Why is Akshardham so special?
India is a land of many temples and I have not seen all of them yet. But for me, Delhi’s Akshardham is very unique. It is quite a new temple as it was opened in 2005. It was built by thousands of craftsmen who carved its breathtaking exteriors and interiors by using traditional methods. The temple (or mandir – as this the Hindi word) is not only a tribute to Bhagwan Swaminarayan (1781-1830 CE) but also it is a tribute to great sages and avatars of God. And the message of Akshardham is as beautiful as the temple- every human has a God’s particle and every human has a different way to serve humanity.
Entering Akshardham Temple
While entering the temple, the first thing that you will see is the ten welcome gates which symbolize ten directions (according to Indian culture). Later, through “Bhakti Dwar” which shows 208 different pairs of God and his devotee like Ram and Sita or Krishna and Radha, you will enter the Visitor Center where one can find some brochures in different languages. Once you leave this building, you will come across the Holy Footprints (Charnarvind) of Bhagwan Swaminarayan carved in white marble and then you can admire the beauty of the Akshardham temple. It is built of pink stone and white marble while following the Vedic architectural tradition as no steel has been used. 234 carved pillars, 9 breathtaking domes and more than 20,000 sculpted figures – these numbers can give you an idea about the massive size of the mandir. Remember to take off your shoes before you enter the temple.
Inside the temple
I clearly remember that the temple had already taken my breath away while I was walking on its stairs and the feeling doubled when I crossed the doorstep.
In the very center, a huge gold – plated sculpture of Swaminarayan is surrounded by his five successors. Behind the main part, you can have a look at the holy relics of Swaminarayan. In the front part, you can also find four separate places with different avatars and their devotees – Krishna and Radha, Narayan and Lakshmi, Sita and Ram, Parvati and Shiv. As long as you are in there, you are likely to admire the intricately carved domes which are stunning. Every mandapam has a different story carved which is connected with the life of Swaminarayan. Be slow, be a keen observer and pay a close attention to the details. Feel the energy and let your body absorb it. Remember it is a temple and hence you are expected to be respectful.
While you are outside, you may want to circle around the temple in a clockwise direction. There is a lot to observe- especially the outstanding art that is everywhere on the façade. You are going to notice 60-feet long bronze panels (called Narayan Peeth) which showcase some scenes from the life of Swaminarayan. You may also want to circle around the temple once more but this time on the lower level. (where the shoes are permitted)
Exhibitions – a must-see
And now something that you should not miss! And these are three exhibitions (available in two languages – Hindi and English) which cost just 170INR for an adult (the prices are cheaper for seniors and kids 4-11 years old, below 4 the entry fee is free). The first one is called Sahajanand Darshan – The Hall of Value which takes you through a journey of universal values like service, compassion, unity, non-violence (ahimsa) and so on.
At this point, you would already get to know some parts of the life of Neelkanth and why vegetarianism is so important. It will take you 1 hour to go through all of them and that is why you must remember that you need to start visiting the exhibitions early enough since there are many more things to see. The next part is Neelkanth Darshan – a 45-minute movie on Swaminarayan’s early life that I mentioned in one of the previous paragraphs. It is definitely a must-watch as it will help you to understand the background of this great temple.
The last exhibition is Sanskruti Darshan – a 12-minute boat ride through thousands of years of Vedic era. Scenes of people performing surgery, doing yoga and playing chess, the oldest university class, market place, scenes related to astronomy and mathematics –all of this will show you the different sides of the ancient Vedic life.
Once you are done with the boat ride, make sure that you don’t get late for the Water Show which starts after the sunset. (Timings change according to the seasons). The show combines video projection, colorful lasers, water jets, underwater flames, music and a live performance by child actors. All of this just cost me 80INR however prices may change in future.
The show takes only 24 minutes and and the only drawback for a foreigner is that the whole performance is only in Hindi but regardless, the experience is truly amazing and you are likely to find some locals or the temple workers who may want to help you with translations later.
This is not the end!
After experiencing different exhibitions and spending a lot of time in the temple, you are likely to get hungry! Next to the water show, there are some small stalls which serve snacks but if you want to eat a proper meal, visit the food court which is towards the exit. You can find tasty and cheap food including delicious desserts. They also have a dessert which is one of my favorites – Mishti Dahi. Next to the canteen, you may want to take a look at the souvenir shop where you can buy interesting books, paintings, herbal medicines and souvenirs. This is also the place where the visitors collect their professionally clicked pictures which are taken inside the temple complex. It costs just a few dollars. Since, cameras and mobile phones are not allowed inside the complex, this is the only way to have a picture with the Akshardham temple in the background.
The Akshardham temple is something that I will never get bored with. I get a fresh and new feeling each time I visit this place. On my each visit, I focus on a different aspect of the temple and almost always, I realise that I am not able to see it all.
The temple also inspires me to look back at my own life and do a little bit of self introspection. This place is very special for me and I always take everyone there. I took my parents and my sister’s family there and they all loved it. All of them got stunned by different things and even my little niece was mesmerized by the surreal water show.
She said that it was the most beautiful thing that she had ever seen even she could not understand anything. Akshardham temple is a must-see for everyone, regardless of the religion, the country of origin or your age or beliefs.
Items like cameras, mobile phones and other electronic devices, food and drinks from the outside, pets, luggage, toys, alcohol and tobacco are not allowed. Every person is checked by security before entering the complex. In case you have some of these items with you, you can leave them in a free cloak room. There is a strict dress code within the complex – covered shoulders, chest, navel and upper arms and the lower wear must be at least below knee.
The entry to the complex is open from 9.30 am to 6.30pm (closed every Monday).
Presented basic information should not be the base to demand anything inside the complex as they can change. That is why before visiting Akshardham complex, I recommend you to visit the official website akshardham.com.