Temple Tour

After visiting Italy in the fall, Peter and I thought we had seen enough places of worship. But recently a reader wrote to suggest new sites to visit in and around Toronto – in the form of temples!

Being adventurous, and a little bored with January, we drove north on highway 427 last Friday to see the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir. You may have seen this building too, on the east side of the highway, and wondered what it was. It’s an imposing marble structure unlike any other I know of in the city. Bigger than Ripley’s Aquarium, more embellished than Casa Loma, more historic than Old City Hall, it is full of mystery and intrigue.

This Hindu temple is a replica of temples in India. It was crafted from pieces of marble and teak, all carved by hand in India. The pieces came on cargo ships in 2005 and were assembled here, on a recently-acquired piece of land, by over 400 volunteers. The result is stunning from a distance. We head inside to take a closer look. At the entrance we remove our shoes as directed by signs. We are also instructed to cover our knees and shoulders, but this is not an issue on a cold January day.

Inside and up close we can access the Haveli, or indoor courtyard, where a short film provides more detail about the temple. But our eyes are distracted by the intricate depiction of poets, musicians elephants, peacocks, and flowers, all hand-carved in beautiful Burmese teak. This is the area where guests gather for activities and festivals. Then we are invited by the very polite staff to follow the hallway to the Mandir – the place of worship. We go by ourselves, unaccompanied by anybody.

Carved doors of the entrance

The Mandir on the upper level of this temple is beyond description. It is crafted entirely in white marble, in very intricate and delicate designs and figures, almost like those paper snowflakes we used to make in kindergarten. As a snowflake, this one would get an A plus. The space is further enhanced by lighting, drifting around the colour wheel in shades of pinks, oranges, greens and blues. Statues of Swamis, dressed in gold and sitting yoga-style in alcoves, surround the centre. Visitors must remain quiet at all times, engaging in meditation or silent prayer. As for Peter and me, we’re just staring in awe at this jaw-dropping wonder of architectural design.

The last place to visit in the building is the Heritage Museum, with access for a $5 fee. (This is the first and only time we’re asked for money during our tour). This well-organized and informative exhibit tells us all we can possibly absorb about the history and culture of India. After all we have heard about people washing clothes and bathing in sewage-infested creeks of Delhi, our perception is vastly changed by this display. There are panels and panels of information about India’s focus on architecture, environmental awareness, science and technology, mathematics, medicine and philosophy. We walk away, feeling that maybe India should be on our travel list after all.

On our way out, we pass the gift shop selling souvenirs, books and Indian food. We are almost tempted but it is, surprisingly, closed! We do notice a staff person sitting in front of a bank of monitors showing him every corner of the building. We realize that more than the Hindu gods have been watching us on our tour.


PS Photos of the inside were not allowed. You will have to go and see for yourself. The building was designed to last over 1,000 years, so you have plenty of time.

3 thoughts on “Temple Tour

  1. Wow what an interesting post. I have often wondered about this temple as we’ve passed by. I wouldn’t rush to put India on your travel list. We were there in our youth and although it may have some cool architecture it is not a pleasant place to visit. We were living on $5 a day for both of us so it might be much nicer if you stay at the Hilton.


  2. I’m so glad you went to see the temple. Believe it or not, I went to see it after we had left Canada and came back for a visit.


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