Six years after the Hindu organization BAPS built a temple on Deshon Drive in Melville, the street where the house of worship is located will be renamed in honor of the leader who was instrumental in the temple's establishment.
On Saturday, Huntington Town officials will rename the street as "HH Pramukh Swami Drive" to honor Pramukh Swami Maharaj, the fifth spiritual guru of the Bochasanwasi Shree Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha, or BAPS. The ceremony marks the 100th birth anniversary of the guru, who died in 2016.
"It's a great honor," said Girish Patel, a spokesman for BAPS and a worshipper at the temple. "He was the entire force in the creation of this temple."
In 2013, a complex three-way land deal was reached between the BAPS, the Town of Huntington and a local land owner that allowed construction of affordable senior housing, a park and the BAPS house of worship on two sites in Melville.
The group had purchased the 8.1-acre Meyers Farm property at Round Swamp Road and Old Country Road in 2003 with plans to erect a temple. But nearby residents objected and a resolution was sought by then-Town Supervisor Frank Petrone.
The town purchased the farm property for $1.3 million, with plans to build Sweet Hollow Park.
The town board then transferred 5 acres of development rights from the farm property to an 18-acre site on Deshon Drive. The board then changed the zoning on that parcel that allowed the construction of affordable senior housing on 13 acres. The remaining 5 acres were sold to BAPS.
"It took a long time to become a reality but it was worth it," Petrone said.
Patel said that when the guru was told that the community would prefer a park on the property the organization had purchased, his immediate reaction was to be a good neighbor.
Patel said the guru decided to swap the site for another.
Johanna S. Suchow, interim president of the Sweet Hollow Civic Association, which was instrumental in fostering the three-way-deal, said BAPS was committed to community participation.
"The Sweet Hollow community was very grateful for all of the cooperation and work that the BAPS did to build their temple," she said.
The park was built in 2017 and the senior housing in 2015. BAPS has 1,400 centers around the world.
In 2021, a lawsuit was filed against BAPS, alleging that a BAPS Hindu temple in Robbinsville, New Jersey, was built by workers from lower income communities in India who were forced to work for essentially dollars a day.
Patel said the Melville temple is not involved in the lawsuit, which remains in litigation.
"For each and every complaint that was filed, we've provided proof that was necessary to show that these issues are debatable," Patel said.
Town board member Sal Ferro, sponsor of the renaming resolution, said that while the allegations are "concerning," the Melville temple is not accused of any wrongdoing.
“It was the right thing to do and I was thrilled to be able to do it,” Ferro said.
Pramukh Swami Maharaj
- He was the fifth spiritual guru of the Bochasanwasi Shree Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha, or BAPS. It's a major branch of the Swaminarayan Sampradaya, a Hindu denomination.
- As president and spiritual leader, he helped the organization spread around the world.
- He died in 2016.