A $96 Million Hindu Temple Opens Amid Accusations of Forced Labor

The temple in Robbinsville, N.J., about 15 years in the making, is believed to be the largest in the Western Hemisphere. But its construction has also been clouded in controversy.

A $96 Million Hindu Temple Opens Amid Accusations of Forced Labor

Hindu pilgrims examined intricate stone carvings, including images of musical instruments on the walls and elephants in the ceilings.

Many gasped with wonder as they approached the large shrine made of gold. They had arrived at the site where they believed God resided in the form sacred images.

Recent openings of

Akshardham Mahamandir

In Robbinsville, N.J. was an historic moment for Hindus from New Jersey and beyond. It is estimated that the temple took 15 years to build and will attract tourists and religious pilgrims from around the world.

The issue has also been clouded by controversy.

Agents of the federal law enforcement raided a temple construction site

Workers accused a prominent Hindu group with links to India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his ruling party of forcing them to work, paying low wages, and creating poor working conditions in 2021. Their lawyers claimed that Dalit workers, who are the lowest caste in India, were targeted. Both a federal criminal investigation and a wage-claim lawsuit are ongoing.

Outside the Akshardham Mahamandir, visitors pray to His Holiness Mahaant Swami Maharaj.


Hannah Beier, The New York Times

Ronak Patel said that the workers were not employees but volunteers who came to the United States. Volunteerism was a fundamental part of their religious tradition. He stated that temple officials are cooperating with the probe.

The temple is also attracting thousands of visitors, who come to admire the intricate architecture and design. Others are there for a spiritual experience.

BAPS (Bochasanwasi Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha), a Hindu sect, opened the temple to the public fully on Wednesday. The temple was dedicated earlier this month. The first-time pilgrims were asked not to take photos and to remain silent. However, many excited devotees took pictures, whispered amongst themselves, and pointed out intricate carvings.

Dharmik Sheth, born in Vijayawada,

India was raised in Lawrenceville.

N.J. visited the temple on a recent Sunday afternoon to show the intricately carved reliefs that depict Hindu parables. He said that the new temple gives him a closer connection to his roots.

Dharmik said, "I feel proud here." He posed with Anand Sheth, Meera Sheth and Meera Sheth.


Hannah Beier, The New York Times

Sheth stated that he felt a great sense of pride in the country. I've always struggled to describe or identify our culture. This place makes it easy for me to do so.

Santosh Kumar Saini, from Jaipur in India, visited Robbinsville to take a tour before the official opening. He said that the temple is a perfect blend of traditional and contemporary style.

Kumar Saini stated that he had been to many temples in India but this was the largest he'd seen. It depicts Hinduism as it is.

Visitors will be greeted by a 49-foot-high gold statue of Nilkanth Varni, the child-yogi version of Bhagwan Swami Narayan. The statue is balanced on one foot in a yoga posture. The temple was designed for Hindu worship but organizers wanted parts of the building to be more accessible to those who are not Hindus. It includes figures that are familiar to Muslims Sikhs, and Jains. Also included are quotes by Martin Luther King Jr. Abraham Lincoln, and Albert Einstein.

The building is intended to be a Hindu temple, but organizers have made it more accessible for non-Hindus by including figures that are familiar to Muslims Sikhs and Jains.


Hannah Beier, The New York Times

YogiTrivedi, an expert in religion from Columbia University and a volunteer for the temple's dedication weekend, explained that the temple represents the center of Hinduism, where Hindus believe God lives within the sacred images of deities. He said temples are used to perform rituals like waving a sacred candle, communicating with God, chanting and music, and bathing the image of a god.

According to the United States Census Bureau, New Jersey has the largest concentration of Hindus in any state at 3 percent.

Pew Research Center

According to Mr. Trivedi’s research, more than 400 000 Hindus reside in New Jersey and over 400 000 in New York.

BAPS originally hoped to construct its temple in East Windsor (N.J.). After the plans for East Windsor were rejected, BAPS found land in Robbinsville. Construction started in 2015 and cost $96 million, according to Mr. Trivedi.

Trivedi said, 'For someone studying and teaching Indian history and Hindu tradition, it's like a World Series.' He said that instead of travelling 8,000 miles, he could'show faith, devotion, and ritual in our backyard'.

The intricate carvings are admired by visitors. Local officials in Robbinsville expect the temple to be a major tourist attraction.


Hannah Beier, The New York Times

Officials in Robbinsville expect that the temple will become a major tourist attraction for this small community located east of Trenton. David Fried, the mayor of Robbinsville, said that 200 new beds would be built for visitors to the temple. The temple is located on an old plot of land used to grow soy.

Fried stated that when he saw the paper version, he knew it would be good. Did we think it would be like this? Not in my wildest dream.

The treatment of those who built the Robbinsville Temple is still a concern, even as tourists make their way there.

The temple was raided by the police in 2021. Dozens of construction workers were removed from the site. In 2021, 21 temple workers sued, but 12 have withdrawn from the lawsuit this month. Aaditya soni, a Jaipur-based lawyer, stated in a message sent via text that the workers believed the facts in the case were false and decided to withdraw based on their religious conviction.

Many parents brought their children with them to the temple.


Hannah Beier, The New York Times

Patricia Kakalec is an attorney for the workers. She plans to continue fighting on behalf of nine of the employees who are included in the complaint. However, their civil case has been put on hold while a federal investigation is conducted.

The temple is also facing wage problems.

A 17-year old boy who volunteered on the construction site

In 2017, a man fell and died in the same place. Inspectors from the federal government determined that it was an accident.

The conflict highlights the complex relationship between U.S. Labor Laws and the Hindu concept of selfless voluntarism.

Charles Haynes is a senior fellow at Freedom Forum, an organization that promotes religious freedom. He said, "If religious groups have to follow the same restrictions as other groups, they will be limited in what they can do."

He added that if the government intervened, BAPS would be liable.