Thursday, August 27, 2009

Dilli Diary: Visiting Akshardham! Ageless art, timeless values!


How can I make best use of 4 hours left in Delhi? My relatives told me it will take one whole day at Akshardham but the main temple is closed for renovation and will re-open around Diwali. Yet, even before going to Dilli, I was adamant that come whatever may, I must visit Akshardham.

Just before those heavy rains, Delhi was very hot and humid, gearing up for commonwealth games and there is high sense of security all around. At Akshardham, security is tight. At the entrance, you got to deposit your camera, pen drive, DVD’s, Mobile Phones – they take out the battery too and other electronic equipments. You fill the form and they give you their metal token. After which you go to another gate and here you remove your wallet, your belt and any other metal thing you have on your body and go through metal detector check just like how you have at airports. There are many washrooms available just in case you want to freshen up. Food and drink is not allowed from outside, Smoking, tobacco or any addictive substance is not allowed, What I like is improper or disrespectful dressing too is banned along with abusive language to maintain dignity, sanctity and peace around the temple. After which you are ready for Akshardham Darshan set in over 100 acre sites that radiates beauty, divinity and joy. the temple and surrounding complex displays centuries of traditional Indian and Hindu culture, spirituality, and architecture.

This temple and building complex is inspired and moderated by Pramukh Swami Maharaj, the spiritual head of the Bochasanwasi Shri Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha, whose 3,000 volunteers helped 7,000 artisans construct Akshardham. It uses no iron in construction keeping, upholding ancient Indian vaastu-shastra.
I was told by my relative Rahul Pethani from Rajkot who is a staunch devotee and haribhakt to meet Mr.Dave in charge of Public Relations at the temple but I forgot Mr.Dave’s name as my mobile was given at security. So what do I do? The first thing is to buy tickets and then before Hari Darshan (god worship) I have to do Pet Poojan (eat the lunch) so that I can remember names!

Anyway I first did the Parikrama (going round and round) to find out where Premvati food court is. Unknowingly I went all around the temple. The restaurant was quite huge, spacious designed to the feel of Ajanta & Ellora @ Maharastra. It serves only vegetarian food.

After eating a huge sandwich, along with Amrutsari Kulchas with mix-Veg Chana a Punjabi spicy curry and a coke, I proceed back to main gate! Now ready to tour Akshardham!
THE TEN GATES & BHAKTI DWAR (THE GATE OF DEVOTION)

“Let goodness come from all sides” - According to Indian culture the ten gates reflect Vedic sentiment, let we get good thoughts from all sides these represent the ten principal directions described in our culture.

Then you are at gate of devotion, the Vedic tradition of dual worship, which is offering worship to god and god’s devotees. Here you will find more than 200 sculpted dual forms of gods; devotees at Bhakti dwar. I then proceed to…
MAYUR DWAR (PEACOCK GATE)

869 peacocks adorn each gate. How can we count them? dunno! No time!Peacock is the national bird of India and in our culture it symbolizes beauty and purity.

Just further ahead of Mayur Dwar you find water coming out of 4 shanks (conch shells) that falls on holy foot prints of Bhagwan Swaminarayan that is carved on pure white marble. But many visitors throw money there? What for? There are separate hundis to put money why do they throw money there?
There I find spot a Patel volunteer, address him in Gujarati ‘Jai Swaminarayan bhai badhaj show na Darshan traan kalak ma thayi jashey?” Brother, can I see all the shows in three hours? And he smiles and says yes, or else we are there to help you. So I thank and ask him what I see first. He says proceed first to Sahajanand Darshan!

SAHAJANAND DARSHAN (HALL OF VALUES)

Away from humidity, I enter the hall of values and we are shown into a small theater. It’s cool because of AC. There a C type sitting theater and facing us is a mountain like snow behind it is the neon lights representing galaxy. The room is full and a volunteer on’s the show button. With excellent music, a baritone voice welcomes the visitor and the sculpture rotates depicting how with right values, you are the maker of your own destiny and introduces to shows from Bhagwan Swaminarayan life. Within 4 minutes it tells us to move to the next hall.
Here is a movie projection screen that gives introduction to BAPS Sanstha, message of peace, harmony, service to others and then very quickly it tells us to move to the next hall. The next 3 different Hall of Values features life-like robotics and dioramas which display incidents from Bhagwan Swaminarayan life, portraying his message about the importance of peace, harmony, humility, service to others and devotion to God.

The hall features the world's smallest animatronics robot in the form of Ghanshyam Maharaj, the child form of Bhagwan Swaminarayan – A tale about reforming fisherman. Really impressed with the eye movement and how each character is addressing, the right co ordination of sound and light.

Then while moving to another hall, we go through deep jungles along with Neelkanth Varni’s journey…
The next hall is the story set in drought hit Bihar, where a Swaminarayan devotee and his wife move away from a village and finds a gold bangle. Being a staunch devotee, he spots the bangle and wants to hide it in sand so that his wife may not turn greedy…but even his wife has high values, he is rewarded by the king.

We then move to another hall where there is a Satsang sabha with the first 108 learned devotees of Ghanshyam Maharaj. It’s really beautiful as you are watching it from top angle. After this we move further ahead to another hall, I quickly realize that each section is taking 5 minutes and how beautifully the volunteers save time and allow many people to watch the show. The next hall has the best animatronics robot.


Here Ramanand, the guru asks the Swaminarayan any wish and he says I do not want anything for myself but for my devotees who follow the teachings, all I ask is they should never have scarcity of food and clothing. I realize to this day, all the Swaminarayan true devotees that I personally know of (there are many) never had scarcity of food and clothing. The best part of this is the life like figure of lord. Even the eye movement, lip movement and to whom they are addressing are life like and accurate. I wish if I was allowed the camera, I would take just the perfect angles for a perfect film! The problem here too is devotees and visitors are throwing coins. Why can’t they put those in donation boxes?
After this there is another room for various quotes and pictures of lord and then within 55 minutes you are out and to the next building waiting for you is…
IMAX – NEELKANTH DARSHAN – GIANT SCREEN THEATERE

The theatre shows a film specially commissioned for the complex sans entertainment tax. I was told that the film is in Hindi language, wondering how foreign visitors will understand as there were some Kenyan visitors. They were provided with headphones. The screen is huge projected on 86 Feet * 65 Feet screen, shot on 108 locations over India, featuring cast of over 45,000 people. I took the last seat to get the maximum visual effect.

Lights get dimmed and then you find the gold plated statute of Neelkanth that dissolves to a 11 year child yogi at pre dawn bowing to his parents, bidding bye-bye to his village, amidst wild rains and on mercy of god, the child yogi jumps into wild river and here starts the exciting pilgrimage through majestic Himalayas, all of India’s sacred religious places, adventures, our deep rooted Indian traditions, rich values, in a breath taking photography, excellent fusion of traditional Indian classical music with western beats, great acting by child actor and even other actors, its mystic, its touchy, its splendid, it’s out of the world.

I will not type more on this docu-drama because you’ve got to see it to believe it. In the end the camera again goes to Neelkanth’s face and dissolves to the gold plated statute of Neelkanth. In those 45 minutes…

I had tears in my eyes the way Neelkanth’s Varni journey unfolded and the way this period drama was shot. In the audience I hear Telugu people and feeling nostalgic I converse them in Telugu language missing Hyderabad… The next is…

10,000 YEARS IN 14 MINUTES – BOAT RIDE @ SANSKRITI VIHAR

Want to see India’s old Vedic Village? Want to see world’s first university? The Taxashila? Want to see oldest Vedic Bazaar of India? Chemistry lab? The first re-construtive surgery done in world by surgeon Shrusuta? Buddha? Ramanuja, Aryabhatta…Nanakji, Yoga students and sutras of Patanjali?

Here you are indoor, you board an automated peacock shaped boat along with a volunteer. While you sail, this costume designed boat has speakers fixed with a limited frequency only which you can hear. The ride starts and so does the music and voice-over exactly matching with the location of your boat and the 800 lifelike statutes. You travel 10000 years of ancient Indian culture, rich in science, technology and sutras. At the end of this ride the message comes across in hope, hope for future of modern India… I have never felt proud of our vast heritage and culture the way I sailed in this boat…really, it’s unbelievable…proud to be born in India. Jai Hind!
ABHISHEK MANDAP

After travelling through time, I remember Jaishree ben telling me to go and offer prayer and make wishes by pouring Ganga water on the murti of Neelkanth Varni. I pray for all my loved ones and also while chanting Swaminarayan; I realize how we at Secunderabad temple use to pray for PramukhSwami.
Outside, the mandap I meet Mr.Ghanshyam Patel, he is NRI who manages international temples. He tells me that two more temples are coming up in Australia. I think it’s good so that Indian students will have good community with security. I ask about the child actor and he says he has changed the name to Neelkanth, even in his passport its written Neelkanth and Bapa too calls him Neelkanth. Suddenly I realize something that this robotics, these statutes are not made in India…I ask him you guys are making us proud of our ancient traditional heritage, rich culture but I sense that you have employed all international people for making statutes and making film. He says that Indians do not have the finishing touches. I feel very sad. I pray someday I will make a better film. I still have time for sound and light show, the fountain show so where do I go?
NARAYAN SAROVAR

The holy waters of 151 rivers & Lakes of India are mixed here in Akshardham Narayan Sarovar, which surrounds the temple from three sides and back walls.

All these places were once visited by Swaminarayan and hence have been ritually added to Narayan Sarovar through 108 Gaumukhs, symbolizing Janmangal Namavali or the 108 names for god, from which holy water issues forth. As our family ritual, I ask for permission from a volunteer weather I can take the water in my hands and put them on my eyes. He says, yes…its twilight now…time for
MUSICAL FOUNTAIN SHOW @ YAGNAPURUSH KUND

Yagnapurush kund is 300 feet by 300 feet replica of an ancient, traditional Yagna kund – the largest in India with 2,870 steps and 108 small shrines. In its center lies an 8-petaled lotus shaped yagna kund designed according to the Jayaakhya Samhita of the Panchratra shastra.

Looking at the kund is 27 feet high metallic murti of Neelkanth Varni. At its center is water…the lights get dimmer, and the music starts…for 15 minutes there is wonderful mixture of sound and light with water in its various elements, vedic chants are echoed, one can sense the mood of creation, the mood of sustainability and the mood of destruction, The Brahma, The Vishnu and Mahesh – the Shiva…you get mesmerized by the way the form a fountain can take, for a while the water looks like fire…mesmerizing…
YOGIHRIDAY KAMAL

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 Bhagwan Swaminarayan.
The lawns are beautiful here; here you find a huge 8 petal lotus shaped creation that will inspire you for faith in god. You will find wonderful quotes from all the famous people around the world.
THE INSPIRER – PUJYA PRAMUKH SWAMI MAHARAJ

This was planned in the year 1968, It was dream of Yogiji maharaj to build a grand temple on the banks of Yamuna that which got fulfilled by Pujya Pramukh Swami Maharaj on 5th of Novemer 2005. The opening cermoney was well attended and telecasted live on many channels. It was attended by APJ Abdul Kalam, Manmohan Singh, L.K.Advani amongst many dignitaries.

Pujya Pramukh Swami Maharaj is the fifth spiritual successor of Bhagwan Swaminarayan and the present leader of Bochasanwasi Shri Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha. He leads an austere life of lifetime celibacy, without personal wealth or comfort. Representing the essence of Hinduism,his compassion for humanity, universal wisdom and striking simplicity have touched many world religious and national leaders. But most important is his quiet, undisturbed love for God which rises beyond all borders of nation, race and religion.
Even after creating an international spiritual empire of hundreds of mandirs, thousands of centres and over a million followers, you’ll always find Swamiji engrossed in prayer. Sometimes at 2.30 in the morning, for his life is the living proof that prayers work and divine love succeeds.
Short profile of Pujya Pramukh Swami Maharaj:
  • Birth: 7 December 1921; Magshar sud 8, VS 1978.
  • Birthplace: Chansad, Gujarat.
  • Initiation: 10 January 1940; Posh sud 1, VS 1996.
  • Guru: Brahmaswarup Shastriji Maharaj
  • Spiritual Head Since: 23 January 1971; Posh vad 11, VS 2027.
  • Villages Visited: Over 15,500.
  • Countries Visited: Over 50.
  • Homes Sanctified: Over 250,000.
  • Letters Read & Replied: Over 500,000.
  • Personally Counselled & Comforted: Over 810,000 people.
  • Mandirs Built & Consecrated: Over 700.
  • Sadhu Disciples: Over 800



The above snap is a file photo when Pramukh Swami Maharaj, we proudly call him Bapa, visited at Secunderabad Mandir Moorty Pratistha Utsav and I had the opportunity to take his blessing. Pujya Yagneshwar Swamiji who has inspired me over ten years introduced me to Pramukh Swami Maharaj. Thus Ended my Akshardham visit and my last stopover in Dilli. Wish to take my family to this wonderful place, its ageless art, timeless values, great architecture and blessings of all saints that definitly add value to our lifes. Jai Swaminarayan!