh Swami Maharaj, the current head of BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha, whom we had the privilege of meeting with at length during the 2004 festivities here. Bodhinatha and Senthilnathaswami were brought to worship first at the Uma-Maheshvara-Ganapati shrine. "But, a Siva shrine at a Vaishnava temple?" you ask. Yes. In Shikshapatri, an important scripture in the Swaminarayan sect, Bhagwan Swaminarayan says in verse 47, "Narayan and Shiv are one according to the Vedas, which proclaim both as the form of Brahman." Later in Shikshapatri, Bhagwan Swaminarayan also declares that all his followers shall celebrate Mahasivaratri among their festivals and worship Siva by performing Lingam abhishekam that night and on other days auspicious to Siva. The Shikshapatri, a guidebook for Swaminarayan devotees written at the beginning of the 19th century, is similar in many ways to our own Nandinatha Sutras. In fact, when Gurudeva revised the Nandinatha Sutras he included new verses that were adapted from verses he found and liked in Shikshapatri.
Here Bodhinatha and Senthilnathaswami worship the main Deities of this temple, Bhagwan Purushottam Swaminarayan (1781-1830), the founder of the Swaminarayan parampara, and his successor, Shri Aksharbrahma Gunatitanand Swami (1785-1867). This lineage carries forward with unbroken continuity, today with 862 sadhus and over a million devotees worldwide.
A beautiful feature of this temple is a cave shrine below the main steps in which devotees can make offerings and perform abhishekam to a panchaloka murti of Nilkanth, a childhood form of Bhagwan Swaminarayan. We thank our brother swamis at BAPS for hosting us for such a wonderful visit to the Houston mandir. Jai Swaminarayan. Aum Namah Sivaya.