Tuesday, August 23, 2005

The God of All Things

Visiting a temple has always been an 'outing' for the average Indian. Especially so for housewives.

Long before early morning walks in salwar kameez and Reeboks became socially acceptable, the only excuse bahus had to get some fresh air and 'darshan' of the outside world was to say,"Maaji, main zara mandir ho kar aa rahi hoon".

You could even dress up a bit for the occassion - and get away with it.
What's more, given the number of festivals and fasting days on the Hindu calendar, there was always some God or Godess who would need to be paid a personal visit.

These were the thoughts in my mind as I stepped into Akshardham. The grand Swaminarayan temple in Gandhinagar - now better known as the temple once held hostage by terrorists.

You can't really forget that - given the elaborate, airport-style security at the gate. If yor mobile phone has a camera, even that will have to be surrendered outside.

Kotler would be proud
However the trouble is worth it. It's truly an impressive complex. The gardens are immaculate and lush green. Not a piece of kachra to be seen anywhere. And the temple building itself is grand - by any standard.

Of course, once you are inside the temple you're slightly disoriented. There are no Ram-Sita/ Krishna/ Durga statues. Or the standard shiv-lingam. It is after all a 'Swaminarayan' temple, so you have a giant golden (or is it pure gold?) statue of Swaminarayan maharaj.

No explanation of any kind is given about him. To learn about his claim to sainthood there is of course the 'exhibition hall'. Here, there are giant tableaus of key scenes from the Ramayan, Mahabharat, Upanishads et al. Some of the exhibits are mechanised in "It's a Small World" style.

Welcome to Spiritual Disneyland.

The ultimate objective, of course, is to build the Swaminarayan brand. To associate this relatively new spiritual name with the old and established names in the religious supermarket.

So we're also given an education in the life and times of Swaminarayan. Now whether or not you leave the hall accepting the fact that Swaminarayan is an avatar of God is debatable. But the idea of planting the seed of that thought in this manner is quite brilliant.

Pet + Pooja
What's more, the Akdhardham complex is now a full-fledged 'entertainment' centre. There are amusement park style rides - including a water slide. And a very clean, cheap and cheerful food court offering everything from paranthas to "nuddles". (their spelling, not mine).

In an era of multiplexes and malls, Akshardham is also working hard to retain its place as destination families choose to go to on a Saturday evening. And I think in that objective it has certainly succeeded!


  1. Though I am an atheist, I do go to temples in new places..and on one such trip I visited the Swaminarayan Temple in London..They claim to be the largest Hindu temple outside India...Its truely grand...
    I wonder if there is a case for taxing all the profits of a religious institution while ensuring it doesnt spend too much on itself... (Somehow, grand temples seem to me a great injustice in a country where many 3 year olds have to beg at every traffic signal)

  2. temples kinda epitomize our country, where people blindly bend over in front of power, and yeah poverty and starvation still haunt us, which reflects our temples

    i went to rishi kesh once and was astonished to see the blindness by way of which many beggars were ebing given money and what nots

    i am a god fearing and a god believer at heart, though im not religious and am not against any religion
    but religion sometime blinds people, and they r worse off than bats

  3. i wish it was better than just brand promotion that these trusts managed.. i mena with all the moolah they are raking in through the temple wasnt enough to these people are making ti big on the entertainment centre as well..

  4. Welcome to Ahmedabad !!!
    I'm 100% agree with Shivaji.
    I would really welcome one post about Ahmedabad from you.

  5. Akshardham attracts ginormous amounts of visitors even today. I am from A.P. and I told my grandfather about the statue made entirely out of gold. Everytime I go for a stint at the home during vacation he always manages to either recollect or enquire it's weight. Oh yes ! I've been told that its a statue made of 2800 (one zero might be extra :p) kilograms of mostly unadulterated gold.

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  10. Does the temple have vending machines of Karma Cola?

  11. At the center of the spacious Akshardham complex, a delicate and beautiful architectural masterpiece - the Akshardham Monument - enshrines the golden murti (idol) of Lord Swaminarayan, the founder of the Swaminarayan Faith.

    The imposing 10 story high monument is made entirely of intricately carved, 6000 tons of pink sand-stone from Rajasthan, with no steel or cement used at all, ensuring that the monument will last for a thousand years. It is 108 ft.(32.92 m) tall, 240 ft.(73.15 m) long and 131 ft.(39.93 m) wide.

    Designed and crafted according to ancient Indian Architectural Treatises (called the Sthaapatya shastras), the monument radiates a spiritual aura into the complex. The monument is awash with silence and peace, which one spontaneously experiences in the three floors -

    Hari Mandapam (the main floor),
    Vibhuti Mandapam (the upper floor),
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    Art & Architecture:

    Suspended from the skies like a shimmering chandelier, Akshardham is an architectural marvel of this Century. Awe-inspiring auspiciousness and amazing craftsmanship! 6,000 tons of pink sandstone have been pieced together with incredible accuracy. More than 12 million man hours of 900 skilled craftsmen have created this magnificent monument of 93 sculpted pillars, 40 windows carved from both sides, and a feast of forms and filigrees. Built inch to inch according to the ancient Sthaapatya shastras of India, no steel has been used. Support beams are 22 ft. single piece stone blocks. The pillars are poetry in stone, with beautiful expression from foot to crown. Every carving carries a meaning. Every statue breathes life! The intricacy, the delicacy, the austerity is breathtaking. The patterns are peaceful while the dome resonates with vibrations divine. It is because Akshardham is more than an architectural masterpiece, it is the living devotion of devotees to create Heaven on Earth.

    Visit www.akshardham.com and www.swaminarayan.org for more information.

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