When someone thinks of visiting India, the first thought which comes to their mind is to visit Taj Mahal. Once Taj Mahal is checked in the list then comes the turn of other renowned historical monuments and temples. However here is Akshardham temples which are neither ancient nor a heritage property. Nevertheless, the temples are an architectural marvel and most beloved tourist landmark in Delhi & Gandhinagar! What makes it so special? Well there are quite a few things.
Located in Delhi, Ahmedabad, Gandhinagar and New Jersey, Akshardham temples have created a niche for themselves. The New Jersey temple is yet to be as grand as the Indian ones however tourists in India have taken a greater liking for the temples located in Delhi and Gandhinagar.
Constructed by BAPS
Bochasanvasi Aksharpurushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha (BAPS) headed by Pramukh Swami Maharaj is the organization behind the building of these temples. In order to build these temples, the organization took the help of several volunteers as well as specialized artisans. Just for the Delhi temple 3000 volunteers and 7000 artisans were employed. Notably, all the Akshardham temples are a tribute to Lord Swaminarayan (an avatar of Ram).
Fun Fact: The volunteers went door to door in several apartments and offices to collect newspapers and plastic bottles which were then sold to realize money which was contributed to the cost of making the temples.
Akshardham is the abode of Lord Swaminarayan and a reference to the metaphysical form in which one can attain Moksha. Therefore, it is a place where Lord Swaminarayan resides and where the soul of his followers would go after death. These temples, through its architecture, gardens and water and light shows, try to enshrine the teachings of Swaminarayan.
More about Swaminarayan
During his time, Swaminarayan did a lot of good work for the oppressed sections of the society. He advocated education of women, and criticized sati and other oppressive practices. Swaminarayan also criticized the caste system and would often appoint people from the lower strata to be his personal attendants. Through his teachings and influence, he was able to bring down the crime rate in Gujarat.
What is common to all the Akshardham temples?
A unique aspect of these temples is the minimal use of metal. Large parts of the temples is made using sandstone. The only metal used is gold, for the statue of Swaminarayan in the middle of the temple. One of the main reason for using the Rajasthani sandstone is to ensure that the temple lasts for a 1000 years. Cement and metal do not last as long.
The central monument mandir, Narayan Sarovar, gardens, entrance architecture and light & sound shows is common to all the Akshardham temples. Many ancient temple experts and artisans were consulted to make the temples therefore the materials used in all of them are also common.
The Delhi and Gandhinagar temples have the biggest premises. Their unique features include the thematic use of the gardens.
Unique features in Delhi’s Akshardham
In Delhi’s temple the bharat utpavan garden talks about our national struggle as a theme. And the yogi hriday kamal is in the shape of a lotus and a sight to behold! According to the official sources, “each petal reflects auspicious sentiments of learning from everyone and doing good for all, with faith in God and in the goodness that resides in each ‘hriday’ – heart.” The other beautiful sights of the Delhi temple include the Abhishek mandap (the place of offering), the exhibitions and the water shows.
Unique Features in Gandhinagar’s Akshardham
Notably, one of the most unique feature of this temple is the way it has been constructed. It has three floors. The main floor is the Center of Faith housing many statues. Its a mesmerizing sight to see. The upper floor is the Vibhuti Mandalam which pays homage to the life and philosophy of Swaminarayan. Lastly, the ground floor beholds the clothing, articles and other relics of Swaminarayan.
There is also a center for research on social harmony named AARSH.
The audio-animatronics show can bring live the whole story of Swaminarayan for you revealing the key to eternal happiness. There is also the Sat-Chit-Anand water show which is another amazing spectacle.
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The attack that happened on the Gandhinagar Akshardham temple
On September 24, 2002, two armed terrorists attacked Akshardham, killing 33 people and wounding 70. However, an intervention by the National Security Guard led to the death of both these terrorists. Instead of instigating any violence, Pramukh Swami led a prayer asking for peace. It was for the victims, their families and even the attackers. Thus, this kind of response shows that they truly embody the non-violent teachings of Swaminarayan. After this attack, security is even tighter at all the Akshardham temples.
Therefore, whether you are a devotee of this sect or not, Akshardham is surely a must visit. You will love the intricate architecture, the traditional Indian beauty and the serenity that these temples have to offer.
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