Akshardham or Swaminarayan Akshardham complex is a Hindu temple, and a spiritual-cultural campus in Delhi, India. Also referred to as Akshardham Temple or Swaminarayan Akshardham, the complex displays millennia of traditional Hindu and Indian culture, spirituality, and architecture. Inspired by Yogiji Maharaj and created by Pramukh Swami Maharaj, it was constructed by Bochasanwasi Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha.
The temple was officially opened on 6 November 2005 by Pramukh Swami Maharaj in the presence of Dr. A. P. J. Abdul Kalam, Manmohan Singh, L.K Advani and B.L Joshi. The temple, at the centre of the complex, was built according to the Vastu shastra and Pancharatra shastra.
In Akshardham Delhi, similar to its predecessor Akshardham Gandhinagar, Gujarat, the main shrine is the focal point and maintains the central position of the entire complex. There are various exhibition halls which provide information about the life and work of Swaminarayan. The designers of the complex have adopted contemporary modes of communication and technology to create the various exhibition halls.
The complex features an Abhisheka Mandap, Sahaj Anand water show, a thematic garden and three exhibitions namely Sahajanand Darshan (Hall of Values), Neelkanth Darshan (an IMAX film on the early life of Swaminarayan as the teenage yogi, Neelkanth), and Sanskruti Darshan (cultural boat ride). According to Swaminarayan Hinduism, the word Akshardham means the abode of almighty Lord Swaminarayan and believed by followers as a temporal home of God on earth.
The main attraction of the Swaminarayan Akshardham complex is the Akshardham Mandir. It rises 141-foot (43 m) high, spans 316-foot (96 m) wide, and extends 356-foot (109 m) long. It is intricately carved with flora, fauna, dancers, musicians, and deities.
Designed in accordance with the standards of Maharishi Vastu Architecture, it features a blend of architectural styles across India. It is entirely constructed from Rajasthani pink sandstone and Italian Carrara marble. Based on traditional Hindu architectural guidelines (Shilpa shastras) on maximum temple life span, it makes no use of ferrous metal. Thus, it has no support from steel or concrete.
The mandir also consists of 234 ornately carved pillars, nine domes, and 20,000 murtis of swamis, devotees, and acharyas. The mandir also features the Gajendra Pith at its base, a plinth paying tribute to the elephant for its importance in Hindu culture and India’s history. It contains 148 life sized elephants in total weighing a total of 3000 tons.
Under the temple’s central dome lies the 11-foot (3.4m) high murti of Swaminarayan seated in abhayamudra to whom the temple is dedicated. Swaminarayan is surrounded by images of the faith’s lineage of Gurus depicted either in a devotional posture or in a posture of service. Each murti is made of paanch dhaatu or five metals in accordance to Hindu tradition. The temple also houses the murtis of Sita Ram, Radha Krishna, Shiv Parvati, and Lakshmi Narayan.
Sahajanand Darshan (Hall of Values)
The Hall of Values features lifelike robotics and dioramas which display incidents from Swaminarayan’s life, portraying his message about the importance of peace, harmony, humility, service to others and devotion to God. Set in 18th century India, the audience experiences eternal messages gleaned from ancient Hindu culture such as non‐violence, vegetarianism, perseverance, prayers, morality, and family harmony through 15 3-D dioramas which make use of state of the art robotics, fibre optics, light and sound effects, dialogues, and music. The hall also features the world’s smallest animatronic robot in the form of Ghanshyam Maharaj, the child form of Swaminarayan.
Nilkanth Darshan (Theatre)
The theatre houses Delhi’s first and only large format screen, measuring 85-foot (26 m) by 65-foot (20 m). The theatre shows a 40-minute film specially commissioned for the complex, Neelkanth Yatra, to recount a seven-year pilgrimage made by Swaminarayan made during his teenage years throughout India. Mystic India, an international version of the film produced by Bochasanwasi Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha Charities, was released in 2005 at IMAX theatres and giant screen cinemas worldwide. A 27-foot (8.2 m) tall bronze murti of Neelkanth Varni is located outside the theatre.
Sanskruti Vihar (Boat Ride)
The Boat Ride is a 12-minute journey through 10,000 years glorious heritage, using life size figures and robotics to depict life in Vedic India, from family life to bazaars and teaching. It also shows the contributions of Vedic Indians to various fields such as science, astronomy, arts, literature, yoga, mathematics, etc. by eminent persons like mathematician-astronomers Aryabhata and Brahmagupta, grammarian Pāṇini, contributors to the ancient art and science of Ayurveda like Sushruta and Charaka, Classical Sanskrit writer Kālidāsa, philosopher, economist and royal advisor Chanakya, among others. It shows the world’s first university, Takshashila and the subjects taught there such as horse riding and warfare. It moves on to the Middle Ages to Sufi saints like Kabir and saints from the Bhakti movement such as Meera and Ramananda and then to recent times highlighting the contributions of modern Indian mathematicians such as Jagadish Chandra Bose, Srinivasa Ramanujan, C. V. Raman and Satyendra Nath Bose and philosophers like Swami Vivekananda.
Musical fountain, also known as the Yagnapurush Kund, is India’s largest step well. It features a very large series of steps down to a traditional ‘yagna kund’. During the day, these steps provide rest for the visitors to the complex and at night, a musical fountain show named Sahaj Anand – Multi-Media Water Show is shown. Sahaj Anand Water Show is a breathtaking 24-minute presentation which unites a variety of intriguing media to bring to life a story from the Kena Upanishad. Multi-color lasers, video projections, underwater flames, water jets and surround sound in symphony with lights and live actors produce a captivating and inspiring presentation. International experts contributed their expertise with Bochasanwasi Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha volunteers and swamis to produce this one-of-a-kind presentation. The fountain is named after the founder of the Hindu organisation Bochasanwasi Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha, Shastriji Maharaj. The fountain measures 300 feet (91 m) by 300 feet (91 m) with 2,870 steps and 108 small shrines. In its centre lies an eight-petaled lotus-shaped yagna kund designed according to the Jayaakhya Samhita of the Pancharatra shastra.
Garden of India
Also known as the Bharat Upavan, this garden has lush manicured lawns, trees, and shrubs. The garden is lined with bronze sculptures of contributors to India’s culture and history. These sculptures include children, women, national figures, freedom fighters, and warriors of India, including notable figures such as Mahatma Gandhi.
Yogi Hraday Kamal
A sunken gardinene, shaped like a lotus when viewed from above, features large stones engraved with quotes from world luminaries ranging from Shakespeare and Martin Luther King to Swami Vivekananda and Swaminarayan.
Devotees offer abhishek, a ritual of pouring water on to the murti of Nilkanth Varni, and express their reverence and prayers for spiritual upliftment and fulfilment of wishes.
The Narayan Sarovar is a lake that surrounds the main monument. The lake contains holy waters from 151 rivers and lakes that are believed to have been sanctified by Swaminarayan, including Mansarovar. Surrounding the Narayan Sarovar are 108 gaumukhs, symbolising Janmangal Namavali or the 108 names for god, from which holy water issues forth.
The Premvati Ahargruh/the Premvati Food Court is a vegetarian restaurant modelled on the Ajanta and Ellora caves in Maharashtra, India and an Ayurvedic bazaar. The restaurant caters a variety of traditional dishes.
The Akshardham Centre for Applied Research in Social Harmony or the AARSH Centre is a centre within the complex that applies research of social harmony and related topics. Scholars and students may conduct practical research through AARSH. Researchers have the ability to carry out their research projects and affiliate their papers with AARSH. Studies on education, medicare, tribal and rural welfare, ecology, and culture are conducted within the centre.
Planning and development
The building had been planned since 1968 as a vision of Yogiji Maharaj. Yogiji Maharaj, the spiritual head of the Bochasanwasi Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha Swaminarayan Sanstha at the time, expressed his desire for wanting a grand temple built on the banks of the Yamuna river to two or three devotee families of Swaminarayan that resided in New Delhi at the time. Attempts were made to start the project, however little progress was made. In 1971, Yogiji Maharaj died.
In 1982, Pramukh Swami Maharaj, Yogiji Maharaj’s successor as the spiritual head of Bochasanwasi Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha, started to continue fulfilling the dream of his guru Yogiji Maharaj and prompted devotees to look into the possibility of building the temple in Delhi. A request for the plan was put forward to the Delhi Development Authority (DDA), and several different places were suggested, including Ghaziabad, Gurgaon, and Faridabad. Pramukh Swami Maharaj stood firm in following the wishes of Yogiji Maharaj to build a temple on the Yamuna.
In April 2000, after 18 years, the Delhi Development Authority offered 60 acres (240,000 m2) of land, and the Uttar Pradesh Government offered 30 acres (120,000 m2) for the project. Upon receiving the land, Pramukh Swami Maharaj performed puja on the site for success in the project. Construction on the temple began on 8 November 2000 and Akshardham was officially opened on 6 November 2005, with the building being completed in two days short of five years.
Guinness world record
On 17 December 2007, Michael Whitty, an official world record adjudicator for Guinness World Record, travelled to Ahmedabad, India to present a new world record to Pramukh Swami Maharaj, the spiritual leader of Bochasanwasi Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha Swaminarayan Sanstha, for the Akshardham complex.
The record was presented for Akshardham as the World’s Largest Comprehensive Hindu Temple (certificate).
The certificate states,
“Bochasanwasi Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha Swaminarayan Akshardham in New Delhi, India, is the world’s largest comprehensive Hindu temple. It measures 356 ft (109 m). long, 316 ft (96 m). wide and 141 ft (43 m). high, covering an area of 86,342 sq ft (8,021.4 m2). The grand, ancient-style, ornately hand-carved stone temple has been built without structural steel within five years by 11,000 artisans and volunteers. Pramukh Swami, revered spiritual leader of Bochasanwasi Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha, consecrated the temple on 6 November 2005. Akshardham showcases the essence of India’s ageless art, borderless culture and timeless values.
Upon presentation of the award, Michael Whitty stated, “It took us three months of research, poring over the extensive architectural plans of the Akshardham and also those of other temples of comparable size, visiting and inspecting the site, before we were convinced that Akshardham deserved the title…”
There are three temples, the Meenakshi Amman Temple in Madurai, the Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple in Srirangam, and the Annamalaiyar Temple in Thiruvannamalai, all located in Tamil Nadu, India, which claim to be larger than Akshardham. The trustees of these temples have reportedly disputed the Guinness World Record.