The Bochasanwasi Shri Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha (BAPS) is a global sociospiritual organization that, to its followers, represents the Hindu religion in its purest form. BAPS, with more than 700 mandirs (temples) and 9,090 religious centers in 45 countries, embarked on a new 30,000-square-foot mandir in Lilburn, GA - a building marrying ancient design and construction with cutting-edge lighting technology.
"BAPS' goal in constructing this mandir is to provide a traditional place for worship for present and future generations," says Manish J. Patel, technical project engineer and administrator, Southeast Development Inc., the project wing of BAPS. He collaborated with Pankaj B. Patel, board member and technical project engineer. "India has a glorious heritage that has been passed on to each generation through mandir. BAPS hopes to pass along this glorious culture and heritage to future generations of Indo-Americans as well as Americans in general who otherwise would not be able to visit India and see and experience firsthand India's rich culture and heritage."
Built on a 30-acre site, the mandir is inspired by BAPS' spiritual leader Pramukh Swami Maharaj and designed according to instructions for the construction of religious buildings written into the Sthapitya-shastra - architectural scriptures that are thousands of years old. Temple designers Bharat Patel and Sanjay Parikh worked with BAPS' architect division in India to produce the design and subsequently oversee 900 volunteers contributing more than 1 million man-hours to the construction.
The finished project features 34,000 carved pieces, 86 decorative ceilings, five shikhars (pinnacles), 116 torans (archways), and 391 pillars. Stone is a primary construction material used in the project: Materials include 4,500 tons of Turkish limestone (exterior), 3,065 tons of Indian pink sandstone (ground floor), and 4,140 tons of Italian Carrara marble (intricately carved on the first floor), contributing to more than 117,000 cubic feet of natural stone used. Some 1,500 craftsmen, working at 26 different sites in India, took 17 months to finish the stone work.
Each architectural element was hand-carved and shipped piece by piece to Lilburn, where it was reassembled according to ancient dictate - to erect as a giant jigsaw puzzle without a single structural steel component in the building, including the air ducts, which are poured concrete.
The LED lighting system provides color-changing effects using a centrally operated DMX control console, enabling colored lighting to be used to express mood and also match the desired ambiance for various religious festivals.
"BAPS Shri Swaminarayan mandir is unique in that it is the largest Hindu mandir outside of India," says Manish Patel. "Built to last more than 1,000 years, the design concept was conceived by BAPS in India and its style is Naagri, which was prevalent in 8th- to 10th-century India."
The highly ornate and unusual architecture presented significant lighting challenges. The intricate, proper display of religious images and figurines inside and outside the structure required an extraordinary effort in lighting design. Similarly intricate architectural features such as ceilings, domes, pillars, and archways required individual lighting solutions. Lighting had to be able to produce a range of colors in the space, each dedicated to a different festival during the year, and be long-lasting, presenting minimal maintenance requirements. It also had to seamlessly integrate into the stone architecture.
"Overall, our goal was to provide stable, centralized, energy-efficient lighting inside and outside the mandir," says Manish Patel, who worked with Pankaj Patel, Pinesh Amin, Kiron Patel, and Stone Mountain Media to produce the lighting concept.
"One of the challenges in designing the lighting was maintaining the design within scriptural considerations," says Paul Creasy, president of Dacula, GA-based Stone Mountain Media. "The fixtures had to be designed to fit within the existing structure and specifications; this equated to the need for very flexible fixtures that could fit into very small spaces. The intention was for the lighting to provide aesthetic enhancement and functionality but without being seen."
Based on the design criteria, BAPS and Stone Mountain agreed that LED lighting satisfied the design goals as a solution, tying together illumination of the mandir's interior, exterior, and worship areas. BAPS had already achieved a good comfort level with LED lighting during the construction of another mandir in Toronto.
Custom column lighting directs uplighting on the upper columns and ceiling coffers via four flush-mounted, color-changing LED fixtures at the base of each column, plus custom MR16-type color-changing LED fixtures integrated into the upper portion of the columns.
"From its incredibly compact size to the extreme energy efficiency with near zero maintenance, LED technology was our first consideration," says Creasy. "Additionally, the color saturation that is possible with RGB-based LED fixtures is unparalleled. With a palette of more than 16.7 million theoretical colors and full dimming and control capabilities, the color-changing LED technology was an exact match for the flexibility desired."
Interior lighting is layered to accomplish the overall lighting goals, providing sufficient task illumination for worship activities while highlighting architectural details and focal points. The interior of the main level, for example, is a combination of ornate, hand-carved columns; ceiling coffers; and image rooms. General and focal lighting in this space is accomplished using:
- White light and color-changing LED sconces on the outside walls for perimeter lighting
- Custom column lighting for uplighting on the upper columns and ceiling coffers via four flush-mounted, color-changing LED fixtures at the base of each column, plus custom MR16-type color-changing LED fixtures integrated into the upper portion of the columns
- Custom white-light LED fixtures integrated into the structure and carvings of the larger dome-shaped ceiling coffers for additional illumination
- Color-changing LED fixtures mounted on the tops of columns for focal illumination on the image areas.
Custom white-light LED sconces integrated into the structure and carvings of the larger dome-shaped ceiling coffers supply additional illumination on the coffers.
"The hand carvings make the mandir such a unique structure that we wanted to avoid a lighting design that would simply just provide light," says Creasy. "A wash effect would visually flatten the structure. Rather, our goal was to create a dramatic lighting statement that would bring out the richness and elegance of the materials, and artistry of the intricate sculpted surfaces." Grazing techniques reveal the rich detailing of the architecture.
Overall, more than 2,000 LED fixtures were installed, combined with compact fluorescent sources used for some general and emergency lighting. Equipment included customized versions of North Star Lighting's RAF Series floodlights, recessed column lights, and recessed step lights operating high-output Lamina Titan and Atlas LEDs.
The lighting is tied together to a single computer to create a centralized point of control using the DMX control protocol. This control capability enables adjustment of light levels and also color-changing effects to mark the different Indian festivals such as Holi, the Festival of Colors. "Emphasis on LED lighting also provided easy and centralized control for the different variations in lighting that we needed," Creasy says. "The design was done in such a way that the controls for the customized fixtures were installed in special areas out of view."
"With the mandir's unique design, the lighting, while bringing out all the intricacies within view, helps visitors feel a divine form of energy as they walk through and experience each and every aspect of the mandir," says Manish Patel, technical project engineer and administrator, Southeast Development Inc., the project wing of BAPS.
"One of the biggest challenges of this project was, in fact, lighting placement," says Chad Kuney, project manager for Stone Mountain Media. "With a project of this nature, we knew that the lighting design would need to be seamlessly integrated into the architecture to avoid detracting from the exquisite carvings and other focal points in the space while still providing ease-of-use functionality. The scriptures only allowed for lighting in certain locations, and at those locations the lighting had to fit into very small spaces; the owner didn't want to see any light sources. The small size and directional nature of the LED light source allowed us to match custom-fabricated housings and fixtures to provide unique and creative solutions."
Stone Mountain worked with North Star Lighting to create a series of LED fixtures small enough to be camouflaged into custom-carved pockets/niches in the architecture and custom flush-to-grade enclosures. "The end result is that you're never focused on the lighting fixtures, just the finished lighting look," says Creasy.
Even with the compact size of the custom LED fixtures, integrating the lighting into the stonework presented its own challenges. "Trying to run wires through stones that were sometimes a foot deep and trying to provide adequate space for the fixtures was our biggest challenge," says Manish Patel. "To resolve this, a lot of physical hard work and coordination during construction was required between the stone installation group and the electrical group. The space problem was resolved during the preconstruction phase by designing special lighting columns that would hold the custom LED fixtures."
The hard work paid off, he adds.
The BAPS Shri Swaminarayan mandir in Lilburn, GA, is the largest mandir outside of India, built according to the Naagri style prevalent in ancient India.
"With the mandir's unique design, the lighting, while bringing out all the intricacies within view, helps visitors feel a divine form of energy as they walk through and experience each and every aspect of the mandir," says Manish Patel.
Craig DiLouie (firstname.lastname@example.org), principal of ZING Communications Inc. (www.zinginc.com), is a consultant, analyst, and reporter specializing in the lighting and electrical industries.
Project: BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir
Location: Lilburn, GA
Architect: BAPS (Amdavad, Gujarat, India) - International Headquarters, Architect Division
Lighting designer: Stone Mountain Media
Electrical engineer: Manish Patel, Pankaj Patel, Pinesh Amin, Kiron Patel
Photography: Roshan Trivedi and BAPS volunteers
Lighting manufacturer: North Star Lighting