Akshardham Temple is a majestic, intricately carved stone structure set amidst sprawling gardens on a 23-acre plot in Gandhinagar (Gandhinagar district).
The former capital of Gujarat, Ahmedabad is a treasure trove of cultural and historical sites that fascinates every visitor. Captivated by its beauty, the famous poet Ulvi Shiraj depicted Ahmedabad as a beautiful mole on the face of the earth.
Religion has a strong influence on the culture of the city which today designated as a World Heritage City. A tour through the old city of Ahmedabad will be a true introduction to the rich cultural heritage of the city.
Ahmedabad offers a plethora of religious and historical sites. Travelers will be enthralled by the wonderful architectural heritage sites located in the city that date back centuries. The biggest attraction in the city is the Akshardham Temple, a notable temple of the Swaminarayan sect. It estimated that the auspicious structure visited by about two million tourists a year.
This impressive and well-known holy place, Akshardham Temple is located in Gandhinagar. It features the architectural expertise of over 900 craftsmen. Tourists from different parts of the country visit the place to explore the unparalleled beauty of the famous temple.
Famous for its architectural charm, the Akshardham Temple depicts the deep-rooted influence of the Swaminarayan sect on the culture of Gujarat. The unparalleled beauty of the temple attracts visitors with its architectural grandeur, attractive exhibition halls, and well-maintained gardens. It said that whenever Lord Swaminarayan took birth on earth, He brought His Akshardham with Him.
Swaminarayan and Akshardham Temple
The word Akshardham means the divine abode of God and as the name specifies, the Akshardham temple in Gandhinagar built in honor of Swaminarayan by the BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha. Inspired by Swaminarayan’s fourth successor Yogiji Maharaj and built by Pramukh Swami, the temple built in honor of Swaminarayan.
Yogiji Maharaj along with Pramukh Swamiji Maharaj was the backbone of the progress of BAPS. The classical part of the fifteenth-century architecture also houses the statues of Venerable Gunatitananda Swami and Gopalananda Swami.
Gunatitananda Swami, a great sage who popularly known as Akshara Brahma. Legend has it that he had a divine vision or divine sight through which he saw Swaminarayan as a child.
An influential orator, Gunatithananda served as the mahant or head of the Swaminarayan temple in Junagadh for forty years. He played an important role in spreading the teachings of Swaminarayan to the common people and referred to as the first spiritual successor of Swaminarayan.
Gopalananda Swami was a Paramahamsa of the Swaminarayan sect who spent most of his time in Vadodara propagating the teachings of Swaminarayan.
Swaminarayan was one of those great sages who preached the virtues of humanity, universal brotherhood, and methods of self-realization. He admired not only by Hindus but also by the British, Muslims, and Christians as a great social and spiritual leader.
Born in Uttar Pradesh as Ghanshyam Pandey, he started his spiritual journey at the age of 11 and traveled to different parts of the country covering an area of 12000 km. After spending more than nine crucial years of his life in search of spiritual enlightenment he settled in Gujarat in 1799 joining his guru and a great yogi, Swami Ramananda.
His guru nominated him as the new leader of the Uddhava sect, and the influential saint began teaching his disciples the Swaminarayan Mahamantra. Soon he came to be known as Swaminarayan and the sect was named Swaminarayan Sect. He established six temples in India and installed idols of gods and goddesses in these holy places of worship.
To propagate his philosophy for the welfare of mankind he appointed 500 Paramahamsa who went to various places to work for the welfare of poor people and spread his teachings.
The architecture of Akshardham Temple
An architectural masterpiece carefully carved out of 6000 metric tons of pink sandstone from Rajasthan. A majestic temple has an amazing seven feet tall idol of Swaminarayan weighing about 1.2 tons and placed in three feet pedestals in the central hall.
Swaminarayan appears seated with his right hand raised in a gesture of fearlessness called abhaya mudra, offering protection from evil and removing fear from the minds of his devotees. Swaminarayan’s ardent devotees Murthytananda Swami of AksharBrahma Guni and Aksharmukta Gopalananda Swami are located on either side of Swaminarayan’s murti or idol.
A sacred complex that rises to a height of 108 feet and spans 131 feet in width and 240 feet in length represents the amazing architectural skill of the artisans. The corners of the temple carved with several statues of Swaminarayan’s successors. The temple fascinates the visitors with its wonderful architecture and intricate details.
An interesting feature of the temple is that no steel used in its construction. A magnificent sacred complex standing on seven sculpted pillars and supported by 210 single-piece stone beams.
Footprints of Swaminarayan
With 16 holy symbols of God at the entrance of the temple, footprints of Swaminarayan made of marble.
An amazing temple decorated with around 200 idols attracts the attention of all visitors. The sanctum sanctorum or sanctum sanctorum also contains pictures of other successors of Swaminarayan namely Bhagatji Maharaj, Shastriji Maharaj, Yogiji Maharaj, Pradhan Swami Maharaj, and Mahanta Swami Maharaj.
The central hall of the temple called Hari Mandapam adorned with a gold-plated statue of Swaminarayan in the center. Fans will impressed by the serene atmosphere of the hall.
The temple also houses the idols of Lord Krishna along with his consorts Radha and Goddess Lakshmi. Devotees will be mesmerized by the images of Lord Rama displayed along with his consort Goddess Sita and their ardent devotee Lord Hanuman. Lord Shiva who present with his consort Goddess Parvati and his son Lord Ganesha also worshipped by the devotees.
The temples honoring the deities themselves are amazingly awe-inspiring and house the deities in colorful costumes and amazing adornments.
The temple has two sections where the first floor has a lotus-shaped display known as the Vibhuti Mandapam which depicts the character of Swaminarayan. The Prasad Mandapam located in the basement displays a huge collection of various relics of Swaminarayan’s life.
Go through the Garment Hall and look at Swaminarayan’s amazing collection of used garments. The Hall of Travels displays items used during Swaminarayan’s travels to different parts of the country, including his sandals and a bullock cart.
It also displays items used by him during various festival celebrations. The Hall of Holy Remains collects the holy leader’s hair, teeth, nails, and ashes.
Visitors will be fascinated by Swaminarayan’s statue writing a letter that displays one of their original letters written by him.
Abhishek Mandapam is a notable Mandapam where Nilakanta Varni’s Abhishekam performed. Abhishekam is an important Hindu ritual in which the deity bathed with water and other specified items while chanting religious verses or prayers. Neelkanth Varni’s idol consecrated in 2014 by Pramukh Swamiji Maharaj, the spiritual leader of the BAPS Swaminarayan Sansthan.
After the December 14 inauguration by Pramukh Swami Maharaj’s successor, Mahanta Swami Maharaj, visitors have the opportunity to abhishekam the holy idol while Sanskrit verses recited. Devotees wish the well-being of their family members while performing the ritual.
Five exhibitions located on the premises of the sacred complex highlight the life of Swaminarayan and important features and principles of Hinduism. Light and sound shows, animatronics figures, scenic presentations, short videos, and 3D dioramas are a must-see to depict important aspects of Swaminarayan’s life.
Neelkanth and Sahaganand Hall of Values
Neelkanth and Sahagananda Hall of Values highlight the teachings, life, and work of Swaminarayan through multimedia technology. Learn about Hindu culture through exciting projections, 3-D dioramas, and audio-animatronics illustrations.
Step back in history as you look at the miniature model of the village in Uttar Pradesh, Chapia where the divine soul, Swaminarayan was born. Visitors can get a close-up view of the old well, lake, and trees where he spent most of his time amidst the impressive village.
The Sundarbans gives you a glimpse of the Himalayas, the jungles of Assam, and the coastal regions of South India where Swaminarayan roamed as Nilakanta Varni in search of spiritual enlightenment. An audio-animatronics show depicts the installation ceremony of Swaminarayan as Guru and spiritual head of the Swaminarayan community.
The Paramahamsa Hall built to pay tribute to the five hundred spiritual leaders that Swaminarayan employed to spread his teachings. These gold-plated idols of Paramahamsa stand facing the awe-inspiring idol of Swaminarayan. Get a glimpse of the Akshardham Temple models built by Swaminarayan.
Mystic India Hall
Mystic India is an IMAX theater that showcases a 40-minute movie called Mystic India. An inspirational film directed by Keith Melton and narrated by Peter O’Toole portrays Swaminarayan’s spiritual journey spanning seven years when he known as Neelkanth Varni. It shot in 108 locations across the country involving around 45000 artists.
Funded and produced by BAPS Charities, the film won the Audience Choice Award at the 10th International Large Format Film Festival at La Geode in Paris and was the most popular Film at the San Jose IMAX Film Festival.
Mystic India beautifully captures the journey he embarked on at the age of eleven after the death of his parents to pursue spiritual pursuits. He walked about 12000 km from the Himalayas to the southern tip of India. The movie also showcases the country’s architectural landmarks including the Rath Yatra of Jagannath Puri and the Rameswaram temple.
Premananda Hall has three sections with one section focusing on Hindu scriptures, Mahabharata, Ramayana, and Upanishads. . Mahabharata and Ramayana are Sanskrit epics of ancient India. See dioramas and paintings depicting key messages from the sacred texts of the Mahabharata and Ramayana.
The diorama depicts scenes from the sacred texts of the Mahabharata and the Bhagavad Gita. The Upanishads sacred texts written in India somewhere around 800 and 500 BCE that focus on the realization of Atma or Spirit and Paramatma or God.
The second section, called the Hall of Harmony, displays images of symbols, scriptures, holy places, moral codes, and prayers of the world’s major religions. Although there are different religions and beliefs, they all share the same message of universal harmony.
The last part of Premananda Hall pays tribute to the country’s most famous poets. Feel the divinity as you listen to spiritual songs.
The saint is the supreme benefactor
Sant Param Hitkari is an audio-animatronics show that conveys the message of how to achieve happiness. Go back to the 19th century when Swaminarayan joined the assembly with the great saints. A fifteen-minute animated show sheds light on the life of Swaminarayan and his religious path.
Sachitananda Light Show
Depicting the story of a small child Nachiketa, the spectacular light show is a major attraction of the famous place. A vibrant show that combines the power of fireballs, fountain animation, multicolored lasers, huge water screen projections, and music is a mindboggling experience.
The 45-minute-long show revolves around a story of Kathopanishad presented in an open amphitheater with live actors.
Nachiketa was the son of a sage Udalaka who performed a yajna offering all his processions to attain spiritual bliss. Instead of gifting valuables, he gifted sick cows and unused property. Nachiketa interrupts his father’s work and asks his father to whom he is going to offer Nachiketa. In anger, his father offered him to Yama, the god of death.
The little nine-year-old boy Nachiketa went to Lord Yama and waited for him at his door for three days without food and water. Lord Yama tried to scare him in various ways but Nachiketa unmoved. Pleased with the youth’s patience and courage, Lord Yama offered him a choice of any three boons.
As a simple youth, he asked Lord Yama to give his father a calm mind and knowledge of sacrifice. Finally, he asks Yama to tell the truth about what happens after death. Lord Yama said that Nachiketa at a very young age could seek material desires rather than trying to learn about the truth of life.
Later events give an introduction to truth, consciousness, and bliss called sat-chit-ananda. Watching the amazing story through the light show is going to be a mesmerizing experience.
Sahajananda Van is an enchanting garden spread over 15 acres of land with amazing attractions including a fountain, stone sculptures, a waterfall, and a nursery spread over 18000 sq. ft. Notable features include six cultural knowledge sites depicting the tenets of Hinduism. A stunning and wonderful garden housing 57000 trees, shrubs, and plants.
Surya Rath called Surya Rath is the main attraction drawn by seven stallions. Moon God is worshiped in Hinduism for providing life and light in the darkness. A moon chariot drawn by ten deer is built in his honor.
Another attraction is the sculpture featuring Samudra Manthan where celestial deities and Asuras fought to get amrita or precious nectar.
Visitors can see the sculpture which features a woman sitting on a rock with a veena and a pot from which the Ganges, Yamuna, Sutlej, Narmada, and Saraswati pour water representing the holy rivers of India.
Promoting the principles of Swaminarayan, BAPS organized the Akshardham Center for Applied Research in Social Harmony (AARSH) which conducts several social programs like debates and discussions on religious issues.
A progressive research center with a vast library containing more than 7000 works in Sanskrit, Hindi, Gujarati, and Tamil languages. It also has a large collection of manuscripts describing various schools of Hindu philosophy.
How to reach Akshardham Temple
Akshardham Temple is located in Gandhinagar and takes about thirty minutes to reach from Ahmedabad’s Sardar Vallabhbhai Airport and forty-five minutes to reach from Ahmedabad’s Kalupur Railway Station. Ahmedabad has two bus stops namely Geeta Mandir and Paldi. Various cities are well connected to Ahmedabad through both Gujarat state buses and private operators. You can also book a private cab from top car rental companies in Ahmedabad to reach Akshardham comfortably.
A number of thrilling rides are available to keep children busy.
As Akshardham Temple is a sacred abode of God, visitors are expected to wear appropriate clothing covering the shoulders, chest, navel, and upper arms. The dress must be at least knee length. One can even get a free sarong at the entrance if their attire does not conform to the above guidelines available on a refundable deposit.
Facilities Available at Akshardham Temple
Akshar Hut: Akshar Dham has a book and gift center with several books, audio, and videos. People can also shop for authentic Ayurvedic and Puja items.
Food Court: Travelers can enjoy both Indian and Continental food.
Parking Facility: The parking facility is available at the gate at a reasonable cost. No cargo or cargo vehicles are allowed for parking.
Wheelchairs: Passengers can get wheelchairs free of charge for the physically challenged at the entrance gate.
Cloak Room: Phones and luggage are not allowed inside the premises and may be deposited in the cloakroom.
Restrooms: There are well-maintained restrooms within the premises.
Security check: To ensure the safety of visitors, metal detectors are used at the entrance. Visitors and vehicles are checked by security personnel.