Every human has his own taste and style. Some people love gulab jamun and other prefer ras malai (Indian desserts). Some people enjoy trekking off the beaten track and others choose hectic city life. But, regardless of the traveler or human type you are, I recommend you one place which for me is one of the most beautiful places in the world I have ever seen. And that is Akshardham Temple in Delhi. Visit it, explore it, feel it… And then share with me your opinion and your experience there. And by the way, apart from the one in Delhi, there are also similar temples in Gujarat and New Jersey.
Why is Akshardham so special?
Some people will say that this is just another temple and India is like a hub of outstanding buildings. In a way, they are right. Indians temples are remarkable, stunning and you can feel there this special breath of spirituality. But Akshardham for me is unique because of its background, atmosphere, unique exhibitions and outstanding form. Even its name brings some special touch – the adobe of God. It is quite a new temple as it was opened in 2005 but the way it was built with thousands of craftsmen who carved the breathtaking exteriors and interiors with their own hands! The temple (or mandir – as this the Hindi word) is not only a tribute to Bhagwan Swaminarayan (1781-1830 CE) but also great sages and avatars of God. And what is the message of Aksardham – that every human has a God’s particle and every human has a different way to serve humanity. Visit to Akshardham can have a different dimension to every human – some will come just to pray, others will admire the scrutiny of work visible in the mandir and there will be also those who will travel through Vedic times on a boat.
Who is Bhagwan Swaminarayan?
To start with, let’s have a look on the life of a teenage boy Neelkanth who later became known as Swaminarayan Sampraday. When he was 11 years old he left his home and started a lonely journey through India – from freezing Himalayas to the hot beaches of South India. It took him 7 years to cover 12,000 km barefoot carrying almost nothing. He experienced a lot being almost a child but he also discovered himself and possessed wisdom which later he shared with others selflessly and that is how he inspired millions of people around the world and more than 200 years later he is still keep influencing and teaching. During his lifetime, he built six temples, and after his death BAPS (Bochasanwasi Akshar Purushottam Sanstha) was established. I am not sharing with you all the details of the life of this great guru as I invite to see a movie which is shown in Akshardham temple and also during one of the exhibitions we can see some small extracts from his journey and his preaching.
Entering Akshardham Temple
The first thing that you will see entering the temple are ten welcome gates which symbolizes 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 or ask for some volunteer who will help in managing your time at the whole Akshardham complex. 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 and following the Vedic architectural tradition, no steel has been used. 234 carved pillars, 9 breathtaking domes and more than 20,000 sculpted figures – this shows the vastness of the mandir. Remember to take off your shoes before you enter the temple.
Inside the temple
I remember that when I was walking on the stairs of the temple, I was so mesmerized that it simply took my breath away and the moment I crossed the doorstep, this feeling doubled. In the center, a huge gold – plated sculpture of Swaminarayan is surrounded by his five successors. Behind the main part, you can have a look on the holy relics of Swaminarayan. In the front part, you can also find four separate places with God and his devotee – Krishna and Radha, Narayan and Lakshmi, Sita and Ram, Parvati and Shiv. Once in the temple, don’t forget to look up at the intricately carved domes which are remarkable. Each of the nice mandapam has a different topic connected with Swaminarayan. Take your time there, observe everything and feel this atmosphere. Remember that it is a temple so maintain peace and dignity.
Once you are outside, take a clockwise round around the temple observing the outstanding art visible on the façade. You will be able to notice 60-feet long bronze panels (called Narayan Peeth) which showcase some scenes from the life of Swaminarayan. Take one more round (where the shoes are permitted) on the lower pathway where different situations related to elephants are shown – some of them present some great lessons and stories.
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 many more which are shown in a series exhibits using different technologies. At this point, you will 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 that is why remember to start visiting the exhibitions early enough as there are many more things to see. The next part is Neelkanth Darshan – a 45-minute movie on Swaminarayan early life that I mentioned in one of the previous paragraph. It is definitely a must-watch 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. Doing surgery, playing chess, the oldest university class, market place, playing chess, doing yoga, astronomy, mathematics – different scenes show you a different part of ancient Vedic life.
After you finish this, make sure that you make on time to attend the Water Show which starts after the sunset and is played mostly twice a day (make sure what time it starts while buying the ticket). The show combines video projection, colorful lasers, water jets, underwater flames, music and a live actor performance! All this in one and just for 80INR! It takes only 24 minutes and during this time you get to know the story of four playing boys whose joy was not liked by gods who feel very powerful and they forget about their place in the universe. They are getting a lesson but this is something that you will be able to see once you experience the show on your own. The only drawback for the foreigner is that the whole performance is only in Hindi but even though you may not understand it, the experience is amazing and there will definitely be someone who will summarize it for you later 🙂
This is not the end!
After spending so much time experiencing different exhibitions you will definitely get hungry! Next to the water show, there are some small stalls serving snacks but if you want to eat a proper meal, visit the food court which is on the other side of the temple where you can find tasty and cheap food including delicious desserts like one of my favorites – Mishti Dahi. Next to the canteen, you may take a look on the souvenir shop where you can buy interesting books, paintings, herbal medicines and some small souvenirs. This is also the place where you can collect the picture of you taken by the professional next to the temple (one costs around 200INR). As cameras and mobile phones are not allowed inside the complex, this is the only way to have a picture with Akshardham in the background.
The Akshardham temple is something that I will never get bored with. Every time I visit this place, I feel it in a different way, I focus on a different aspect and after leaving this place I always have this time of reflection on my life and the path that I am taking. This place is special for me and I take there everyone who visits India, I took there my parents and my sister’s family and they all loved it. Each of them got stunned with different things and even my small niece could not believe that something like the Water Show is real! She called it the most beautiful thing she has ever seen even though she could not understand anything. Akshardham temple is for everyone a must-see, regardless of the religion, country of origin, 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 the official website akshardham.com to confirm.