The Coastal Star

By C.B. Hanif

Jitu Patel was explaining that the rain sprinkles punctuating a sunny May afternoon in Boynton Beach were a part of a divine script:

“Every time we have an opening, rain always comes, to clean up the site, the soul, the mind and everything, to make it pure, nice and cool. It’s amazing. Every temple we’ve opened, there’s always rain, without fail. It’s a very auspicious occasion.”

The occasion was the grand opening of the Youth Activity Center annex of the BAPS Swaminarayan Mandir, 541 SE 18th Ave., next to the Publix near Woolbright and Federal. The India-based Hindu organization ( has about 800 temples worldwide, 64 in the United States, Patel said.

The nearest mandir, or temple, for this stream of Hinduism is in Orlando. Boynton’s mandir, whose ninth anniversary is in June, serves the entire South Florida region, each Sunday drawing worshippers from as far as Stuart and Homestead.

Outside the adjacent youth classroom facility, congregants poured water over a golden statue. Patel, who lives in Plantation and works for the city of Hollywood, explained that the figure depicted their founder, Bhagwan Swaminarayan.

“He came to this Earth 235 years back. When he was 11 years old, he left this world, his household and everything, and went barefoot, with just one loincloth, around the whole Himalayas. He traveled 7,000 miles barefoot. He visited the whole of India, all the auspicious places and everything. And then he settled and started this organization called the Swami Swaminarayan organization.”

Pouring the water, and pondering what one wants in life, ensures that one’s “good thoughts will be fulfilled,” Patel said. A photo behind the statue, he added, depicted “His Divine Holiness Shree Pramukh Swami Maharaj. He’s our guru.”

Earlier, congregants had crowded the temple’s main hall for a special prayer service. “In Hinduism, when we start any work, we definitely start with remembering the God
first,” said Alpesh Patel, the mandir’s former media representative.

He returned from Alabama with wife and children for the youth facility inauguration. Others traveled from as far as Chicago and New York. From Atlanta, monks came to bless the youth center.

In the mandir, the main hall held a masterfully carved wooden shrine, replete with domes and garlands of flowers. It featured figures and photos of Hindu saints.
For the occasion, the orange-clad monks were arranged front and center. Men sat in rows across the floor, before them white paper on which were white plastic plates holding rice, water, flowers and others items used in the prayer ritual, followed by similar rows of women in colorful traditional garments. In the rear, other worshippers sat at tables, or stood as part of the overflow crowd. All chanted or clapped along as the monks led the service.

The crowd next moved to a ceremony before its new facility. There, 16-year-old Parikshit Shingala told his fellow youths that the classrooms in the extension of the mandir would be a place to work on “that masterpiece that is your life.”

Soon, other youths were offering lemonade as the curious got their first look at the eight glistening classrooms for the mandir’s educational, cultural, social and spiritual activities. Looking like proud parents were architect Bob Snow, general contractors Shiv Shahi and Scott Lamberton and civil engineer Yash Barop, all based in Palm Beach Gardens; and former Boynton building official Wayne Bergman.

By late afternoon, youngsters were lined up for sherdi, a lime, ginger and sugar-cane drink traditionally pressed by hand in India.

Even as the several hundred people gathered visited with each other, more arrived. Some could be seen offering a traditional greeting: reaching to touch the other’s feet, then touching one’s own heart.

“It’s a kind of a connection, a humbling show of respect,” said Ashish Gurjar of West Palm Beach. “When you enter in here, just be a messenger of God, and leave all your ego outside.”

C.B. Hanif will be visiting our local places of worship on an occasional basis and sharing his experience with our readers. His InterFaith 21 column returns in July. Find him online at

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