India is a major tourist destination owing to its rich culture and heritage. From exotic beaches to wild jungles and golden deserts, there’s lot to explore once you travel to this sub-continent. And each part of India is different from the other. For example, when you visit Gujarat, you will definitely explore the great historical places and the religious destinations. Gujarat lies on the western side of the sub-continent and one of the most prominent places of worship in this state can be referred to the Swaminarayan Akshardham Temple. It is a specimen of traditional stone work, ancient wisdom and the best of contemporary technology that speaks volumes about the cultural heritage of India. It is a magnificent shrine that is located in the heart of Gandhinagar in Gujarat.
This beautiful temple is dedicated to Lord Swaminarayan and inspired by HDH Pramukh Swami Maharaj. The Akshardham shrine is actually a miracle created by the sacrifice of thousands of artists and volunteers. In fact, there are more than 2 million visitors who visit this shrine every year. In fact, most of the people who travel to Gujarat make it a point to pay a visit to this famous place of worship. And when you visit this temple, you are not just a tourist or a traveler but you will be an artist who will discover the art of sculpting oneself from within.
- The internationally famous Swaminarayan Akshardham temple was established on 2nd November 1992. The credit for laying the foundation of this place of worship goes to the Bochasanwasi Akshar-Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha (BAPS).
- Akshardham temple describes the concept of Man-making. The devotee’s belief that only an individual can shape his own life and become sensible in the true sense. To project this belief, architecture along with literature, music and hi-tech equipment have been used with extreme care and passion to make it distinct. The success of the shrine lies in the fact that it turns an individual into a Man.
- The monument symbolizes tremendous human effort that has gone into its formation. Another aspect being that the leader has inspired many devotees through his teachings. Pramukh Swami Maharaj has created a rare mixture that comprises of the monument and the selflessness of the Guru and the disciples which draw people from every corner of the world.
- The creation of this incredible Akshardham temple is a remarkable event in the history of India.
Significance of the Akshardham Temple
- The inauguration ritual of the Swaminarayan Akshardham temple coincided with the centenary celebrations of Yogiji Maharaj and was conducted by Pramukh Swami Maharaj only.
- Akshardham Temple at Gandhinagar is minutely carved coupled with a striking monument of 6000 tons of pink sandstone soaked with religious stillness.
- This whole structure was built without using steel in order to increase the maximum longevity of the architecture.
- There is a 7 feet gold leafed idol of Lord Swaminarayan and his holy ruins. In addition, there are three exhibitions on Indian culture with light and sound shows.
- Akshardham temple is built at a height of 108 feet and is 240 feet in length, 131 feet in breadth. In addition, the porch around the monument measures 1751 feet (534 meters) in length alone.
- It is only after investing 13 laborious years that the architecture of this beautiful temple was completed. In addition, it is the skilled artisans of Bansipahadpur who had done the minute carvings of the auspicious shrine.
- One of the significant factors about this shrine is that it has its own research centre known as, Akshardham Center for Applied Research in Social Harmony (AARSH). This center aims at using knowledge of the past, concentrating on the present pattern and masterminding conceivable answers for the future.
- The research facility is equipped with an extensive library, study stations, and archives. However, it is only open to enlisted scholars who receive the benefits.
- The first floor of the temple comprises of a museum, which has a collection and a gallery of over 500 ‘parahansas’. Some other items which are displayed here are the letter to the guru of Swaminarayan Ramanand, an art object from an old tree from Chapaya, the shawl used by Swaminarayan and an image of the Lord seated on a horse.
- The galleries present on the external side serve as the venue for the artistic exhibition and also paves a way for Chez Intervasion shows, audio-visuals, multi-media and the works of Lord Swaminarayan from the Hindu epics.
- The temple has three permanent exhibition halls inside the complex, which was started with the aim of educating masses on issues regarding religion and BAPS movement.
- The garden surrounding the sanctum sanctorum is known as Sahajanand Van or the first hall and represents a unique intermingling of reflective garden and children’s park.
- The second hall or the Sat-Chit-Anand of this place of worship holds the exhibition in a 14-screen multimedia representation. Besides it also contains the ‘Tunnel of Mirrors’ that stands for a glass mosaic and a dancing musical fountain.
- The third hall of this holy place has many fiberglass models that represent various memos from the Ramayana, Mahabharata, and Upanishads. An audio-animatronics show portraying various messages from Mahabharata and an exhibition of ‘Harmony of world religions’ are some of the major attractions of this exhibition.
- Photography and making videos are strictly prohibited in this temple.
- It was on September 24, 2002, that two armed terrorists attacked this temple killing 33 people and around 70 individuals were injured. The Indian National Security Guard killed both the terrorists and the temple opened after 14 days of the attack.
Swaminarayan Akshardham Temple Timings
- Akshardham Temple remains open from Tuesday to Sunday from 9:30 A.M. to 7:30 P.M.
- Mondays remain closed.
- The night lighting shows takes place on Saturdays and Sundays.
- Exhibitions start at 10 A.M. and ends at 6:00 P.M.
Swaminarayan Akshardham Temple Food Timings
- Visitors are not allowed to carry any food inside the temple premises.
- Premvati Refreshments at Sahajanand Van provides fresh vegetarian food and snacks to tourists. A tourist can relish the unique taste of the traditional Gujarati dishes here and one can also book meals in advance.
- The restaurant is open from 10 A.M. to 8 P.M.
Festivals celebrated at the Akshardham Temple
- Annakut Utsav is celebrated with great pomp in this temple. It is observed soon after Diwali and Annakut which refers to a huge amount of food comprising fruits, salads, pulses and juices are offered to the Lord. Around 2550 food items are offered to the deity. This food is later distributed among the pilgrims.
- Diwali or the festival of lights is another festival that fetches pilgrims from across the nation. The temple is illuminated with lights which pave the way for a spectacular sight.
Poojas and Rituals at Akshardham Temple
- The Aarti takes place twice daily especially during the morning and the evening.
- The deity is bathed with holy water and is offered food thereafter.
- There are special poojas that are organized during special occasions like the birthday of Lord Swaminarayan, Annakut Utsav etc.
How to Reach: Road, Rail, and Air
- By Air– For people looking to travel to flight, the nearest airport to reach this temple is situated in Ahmedabad. This is well connected to every major city in India and in order to reach the temple, you need to hire a taxi from the Ahmedabad airport.
- By Train– A devotee can reach this temple by train as well. This auspicious place of worship is located at a distance of 2 km from Gandhinagar railway station and 31 km from Ahmedabad railway station.
- By Road– Akshardham is located at the heart of one of the greenest cities in the world –Gandhinagar that is situated on National Highway 8c. Hence, Akshardham is easily accessible from every location like 25 km from Ahmedabad, 150 km from Vadodara, 230 km from Udaipur, 190 km from Mt Abu and 604 km from Jaipur. There are many special buses and cars that are provided by the tourism department, government authorities and private services.
Hotels in Gujarat: Where to stay
Gujarat welcomes people of all religion and culture with equal warmth and hospitality. No matter what your budget is, you can be rest assured to find a suitable room in Gujarat with equal ease and comfort. While individuals traveling alone can opt for dormitories, pilgrims visiting this auspicious shrine can look for hotels. And if you are ready to splurge on luxury, then choose to spend your nights with five-star accommodations. These high-end hotels also offer complimentary breakfast as well. And some of the hotels also have their own private restaurants for their dwellers. These hotels are equipped with all the modern facilities to meet the needs of a contemporary traveler. Also, one can enjoy good discounts coupled with an attractive price if you book a room in advance.
Where to eat
Gujarati food is loved and cherished by people from all parts of India. A typical Gujarati Thali comprises of rice, chapatti, dal, vegetables, pickle, curd and papad. The food in this style is prepared by following a proper hygiene and fewer spices. Some of the special snacks that are exclusive to Gujarat include dhokla, khandvi; and sweets like basundi which are famous for its taste.
A traveler can either opt to try the local cuisine from various food joints that are spread around the city or can look for fine dining options. The food is moderately priced and is mostly vegetarian in nature. However, there are few nonvegetarian eateries as well that offers international flavors too.
- The Adalaj Trimandir– This temple has been built with an area of 40, 175 sq ft with the temple podium being 20,895 sq ft. There is a beautiful fountain at the center of the lush green field. The Satsang Hall is of 31,861 sq ft and the shrine is equipped with an informative museum and mini-theatre on Gnani Purush Param Pujya Dada Bhagwan, around whom the Trimandir is built. Idols from Jainism, Shaivism and Vaishnavism are present within this temple. The center of the temple houses idol of Lord Shree Simandhar Swami, which measures 155 inches, and is made entirely of marble.
- The Mahudi Jain Temple– Mahudi Tirth is a famous Jain temple and the place was earlier called as Madhumanti or Madhupuri. The main idol of Bhagwan Pradaprabhu was established in 1974 by Acharya Dev Sri Buddisagarsurisvar. He had also installed the idol of Sri Ghantakarna Mahavir on 1980 Vikram era. The Prasad is also known as ‘Sukhadi’ and consists of jaggery, wheat flour, and pure ghee. The pilgrims need to eat the Prasad within the temple premises and are prohibited from carrying it outside. It is open from 5.A.M. to 9 P.M.
- The Vaishno Devi Temple– Being modeled on the Vaishno Devi temple located at Srinagar, this holy place is situated on the Sarkhej-Gandhinagar highway in Gujarat. Thousands of devotees visit this place during Navaratri and offers fruits, rice, coconut and clothes to the deity.
- The Vardayni Mata Temple– This is another popular temple that is located in Rupal village of Gandhinagar district in Gujarat. The temple is located in the middle of the village. The Ghee Festival of Palli is very famous and stands at 28 spots in the village. Every stand has tons of Pure Ghee or Clarified Butter kept ready to pour on the “Palli” (Ratha). This ghee is donated by pilgrims who visit this holy place throughout the year.
- Sri Kotyark Khadayata Temple– Khadayata refers to the business community among the Hindus and this temple sees countless pilgrims visiting the shrine all around the year. It is another destination that tourists can visit with joy and delight.