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Where Devotion Entertains – Lord Swaminarayan

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 one’s 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 seventeenth century.

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 that’s the first surprise—its 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 disconcerting.

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 shouting—not 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 Swaminarayan’s 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 life.

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 percussionist’s fingers move to the beat of the music and the lifelike recreation brings cheer to the audience alongwith a sense of wonder.

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 stomach’s 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 gourmet’s desire too and then set off back to the city.