One of our favorite “off the beaten path” places to visit in Atlanta is BAPS Atlanta Hindu Mandir – officially, BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir.
Nestled across from a strip mall in Lilburn, just 20 minutes outside the city, BAPS Atlanta seems quite out-of-place – a beautiful white Hindu place of worship across from a Subway and Publix grocery store.
But don’t let the drive to the mandir discourage you. It’s well worth the time it takes to get there from downtown.
The Atlanta mandir, one of the largest in the United States, was completed in 2007. Volunteers carved the intricate marble and limestone in India and brought to Atlanta in about 35,000 pieces.
They labelled each piece with a code and assembled like a 3D jigsaw puzzle. From inception to completion, the project took only 17 months.
There’s not a single nail or bolt in the building (with the exception of those used for electricity and wiring, of course). The mandir was designed and assembled using instructions that are hundreds of years old.
The BAPS Atlanta mandir is important to us, not only because it’s an artistic masterpiece, but because Halef’s old company worked on the landscape architecture for the project.
Arriving at BAPS Atlanta Mandir – the Outside
When you first arrive at the mandir, you’ll give your name to the gate attendant and park in the lot, which always has plenty of spaces.
You can walk around the mandir and take as many photos as you like.
Photography at BAPS Atlanta is a bit tricky. You can only take photos outside. And, you can only take them up to a certain point. Once you get to the top of the stairs, you may no longer take photos.
Also, no smoking on the premises. BAPS devotees follow many rules in their everyday lives. They are vegan, they don’t eat things like garlic or onions – basically, they don’t put bad things in their bodies.
This includes cigarette smoke. So put that cigarette out before you get to the gate.
As you walk around the outside of this Hindu temple of Atlanta, the intricacy of the carvings on the the Turkish limestone completely overwhelms your senses.
The workers spared no detail. The amount of work put into the BAPS Atlanta mandir over just a few months was astonishing. I can only imagine the amount of absolute love that must go into designing and building a place like this.
You have to see it to believe it. You’ll feel like you’ve immersed yourself, at least a little bit anyway, into Hindu culture.
But outside is only the beginning. It’s when you walk inside that you finally understand what attracts visitors to this special place. The design of BAPS Atlanta is incredible.
Sadly, you cannot take photos inside, as it is considered disrespectful. BAPS Atlanta gave me permission to share a few photos below.
BAPS Atlanta Mandir Rules
Because it is a place of worship and peace, the same rules apply in the BAPS Atlanta mandir as would apply to any house of worship. Be respectful and quiet when inside. You should dress conservatively.
Clothing at BAPS Atlanta
If you wear shorts to the mandir, you should cover your legs in a sarong. If you don’t have one, don’t worry. They provide them. The same thing goes for women as for men.
You’ll also need to remove your shoes.
If you’re in a wheelchair or have other mobility issues, no problem. There is an elevator for you to use to get to the upper floor.
Seating for the Arti ceremony
The Arti ceremony is performed at 11:15 AM. It’s less than 10 minutes long, and we highly recommend you take part. There are separate seating arrangements for men and women.
Basically, everyone sits on the floor and sings (if you know the words) and claps (even if you don’t!)
Donations to BAPS Atlanta
Near the end of the service, attendants pass around a collection tray. You can add money to the basket if you wish, but you are not required to do so. There will also be a candle on the tray.
Use your hands to motion the glow of the fire over your face.
Just do what others do!
Artwork at Atlanta BAPS Mandir
Though I am not a religious person, I consider BAPS Atlanta to be a piece of art. When you enter the building, you may be a little taken aback by the detail.
It almost seems impossible for anyone to carve marble so delicately without breaking it – especially considering it had such a long journey to its destination.
I often think to myself that I would have to start over so many times.
In 17 months, I doubt I would get much work done.
Each column tells a different story. You may notice that some of the columns encased by plexiglass.
This is simply because they are the most important and most delicate of the carvings.
It’s really quite easy to get lost in wonder just looking at the marble columns, but don’t forget to look up!
Each section of the mandir has a different chandelier-like ceiling, and all of them are completely different and tell different stories.
This one, in the center of the mandir, is the keystone. And it is huge.
BAPS Atlanta Murtis
Below are three of the many Murtis you will see at the Atlanta mandir. Chances are, they won’t look the same when you see them. They care for each Murti at the mandir, including the Ganesh temple, as though it is alive.
They wash, feed, and clothe it. When you visit, you may notice that each murti is wearing clothing different than the clothing you see here.
For example, when I wrote this, it was fairly cold in Atlanta, so the murtis wore winter clothing.
For special occasions, they’ll be completely different. If you go one week, they’ll likely be wearing something completely different than the last time you were there.
Is BAPS Atlanta worth the drive?
The BAPS mandir in Atlanta is the center of religious and social life for BAPS devotees in Atlanta. If your travel plans include Atlanta, I highly recommend visiting.
I consider it one of the top things to do in Atlanta that almost no one knows about.
If you guests visiting, this is a unique place to visit in Atlanta – a great way to spend the first part of your day. Although I wouldn’t consider it a touristy place, it’s something different than your run of the mill tourist traps.
We have taken dozens of guests and each of them has enjoyed the visit immensely. They even have audio tours available in many languages for just a $5 rental fee.
Finally, after you have toured the BAPS Sri Swaminarayan mandir, stop by the gift shop. They have an excellent selection of tasty vegetarian and vegan food and snacks.
They also have some really good books – all very reasonably priced. Want to eat lunch? There is a BAPS restaurant in a building just off site called BAPS Shayona Café.
We recently ate food from the cafe during the Diwali celebrations there.
It is delicious!
Check out our video below, “like” it, and consider subscribing to our channel on YouTube.
In the area: If you want to try some delicious food, there are two great Indonesian restaurants in the area.
Fireworks at BAPS Hindu Mandir
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Michael is originally from Canada but now resides in Atlanta, GA with his husband, Halef, who also writes here. He is a Couchsurfing expert. Michael has traveled to over 50 countries learning how to experience more for less as he travels.