Monday, December 29, 2008

Delhi Darshan - Part 2: Akshardham Visit

We waited in a car queue for some time and then after a brief security check of the whole car, we were let in, into the huge parking complex. I think there must have been atleast 500 cars already there and there was space for many many more! We took some pictures, from the parking area, of the temple. We had to then keep everything (camera, mobile phones, all food items, baby's bag, aunty's hand bag etc) in the cloak room. Nothing is allowed inside. We then entered the gates after a brief security check and then through the main entry after another brief check. Security is strong, I must admit. And I think it must have been made stronger after 26/11. But, I couldn't find even a single policeman in the whole temple complex. Aunty said the temple authorities have their own security people and they don't need the police. True, everything was so well-organised…

Our first view of the whole temple complex… towering over us at a distance was the 141 ft high Akshardham Monument. Built of pink stone and white marble, without using steel, the temple complex was built over a period of just 5 years with over 3000-4000 workers from Orissa and Rajasthan each.

As it was almost 2.30 by then, we decided to take lunch first and then visit around the huge complex. The huge Premvati Food Court serves fresh, pure vegetarian food, snacks and drinks. My young cousin was quite surprised to find pizza being served in a temple. We had the tastiest chole-bhature, poori-subji, rice, pizza and ice-creams (since the day was a bit warm!) all for a mere cost of 290 rupees (If you are not a Delhite, let me tell you that the pizza alone would have cost above 200 anywhere outside in Delhi). We then started our tour of the place at 3 PM.

Passing through the Ten Gates (representing the ten principal directions described in the Vedas) we entered the Bhakti Dwar (208 sculpted dua forms of God and His devotee decorate this splendid gate). Inside this grand (everything is large, huge, big and grand here!!!) hall, I saw a huge (again!!!) reproduction of the Guinness World Record Certificate, certifying Delhi Akshardham to be the largest Hindu Temple in the whole world. Akshardham in London is the largest Hindu Temple outside India. We moved out of the hall through the Mayur Dwar (869 sculpted peacocks adorn the two gates and ‘if you have the time, patience and the eye, you will have a wonderful time in counting them’, this is what the plank describing the Dwar says).

Our first glimpse of the Swaminarayan Akshardham right from the front was here. Here we see the holy footprints of Bhagwan Swaminarayan (carved out of white marble and bear the 16 sacred signs of God) in memory of his incarnation on earth. There is much more to the place than just the temple. We got our tickets for the Exhibitions, for which the minimum waiting time was 2 and a half hours. We then moved to see the temple. Even water bottles are not allowed inside this welcome-to-all-religion temple. Seated in the centre of the monument is the 11 ft high gold plated murti of Bhagwan Swaminarayan. Around the inside of the temple are 9 magnificent domes, 20 pinnacles and over 20,000 superbly sculpted figures. No agarbattis and candles could be seen anywhere. (Atleast I didn’t find them!). We then moved out.
The Mandovar or the external wall of the monument (611 ft long and 25 ft high) comprises 4,287 carved stones and includes 48 Ganesh murtis. 180 ft of beautiful metallic reliefs adorn the walls. The Monument rests on a 1,070 ft long Gajendra Peeth, which has 148 life-sized sculpted stone elephants each weighing more than 3000 tons. Instead of looking at these things closely, we were more interested in wondering about the beauty of the whole place. It is said holy waters of 151 rivers, lakes and stepwells of India have been ritually added to the Narayan Sarovar that surrounds the monument. But…there was no water there!!! Some reconstruction work was underway. Are they going to collect water from 151 places again? (All the waters look the same, so pour the water from Yamuna that flows nearby and say, ‘we have collected water from 151 places including Mansarovar’) No offence here! My personal view, that was.
The whole monument is surrounded by a two-tier Parikrama or Colonnade, each tier being 3000 ft long! Some parts of this were still under construction stage. But the view inside this was marvelous.

Part 3: Coming really very very soon...

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