December 16, 2011

Akshardham Temple Complex, New Delhi

For a long, long time I had wanted to visit the Delhi Akshardham temple, I had seen its pictures, heard people rave about its structure & knew several families that visited the temple very frequently. I had been to the Gujarat Akshardham several years back when I was a small kid & one of my uncles used to live in Ahmedabad. I still remember glimpses & flashes of that temple, but not much, I must have been 11-12 years old then & did not possess a camera back then. However my parents remember it vividly & tell me it is better than the Delhi Akshardham. So for a long, long time I kept hoping that in my next vacations I would visit the Delhi Akshardham & other nearby places. But one way or the other, the plan kept getting modified or cancelled, till a few days back. I finally visited the temple & this time around it wasn’t me who planned the trip. It was my childhood friend Shubhad – when I returned to Delhi from Calcutta this time around & we decided to meet, she gave me two options about our get together – either we could have gone shopping or to the temple which she wanted to see. So you see, I hate shopping & I hate visiting temples too, but comparatively less, since most of the temples are old & you can take pictures & ask about the place’s history (despite being somewhat boring & preachy-type places). But not the Delhi Akshardham – the temple is brand-new, huge, mesmerizing & not boring at all. In fact one requires almost a day to see all that it has to offer.


Akshardham Temple (Photo courtesy http://www.akshardham.com/)


Since it was December, the chilly December of Delhi comes with another dreaded problem – the fog. A blanket of heavy white mist surrounds the entire city, hiding almost everything & hindering visibility. Such were the conditions when we visited the temple that early morning & its high dome rose above the surrounding mist to create an ethereal experience. At the entrance, to our dismay we encountered several long lines – one for buying tickets, another for depositing your bags, purses, mobile phones & cameras & for security checks (Yes, Photography is prohibited here, to prevent repeat of the Gujarat Akshardham attack, where several terrorists entered the premises with weapons & killed several people – those terrorists had a blueprint of the temple created from several previous visits & photographs). Finally after spending slightly more than an hour in these lines, we finally got to enter the premises & reached the center of the ground after a long walk, admiring the beautified gardens & flowering trees around ourselves, & saw the temple complex spread across from us, more gorgeous than we had ever expected, larger than it seems in the photos, & more crowded than we had assumed it would be.

Also referred to as Swaminarayan Akshardham, the temple was opened to public on November 6, 2005 & has since become a hub of tourists & displays traditional Hindu culture and architecture. 7,000 artists, assisted by over 3,000 volunteers constructed this mighty temple complex on the banks of river Yamuna with such labour & creativity, that it now stands as a testimony to their skill & craft. The temple was built according to the Vastru Shastra (an ancient Indian architectural knowledge, supposed to increase the positive energy & bring good luck). The structure, built entirely with Rajasthani pink sandstone and Italian Carrara marble without the use of steel or concrete supports, features a blend of architectural styles from across India.

The temple is built as a several-layered structure, & the first layer one notices is the (aptly named) Gajender Pith (Gajender means “Lord of the elephants” in Hindi, Pith is “Base”). It is the lowest tier & built to pay tribute to the elephant for its importance in Hindu culture. The layer features more than 300 pink stone sculptures of elephants, lions, humans, cows, trees & palaces, but primarily elephants. The entire layer is so ornately carved & covers such a large area that it took us more than two hours to complete a round of it. Of course we stood before almost each & every sculpture to admire them, & some of them were so stunning that we stopped to observe the designs for an exceptionally long time. It is said that the sculptures are large enough to resemble actual elephants. Baby elephants perhaps, but certainly not the real large ones!!


Portion of the Gajender Pith (Photo courtesy http://www.akshardham.com/)


Atop the elephant tier sits the main temple itself. Its external walls have been designed so skilfully that they force you to stop & ask yourself if staying outside would be a much better idea. The walls are intricately carved with more than 200 stone figures of Indian devotees, mendicants, hermits & Godly incarnations. This layer is divided into several sub-layers divided horizontally – there are even representations of lions, dragons etc. What I liked the most was the layer representing the elephant God Ganesh in various positions – dancing, playing musical instruments, meditating.

The entrance doors in the center were flanked by a big vertical layer of peacock sculptures. The large sculptures were stunning, & I felt so sad for being deprived of my camera. Me & Shubhad kept pointing the different sculptures to each other, to the agony of Kaustav who doesn’t have an interest in monuments & architecture as we do (but he pretends he does, hehe!!). Inside we were welcomed by an entire chamber filled with more sculptures, this time built with stone & marble, most of them had the name of what they represented inscribed underneath. Several were easily recognisable as the Hindu deities & incarnations. However the chamber was so high that we could not even see the topmost idols properly, leave alone identifying them. Even the roof was covered with carvings & patterns & designs. The entire hall was beautiful beyond description. Soon a line formed, moving slowly in a snake-like manner towards the central chamber, every other person breaking the line to adore some idol they noticed in another corner, then coming back to join it. Nobody pushed, nobody shouted, there were just hushed voices & expressions of surprise & amazement all around us.


Peacock.. (Photo courtesy http://www.fullstopindia.com/)


In the central chamber lay an 11-feet (3.4m) high statue of Swaminarayana, the chief priest of the sect. The central statue is surrounded by similar statues of the gurus (spiritual teachers) of the sect. All these statues are made with paanch dhaatu (an amalgam of the five major metals) according to Hindu tradition of idol-making. There are statues of several Hindu Gods here too. It took us close to two hours to go through the chambers & we were able to see most of the statues & paintings inside. Plus we spent an hour extra gazing at the statues of the outer walls of the temple. After so many hours of gazing at all these gracefully sculpted statues, our senses were almost numbed to beauty & pangs of hunger struck us. Moving out of the temple, we started searching for the complex restaurant. Enroute, we did a circuit of the other attractions too, but couldn’t see most of them since we were on a tight schedule.


The central hall of Akshardham Temple (Photo courtesy http://www.akshardham.com/)


The temple complex also boasts of a hall where 3-D presentations & robotics is employed in combination with light & sound effects to propagate the basic messages of Indian culture and value system. A six-floor high film screen displays the life & pilgrimages of the child hermit Neelkanth Varni (there is even a large bronze statue of the same towards one corner of the complex, diagonal to the entrance to the central chamber). The film has been shot at several locations from the snow covered peaks of the Himalayas to the greens of Kerala. A boat ride takes visitor through an artificial tunnel & shows the heritage of India in terms of its ancient medicinal, educational & commercial systems. All these are ticketed facilities (tickets are expensive) & we gave them a miss since the idea of enjoying a temple after paying for it seemed, if it is the right word, unfair to us. & we were hungry too, remember!!


The arena where the musical fountain shows are held. The statue in the center background is of the hermit Neelkanth Varni (Photo courtesy http://www.akshardham.com/)


Finally we found what is called the Premvati Aahargrah (so the board at the entrance proclaimed), which is a large restaurant serving vegetarian food. I guess it must have been large enough to accommodate several hundred people, & was very very crowded when we visited. But the service was quick, food delicious, & the staff friendly. It wasn’t expensive either.

What we did see was the Garden of India which is basically a lush garden lined with bronze sculptures of several famous personalities of India – some of them, like the warriors & freedom fighters from recent past, others might be considered mythological by many.


One of the statues in the Garden of India (photo courtesy http://www.akshardham.com/)


Then there was another garden connecting the restaurant with the main temple – this one was sunken & it is said that when seen from a higher point it looks like a lotus. Called the Yogi Hraday Kamal (Lotus of sage’s heart), it features large stones engraved with quotes from Shakespeare, Martin Luther King & Swami Vivekananda among others.


The Lotus Garden (Photo courtesy http://www.akshardham.com/)


An artificially built small lake called the Narayana Sarovar surrounds the main monument. The lake contains water from 151 rivers and lakes that are considered holy by Hindus. The lake is surrounded by faucets that resemble cow heads (“gaumukhs” in Hindi), since cow is one of the very sacred creatures in Hinduism.


The Cow heads (Photo courtesy http://www.akshardham.com/)


The temple has also been included in the Guinness Book of World Records in 2007 owing to its size. It is considered one of the largest Hindu temples in the world. Reader’s Digest has also included it in the list of "Seven Wonders of the 21st Century".

Open : All days, except Monday
Nearest Metro Station : Akshardham Metro Station. The complex is only 5 minutes’ walk away from the station. Ask any vendor/passer by for directions.
Timings :
Complex : 9 AM to 7 PM (April to September) & 9 AM to 6 PM (October to March)
Exhibitions : 9 AM to 6:30 PM (April to September) & 9 AM to 5:30 PM (October to March)
Musical Fountain : 9 AM to 7PM (April to September) & 9 AM to 6:45PM (October to March)
Night Lighting only on Saturdays and Sundays
Restaurant Premvati : 11 AM to 8 PM
Souvenir Shop : 9 AM to 8 PM.
Entrance fee : Nil for the main shrine. However the light & film shows are ticketed. Tickets cost Rs 170 for the film shows & Rs 30 for the musical fountains.
Photography/Video Charges : Strictly prohibited
Time required for sight seeing : 1 day

3 comments:

  1. I have seen this temple, it is replica of Gujarat's Akshardham temple. Very beautiful temple which shows Indian culture, traditions.

    ReplyDelete
  2. that is true Delhi to Agra ... i too have seen this

    ReplyDelete
  3. How did you get the photos from inside if no photograpghy is allowed?

    ReplyDelete