Hidden Hindu Temple in…Bartlett, Illinois?
I decided it was time to go somewhere. I haven’t traveled in a few months and I’ve gone into a slump. Sure, it may just have been 3 months, but to me it feels like a lifetime! In the past couple of months things have definitely changed at work. So what is my biggest stress relief? Travel. So what do I do when I have absolutely zero vacation time? (Thanks to traveling like a maniac this past year.) Find an adventure.
I was getting restless, and I was starting to hate my life– I mean, I went from traveling every other weekend, to traveling once every few months, to NOTHING AT ALL. So I was going to change that. I decided to look and find something different around this side of the world. So I decided to look through my handy dandy Atlas Obscura. I have used this when I travel quite a bit, and I really used it when I was in Munich, so I thought, maybe there’s something cool around where I live.
Let’s just say, there wasn’t anything too exciting in Wisconsin. So I just kept scrolling. And then I saw a picture of this beautiful Temple. It was outrageous. I was slightly skeptical, so I google-d it, and it was, in fact, an actual Hindu Temple, in the middle of farmland in Bartlett, Illinois.
I decided that the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir had to be my new adventure. BAPS is a Hindu Spiritual and Humanitarian Organization. Founded on the pillars of practical spirituality, the BAPS (Bochasanwasi Shri Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha is a socio-spiritual Hindu organization with its roots in the Vedas) reaches out far and wide to address the spiritual, moral and social challenges and issues we face in our world. Its strength lies in the purity of its nature and purpose (according to their website). The Mandir–a word in Sanskrit that means the dwelling place for the Deities–was built in 16 months by over 1,700 devoted volunteers and was opened in August 2004. Turkish Limestone and Carrara marble from Italy were brought to the United States to build and withstand time. It is named after Swaminarayan, a Yogi from the 1800s, whose life and teachings brought a revival of Hindu practices. His followers believe he is the manifestation of God.
There are 10 major centers of the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan. Atlanta, Chicago. Houston, Nairobi, Mumbai, London, Los Angeles, Sydney, Toronto, and Robbinsville (New Jersey). Hopefully, I may have a chance to see them all.
When I turned into the entrance (quickly, because some of these turns on my route, really didn’t give you any notice. My jaw seriously dropped. I wanted to take a picture right there but there was another car behind me.
I was completely in awe. I decided to just drive around this beauty. There was 30 minute parking in the front, and I knew I was definitely going to be there longer than that. So I found additional parking on the side (there was an incredible amount of parking! WIN!) It was not crowded what so ever. I barely saw people around the property, but there were quite a few cars so I knew there had to be people around. The most I saw people was at the Arti Prayer, and I was trying to figure out, where they came from.
As I parked I wrapped my shoulders with a scarf/shawl. It is a Holy Place, there is always a dress code for entering Holy Places (but if you didn’t have one yourself, there were some wraps handy on the inside. I walked around the outside just admiring all the details that were carved into the temple and the entrance. And the elephants. My goodness. I fell in love with the elephants. They looked incredibly realistic. They were just beautiful!
I followed the signs that said to go into the visitor center (the wooden Haveli). Now the inside of the Haveli was also incredible, especially since the wooden building didn’t look to stunning on the outside. There were beautiful carvings on the pillars and on the doors (see in slideshow below). Inside, there was this fairy tale chandelier that was hanging in the middle, with carved stone peacocks, and an incredible floor. Unfortunately, I was not able to take photographs on the inside–no matter how much I wanted to. Actually I took my phone out for two seconds because it kept going off, and a man thought I was going to take pictures.
Click here to see the inside of the Mandir on their website.
As I was walking to get another view of the beautiful decorative Haveli, a man stopped me and said “Take off your shoes!” Thinking I was being scolded (because apparently I had a child reaction of doing what I was told, immediately), I took off my shoes, the man took me to a shelf where I could store them, and said, “the blessing is about to begin, go, go!” Thankfully, someone was going that way, so I decided to follow them. We went from the Haveli into the Mandir. Like some places of worship, the men and women were separated. Men in the front, women behind, sitting cross-legged on the ground, as the Pujari (that may or may not be the official title of this Holy Man performing the Blessing/ Arti ) chanted and lit the candle.
The candle was set down as people waved their hands over it and at their face and heads. Some gave money on the “plate”. The purpose of performing arti is the waving of lighted wicks before the deities in a spirit of humility and gratitude, wherein faithful followers become immersed in God’s divine form. It also symbolised the five elements: space (akash), Wind (vayu), Fire (agni), Water (jal), Earth (prithvi). It was beautiful to watch.
I felt like a fool.
I didn’t know too much of what was going on, so I watched the Hindu women and prayed that I would just be skipped over. But I wasn’t, so I prayed that I didn’t look foolish. But I also felt like a fraud. However, it was really nice to feel included in the prayer ceremony.
As I listened to the Pujari chant (in Hindi), the interior of the Mandir was breathtaking. The same gorgeous details were on the pillars in the building, on the floor, the windows, and the doors (which you can see from the link I posted above). It was a very short ceremony. Once it was over, we were able to get up, and we went over to the deities. People prayed–engaged in Darshan (join their palms and bow their heads as an expression of their reverence and humility before the Deities or pranam), I bowed my head–as a Catholic, I wasn’t exactly sure what to do near the altars of other Religions, so I thought I would do what I do to mine and bow slightly. The crazy thing was I felt more like a tourist here in the United States, more than when I travel abroad.
As I posted the pictures from my day. No one knew where I was. Was I in Thailand? Was I in India? I wish I was. I even slightly felt like I was not in the United States (which I really was going for). But I was just at a beautiful “hidden” Hindu Temple in Bartlett, Illinois.