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Atlanta's Hindu community to have largest temple in US

Members of Atlanta's Hindu community will build the largest in U.S. temple.

The BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, a $19 million (14 million EUR) structure that will serve Hindus throughout the U.S. Southeast, is one of only three in the nation built using guidelines from scriptures that date back 5,000 years.

Adherents say the temple will offer a rare opportunity to worship in an environment almost identical to the ones experienced by their forefathers thousands of years ago. Until now, the congregation has been meeting in a converted roller rink.

"To me, it is just amazing - the possibility to leave my home and, in minutes, come to a traditional Hindu mandir," said Jigar Patel, one of more than 300 volunteers who have helped build the temple.

"Mandir" is a Sanskrit word for a spiritual place where the mind becomes still and the soul seeks the bliss of God.

The temples are built from marble, limestone and sandstone and are designed to last more than 1,000 years. Their stones interlock; no nails, screws or other metal that one day could corrode are used in construction.

For the Georgia structure, more than 34,000 stones - including more than 2,000 hand-carved figurines - were shipped from India. The heaviest weighed 8 tons (7.3 metric tons). Upon their arrival, volunteers spent 17 months fashioning the stone into a temple that regularly will host a congregation of about 500.

"It's an amazing jigsaw puzzle," Patel said.

The temple was built by members of BAPS, the Bochasanwasi Shri Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha.

BAPS, a fast growing segment of Hinduism, is a worldwide organization within the faith that builds temples, organizes charity and relief work and emphasizes the preservation of Indian culture.

Adherents say the location was chosen because of Atlanta's burgeoning Hindu population.

In 2005, Gwinnett County's population was about 69 percent white, 19 percent black, 16 percent Hispanic and 9 percent Asian, according to U.S. Census data.

The Census does not track religious affiliation.

Members of BAPS are devotees of Bhagwan Swaminarayan, a social reformer who was born in northern India in 1781 and is believed to have been God in human form. The group's current spiritual leader, Pramukh Swami Maharaj, is in Atlanta for the dedication of the new mandir.

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