25. Akshardham Temple, New Delhi
"Think of your house not as your home, but instead think of it as a temple of Lord Swaminarayan. Only then will Shriji Maharaj come and stay in your house."
- Ghanshyam Charitra
Akshardham is a Hindu temple complex in Delhi, India. Also referred to as Delhi Akshardham or Swaminarayan Akshardham, the complex displays millennia of traditional Hindu and Indian culture, spirituality, and architecture. The building was inspired and developed by Pramukh Swami Maharaj, the spiritual head of the Bochasanwasi Shri Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha, whose 3,000 volunteers helped 7,000 artisans construct Akshardham.
The temple, which attracts approximately 70 percent of all tourists who visit Delhi, was officially opened on 6 November 2005. It sits near the banks of the Yamuna adjacent to the 2010 Commonwealth Games village in eastern New Delhi. The temple, at the center of the complex, was built according to the Vastu Shastra and Pancharatra Shastra. In addition to the large central temple crafted entirely of stone, the complex features exhibitions on incidents from the life of Swaminarayan and the history of India, an IMAX feature on the early life of Swaminarayan as the teenage yogi, Nilkanth, a musical fountain on the message of the Upanishads, and large landscaped gardens. The temple is named after a belief in Swaminarayan Hinduism.
The main monument, at the center of the complex, is 43m high, 96m wide, and 109m long, and is covered top to bottom with carved details of flora, fauna, dancers, musicians, and deities.
Designed in accordance with ancient Vedic text known as the Sthapatya Shastra, it features a blend of architectural styles from across India. It is constructed entirely from Rajasthani pink sandstone and Italian Carrara marble, and has no support from steel or concrete.The monument also consists of 234 ornately carved pillars, nine domes, and 20,000 murtis and statues of Hinduism's sadhus, devotees, and acharyas. The monument also features the Gajendra Pith at its base, a plinth paying tribute to the elephant for its importance in Hindu culture and India's history. It contains 148 scale sized elephants in total and weighs a total of 3000 tons.
Within the monument, under the central dome, lies a murti or statue of Swaminarayan which is 3.4m high. The murti is surrounded by similar statues of the gurus of the sect. Each murti is made of paanch dhaatu or five metals in accordance to Hindu tradition. Also within the central monument lie the murtis of other Hindu deities, including Sita Ram, Radha Krishna, Shiv Parvati, and Lakshmi Narayan.
Hall of Values
Also known as Sahajanand Pradarshan, the Hall of Values features lifelike robotics and dioramas which display incidents from Swaminarayan's life, portraying his message about the importance of peace, harmony, humility, service to others and devotion to God. The Sahajanand Pradarshan is set in 18th century India and displays of 15 dioramas through robotics, fibre optics, light and sound effects, dialogues, and music. The hall features the world's smallest animatronic robot in the form of Ghanshyam Maharaj, the child form of Swaminarayan.
Named Neelkanth Kalyan Yatra, the theatre houses Delhi's first and only large format screen, measuring 26m x 20m. The theatre shows a film specially commissioned for the complex, Neelkanth Yatra, to recount a seven-year pilgrimage made by Swaminarayan made during his teenage years throughout India. Mystic India, an international version of the film produced by BAPS Charities, was released in 2005 at IMAX theatres and giant screen cinemas worldwide. An 8.2m high bronze murti of Neelkanth Varni is located outside the theatre.
Known as the Yagnapurush Kund, it is India's largest step well. It features a very large series of steps down to a traditional yagna kund. During the day, these steps provide rest for the visitors to the complex and at night, a musical fountain show representing the circle of life is played to an audience which is seated on the same steps. The fountain is named after the founder of the Hindu organisation, Shastriji Maharaj. The fountain measures 91m x 91m with 2,870 steps and 108 small shrines. In its center lies an eight-petaled lotus shaped yagna kund designed according to the Jayaakhya Samhita of the Panchratra shastra.
Garden of India
Also known as the Bharat Upavan, this garden has lush manicured lawns, trees, and shrubs. The garden is lined with bronze sculptures of contributors to India's culture and history. These sculptures include children, women, national figures, freedom fighters, and warriors of India, including notable figures such as Mahatma Gandhi.
Yogi Hraday Kamal
A sunken garden, shaped like a lotus when viewed from above, features large stones engraved with quotes from world luminaries ranging from Shakespeare and Martin Luther King to Swami Vivekananda and Swaminarayan.
Devotees offer abhishek, a ritual of pouring water on to the murti of Neelkanth Varni, and express their reverence and prayers for spiritual upliftment and fulfilment of wishes.
The Narayan Sarovar is a lake that surrounds the main monument. The lake contains holy waters from 151 rivers and lakes that are believed to have been sanctified by Swaminarayan, including Mansarovar. Surrounding the Narayan Sarovar are 108 gaumukhs, symbolising Janmangal Namavali or the 108 names for god, from which holy water issues forth.
The Premati Ahargruh or the Premvati Food Court is a vegetarian restaurant modelled on the Ajanta and Ellora caves in Maharashtra, India and an Ayurvedic bazaar. The restaurant caters a variety of traditional dishes.
Note: The Temple does not allow photography within the complex itself. Accordingly, these photos were taken from the public road, from the air and from the BAPS website, in order to respect the beliefs of devotees.