Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Akshardham Temple in Delhi: a blend of ancient architecture and modern craftmanship

The sprawling 23 acre mega complex housing the Akshardham temple is one of the latest additions to Delhi’s landscape. Built at a cost of Rs.200 crores, it is a perfect blend of modern technology and ancient Indian architecture. The monument stands out on the banks of Yamuna by the NH-24. Last weekend I got an opportunity to explore this monument.

Being a holiday, crowd presence was very high. Hundreds of cars were parked in the mini stadium sized parking. Parking fee is only Rs.10/- and the attendants were handling the continuous flow of traffic well. Entry to the monument complex is free. But the security checking and frisking was too much to the point of irritation. For the first time I felt being a victim of Islamic terrorism. We all remember the islamic terrorist attack in the Gandhinagar Akshardham temple few years ago. I bet that you are not frisked that much even at airports. Gents are asked to carry a tray where you need to take off your belts, purse, keys and anything else with you except your pants and shirt. They did not check much, but at least two guys picked the purse and almost counted the notes. The CISF personnel at airports are gentle enough while checking your purse. But the ones here looked like idiots and seemed more interested in your purse than anything else. Honestly speaking I found this frisking too much. Mobiles, cameras and ladies handbags are not allowed, so you better leave them in your car. There also is cloak room for keeping these items.

The temple buildings and the campus were really splendid. I have been to the original Akshardham temple at Gandhinagar twice. This campus is equally magnificent or even better than the original one. The 141 feet tall, 316 feet wide and 356 feet long main temple is built of pink sand stones and marbles without using any steel. It has 234 intricately carved pillars decorated with sculpted figures, 9 magnificent domes and 20 pinnacles. The total no. of sculpted figure is more than 20,000. The interiors of the monument and the walls reminded me of the Dilwara temple in Mount Abu. We were left spellbound by the craftsmanship. We all knew that such beautiful temples and monuments were constructed in ancient India during the days of Rajahs and Maharajahs. But even modern day sculptors can emulate their feat and create such beautiful monuments.

The temple is a tribute to Bhagwan Swaminarayan (1781 – 1830) who lived in the Gujarat region and preached his form of Hinduism. He is considered an incarnation of the lord by his followers who are mainly Gujaratis. When I visited the Gandhinagar complex with a Gujarati friend, I was told that the followers of this sect are very rich and that complex was built out of donations from the members of this sect. In fifteen years the organization has also grown as the wealth of its sect has grown in a resurgent India so much so that Rs.200 crore is spent in building a single temple complex. The main temple houses a giant 11 feet gold plated statue of Swaminarayan. Almost a similar size gold plated statue is installed in the Gandhinagar complex as well.

For your entertainment and augmenting knowledge there are few shows, called exhibitions, conducted inside the complex. One can enjoy the three indoor shows of about 2 hours duration in total. The cost per person is Rs.150/- for adults and Rs.50/- children. It is a bit high for an average Indian if you go with family. However, I think it will be worth if you are willing to spend. I had attended the show at the Gandhinagar complex almost 12 years back. Some scenes from that show are still vivid in my memory. One of the shows here is a film shown in an IMAX theatre. Also there is a 15 minute boat ride along a river to showcase the development of Indian civilization and culture over a period of 10000 years.

The Musical Fountain, is the other spectacle in the complex, that comes at a much cheaper entry fee of Rs.20/- per adult and Rs.10/- per child. The location is the Yagnapurush Kund, built in the shape of a Yagna Kund (alter to perform yagna ritual). The show lasts about 15 minutes. It is certainly one of the finest musical fountains in India. I counted the no. of jets used and to my estimate it is not more than 5. But the orchestration made it look more. Anyway, 99% of people would not bother the no. of jets. They were all left mesmerized by the spectacle of colour and water particles. The timings of the fountain show keeps changing with season.

The temple complex looked majestic in lights. It remains open till about 10 pm. But entry is closed after 7 pm. In fact there is no point getting in after 6:30 pm as you will not be able cover the entire complex. The complex opens at 9 am but one should prefer to go their in the late afternoon. Till now, Delhi had a Birla Temple and a Lotus Temple to boost of. But, take my words, this one stands world apart. One should not miss this while in Delhi. Take an evening off your itinerary to visit this.


Anonymous said...

Dear Rupankar,
As per the article published in The Times of India the amount spent on Akshardham is 200 Crores and not 700 Crores.
For your knowledge I am sending you the link as well as the article.



(New Delhi, Nov 6) The magnificent Akshardham temple in the national capital, to be opened for public Tuesday, will be yet another architectural landmark in the city which boasts of the lotus-shaped Baha'i temple and other impressive mosques and churches.

The pink sandstone and while marble Akshardham temple complex, built on the banks of the Yamuna river in east Delhi, is visible from afar to approaching traffic along the National Highway 24. The main temple dome rises majestically over the two-storied sandstone colonnade of 1,160 pillars that encircles it from three sides.

The 100-acre temple complex was built at a cost of around Rs.2 billion ($44 million), funded out of donations and contributions from about 10 million of followers of the Bochasanvasi Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan (BAPS) that has a large worldwide following.

The 141-feet-high temple is patterned on the Akshardham complex in Gujarat's capital Gandhinagar.

Designed by Ahmedabad-based architect Veerendra Trivedi, the monument rises on the shoulders of 148 stone elephants depicting ancient tales from the Indian scriptures.

The main monument houses an 11-foot statue of Lord Swaminarayan, an 18th century Hindu social reformer, whose disciples formed the Swaminarayan sect that has an estimated 100,000 followers worldwide.

Made of panch dhatu or five metals in accordance with the Hindu tradition, the statue is surrounded by those of the first five disciples. The sanctum sanctorum also has idols of prominent Hindu deities.

"The huge monument is built entirely of stone and marble and no iron or any other metal is used in its construction," Mukul Vyas, a volunteer guide, told IANS.

Guarded by two magnificent gates, Bhakti Dwar or devotion gate and Mayur Dwar or peacock gate, the prime spot of the complex has 234 profusely carved ornate pillars with more than 20,000 statues and statuettes, decorative arches and domes.

"If you observe minutely, you will see that no pattern is repeated," added Vyas.

Adjacent to the main temple is a large pond, called the Yagnapurush Kund, with 2,870 steps meant for religious rituals. The pond also has a musical fountain at the centre, which will be on for display twice every evening.

Another adjacent water body, Narayan Sarovar, reportedly contains waters drawn from the 151 holy rivers visited by Lord Swaminarayan.
A 60-acre thematically landscaped garden, Bharat Upvan, has lush lawns, gardens and exquisite bronze sculptures and statues of historical personalities. The complex also features a research centre that focuses on social harmony and religious values.

For visitors, the temple complex also has number of exhibition halls showcasing Indian culture down the ages with help of tableaux that come alive with animation and background voice.

An IMAX theatre will screen a 45-minute, titled "Mystic India", on the cross-country pilgrimage that Lord Swaminarayan made in his childhood days.

"It would take a visitor more than four hours to go through the temple, monuments, exhibition halls, the film and a sight-and-sound show," said Chandrakant Mehta, a volunteer.

In the past two decades, the BAPS, which has followers mainly in Gujarat and among Gujaratis abroad, has built more than 600 temples worldwide, including Britain and the US

- Nishant

Anonymous said...

What a splendid way to waste a lot of money... The money would have been well spent if it had been used in a massive rehabilitation program for people affected by natural or accidental calamities that occur all over india. We already have a huge number of temples, all over india. We have the great Taj as monument of massive worth. Why waste a lot of money on pursuits such as these ?