Once you find your way to the Etobicoke neighbourhood near Finch and Highway 427, it's hard to miss the BAPS Shree Swaminarayan Hindu mandir among its brutalist industrial neighbours.
The white walls of the 100,000-square-foot mandir (Hindi for temple) gleam against the teak entrance in a style reminiscent of the ancient palaces of India.
There are 27 places of worship among the 148 architecturally significant public and private buildings unlocked for public viewing this weekend for the annual Doors Open festival, but few more ornate than this mandir, which opened officially last July and is participating for the first time. It's the only place of worship in Canada for the BAPS, or Bochasanwasi Shri Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha, a Hindu sect founded in Gujarat with more than a million adherents around the world.
Impressive as it is, the current structure is only phase one of grand plans for a much more opulent shrine. Spokespeople for the mandir are circumspect about specific details and completion date on phase two. But it's been compared to the BAPS mandir in London, England, which covers 1.5 acres of land and features seven pinnacles, six domes and 193 pillars.
The British mandir is made from 2,828 tonnes of Bulgarian limestone and 2,000 tonnes of Italian marble, honed in India by 1,500 craftsmen, where it took a little less than three years to assemble the 26,300 carved pieces.
The current structure of the Toronto mandir, featured last month in Canadian Interiors magazine, is built in the style of a 17th-century Indian haveli, a type of mansion once common in northern India. The first sight upon visiting the mandir is three teak doors, each three metres high and hand-carved with intricate details. Above is an equally intricate balcony.
"The main entrance is built the same way in all the BAPS Swaminarayan temples, whether it's in London, England, Chicago, Houston or India," says Arun Pradhan, co-owner of Papadopoulos and Pradhan Architects, which undertook the local architectural work under guidance from architects in India. "The idea is to commemorate Lord Swaminarayan entering Bochasan. When he first entered the village, there was the same type of arch," he says, detailing a key moment in the founding of the sect.
Once inside, visitors discover a light-filled courtyard surrounded by teak and rosewood columns. Sitting on marble bases, the columns are hand-carved with motifs ranging from mythological stories, the sun and moon, and animals such as peacocks and elephants. Each carving has a symbolic meaning, imbuing the architecture with religious themes.
BAPS Shree Swaminarayan Hindu mandir, 61 Claireville Dr., 416-798-2277. Open Saturday and Sunday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., http://www.doorsopen.org
OTHER HOUSES OF EDIFICE WORSHIP
The city's places of worship hold many delights, even if going to church isn't part of your weekend routine. These are five of the more enticing religious sites open to the public during Doors Open.
Hare Krishna Temple
243 Avenue Rd.
Saturday, Sunday 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.
Another former Presbyterian chapel, this 200-year-old white limestone building is now home to the Hare Krishna community, who are offering guided tours and free snacks -- but no word on pamphlets.
Congregation Knesseth Israel
54/56 Maria St.
Sunday 1 p.m. - 4 p.m.
Many of the original East European congregation of this synagogue worked at the Heintzman Piano Factory, and the murals in the ornate interior feature a wide range of musical instruments.
St. Peter's Presbyterian Church
115 St. Andrew's Rd.
Saturday 10 a.m. - 4 p.m.
Sitting on an eight-acre property, this wooded sanctuary has the same pine floors that Scarborough residents were praying on in 1850. In the old church yard, you can find the names of some of the early Scarborough settlers buried there, including the McCowan, Oldham and Thompson families.
56 Boustead Ave.
Saturday 10 a.m. - 4 p.m.
The Muslim congregation pulled out the pews and crosses and angled the carpets toward Mecca to turn this one-time Presbyterian church into a mosque. Open to everyone, but leave your bikini tops and dogs at home.
28 Heintzman St.
Saturday, Sunday 10 a.m. - 4 p.m.
Two master sculptors came from Bhutan in 1998 to make this shrine look like an authentic Tibetan temple. It replicates a now-destroyed 800-year-old monastery in eastern Tibet, gilded statues of Buddhist master Shantarakshita and all.