The first building constructed specifically as a Hindu temple on Long Island is set to open this weekend in Melville, culminating a decades-long effort and giving the Indian community a centrally located religious home for the faithful in Nassau and Suffolk counties.
The 49,000-square-foot temple, constructed by the BAPS organization on a five-acre plot on Deshon Drive, will be dedicated Sunday morning. An open house for the entire community is scheduled on Oct. 16.
The temple, featuring intricately carved Hindu idols made in India, caps a dream envisioned in the 1980s by Pramukh Swami Maharaj, the BAPS group’s longtime leader in India who died in August at 94.
The guru turned BAPS, which stands for Bochasanwasi Shri Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha, into one of the largest Hindu groups in the United States and the world. In 2007, he broke a Guinness World Record for the most temples consecrated by an individual — 713. The group now has 1,100 temples or centers.
The guru first told BAPS members on Long Island that a temple was needed here when he visited in 1987, because the one they opened in Flushing in 1974 was too far away, said Girish Patel, a pharmacist from Westbury who has spearheaded the project for years. In addition, many Hindus were moving from Queens to Nassau and Suffolk.
The effort was delayed by government bureaucracy and a search for the right site.
“I’m very satisfied that finally the swami’s vision is coming true,” Patel said, noting that it will be the first BAPS temple consecrated since the guru’s death.
“I think it is going to tremendously help our community — socially, spiritually and culturally — to have a place where they can bring their families, their children, and give them an attachment to our culture and tradition,” he said.
Long Island is home to at least a dozen Hindu temples, though all are located in buildings that were converted from their original use, such as a restaurant or YMCA. About 56,000 people of Indian descent live in Nassau and Suffolk counties, according to the 2010 census.
The new temple in Melville is a mix of the traditional and the modern. The outside features typical architecture from India, including domes topped by BAPS flags, meticulously carved columns and ornate doors. All were made in India and blessed by the guru before his death.
“If you are driving by and see it, it looks like a piece of India. You’re in India for a minute,” said Hitesh Patel, a BAPS member from Mineola.
Inside the temple, on gleaming new floors, are a large sanctuary where the idols will be kept, an auditorium that seats 600, two multipurpose rooms, an expansive kitchen and gym. There is energy-efficient lighting, classrooms with Smart Boards and Wi-Fi throughout the building, BAPS members said.
There also are living quarters for a priest who will spend much of his time caring for the idols, as well as rooms for visiting BAPS saints.
The temple’s sanctuary will be open during parts of the day for the faithful to pray. BAPS leaders said they plan to offer classes in Hinduism, Indian culture, languages and music, and even preparation for the SAT exam.
Girish Patel put the temple’s cost at about $6 million, including thousands of hours of volunteer labor by BAPS members with expertise in areas such as engineering.
BAPS has built the world’s largest Hindu temple, in New Delhi, as well as large and architecturally stunning houses of worship in Houston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Atlanta and Robbinsville, New Jersey.
Pramukh Swami Maharaj wanted the temple to be centrally located between Nassau and Suffolk and to have easy access to main roads, Patel said. The group looked at 60 properties before settling on the Melville site, near Route 110 and the Long Island Expressway.
“The location, the building — everything is perfect,” Patel said, adding, “It’s been a long, long wait.”
A number of popular Hindu gods, including Ganesh, Shiva, Krishna and Rama, will be represented in the sanctuary, in an effort to attract followers of sects in addition to BAPS members, said Samir Bhatt, an immigration lawyer from Hicksville.
That was a fundamental goal throughout Pramukh Swami Maharaj’s 45-year leadership of the sect, he said.
“What the temple is doing is bringing everybody together,” Bhatt said. “It’s what BAPS is known for.”