In Gujarat, a state in the Western part of India,
Lord Swaminarayan is a popular cult figure with a large following
growing in his spiritual teachings. A centre devoted to his memory
and his teachings combines both devotion and entertainment.
The drive from Ahmedabad
to Akshardham, the monument temple of Lord Swaminarayan, is
comparatively long. It depends on the weather Gods to make the
journey pleasant or an actual test of ones devotion. Either
way, it does not deter pilgrims who come from far and wide to visit
this complex entirely devoted to the spiritual leader who walked the
streets of Gujarat and many other parts of India about the
As you drive along from
the main city of Ahmedabad, suddenly in the distance set amongst
gardens of green, rises a monument that looks like a palace out of
the past. At least a hundred years old, the mind mumbles to itself.
And thats the first surpriseits only about seven years
old. But now, says the administration of the complex, it will last
more than a thousand year since it has been built without the use of
iron and steel. The sheer size and such ideas of permanence and
eternity that this complex seems to spell is at once awesome and
Peity is somber, I have
been told and so I enter the complex in all solemnity. As one goes
in, either to the left or to the right there is excited shoutingnot
from pilgrims who have seen a miracle but from children and grown ups
alike who are having a whale of a time. Literally! What with a water
slide and other joy rides to choose from, the atmosphere is of light
hearted fun. Laughter and fun are very much a part of spirituality!
As one walks on under the
shade of the trees overhanging the path to the temple housing
glimpses of the history of the Swaminarayan cult, the anticipation
mounts. Is the architectural magnificence of the whole complex the
only reason that brings people to this place? Or is it only devotion
that explains the visit of almost 5000 people per day?
The steps are cool under
the feet. Slowly the full grandeur of the structure impresses itself
on one. The few yards from the steps to the inner sanctum sanctorum
are crossed in silence. Then one sees a huge bronze figure which at
first looks like it is made of pure gold because of the shine. The
seven foot high image is of Lord Swaminarayan. The images of various
other saints of this cult are also to be seen around the room. Each
has a vessel with bouquets of pretty artificial flowers. The walls
are inscribed with various sayings and tenets.
The cold marble steps
lead to the next floor where there are lotus shaped bronze flowers
bearing within them different coloured lighted plaques inscribed with
more thoughts and teachings. Sugar coated philosophy.
For a nominal fee one is
allowed to go into the rooms which have amongst other attractions a
sound and light show ad a recreation of an event from the lord
Swaminarayans life. The rooms also displays some of his
personal belongings as well as some remnants of his person, like
strands of his hair, the clothes he wore and the implements he used.
On a replica of a tree is embedded a piece of the original.
The whole tour of the
premises is divided into four sections. The tour takes upto 2-3
hours. There is a recreation of the forest where the young Lord
Swaminarayan went for penance, complete with rain and roaring tigers
and bears and snakes. Children have a field day in this section.
There is a recreation of a village the Lord gave his discourse in
with a short introduction complete with sound effects.
Opening the doors that
are made to look like the old Gujarati mansion doors, one is led into
another sound and light show. Beautiful recreations of the star
studded universe have been made here. The longest documentary in the
experience as Akshardham, shows the fall of man in the pursuit of
materialism and how by following the preaching of Lord Swaminarayan
and the saints of this cult one can lead an enlightened and good
The multi media show is
designed by Prof. Jeroslav Fric of erstwhile Czechoslovakia. It is a
silk production and as with all the other parts of the tour merges
latest science and technology with spiritualism, in itself making the
place unique. The last part of the tour is a recreation of a
discourse of the Lord and the devotional songs during the discourse.
This has been done with the help of audio animatronics. The
percussionists fingers move to the beat of the music and the
lifelike recreation brings cheer to the audience alongwith a sense of
The complex even has a
well stocked library of over 7000 reference books dealing with
various philosophical and religious schools of thought in India. The
library is called the Akshardham Centre for Applied Research in
Social Harmony of AARSH.
After the mind was filled
with the ideas and inspiration the stomachs craving can be
filled too. The canteen within the complex provides for a filling and
interesting array of food items at reasonable items. So after taking
a couple of joy rides and roaming around an immaculately thought out
complex one can satisfy the gourmets desire too and then set
off back to the city.