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Akshardham (Delhi)

Akshardham (, Devnagari: ) is a Hindu temple complex in Delhi, India.[1] Also referred to as Delhi Akshardham or Swaminarayan Akshardham, the complex displays millennia of traditional Indian and Hindu culture, spirituality, and architecture. The building was 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.[1][2]

The temple, which attracts approximately 70 percent of all tourists who visit Delhi,[3][4] was officially opened on 6 November 2005.[1] It sits on the banks of the Yamuna adjacent to the 2010 Commonwealth Games village.[5] The monument, at the center of the complex, was built off of the Vastu Shastra and Pancharatra Shastra. The complex features a large central monument crafted entirely of stone, exhibitions on incidents from the life of Swaminarayan and the history of India, an IMAX feature, a musical fountain, and large landscaped gardens. The temple is named after a belief in Swaminarayan Hinduism.[6]

Contents

  • Features
    • Monument
    • Exhibitions
      • Hall of Values
      • Theatre
      • Musical fountain
      • Boat ride
      • Garden of India
    • Additional features
      • Yogi Hraday Kamal
      • Neelkanth Abishek
      • Narayan Sarovar
      • Premvati Ahargruh
      • AARSH Centre
  • History and development
    • Planning
    • Development
    • Opening Ceremony
    • Garbhagruh fire and renovation
  • Guinness World Record
    • Disputes
  • Akshardham Gandhinagar
  • References
  • External links

Features

Monument

The central monument at Akshardham
The central monument at Akshardham
The main monument, at the center of the complex, is high, wide, and long,[7] and is covered top to bottom with carved details of flora, fauna, dancers, musicians, and deities.

Designed in accordance with ancient Vedic text known as the Sthapatya Shastra, it features a blend of architectural styles from across India.[8][9] It is constructed entirely from Rajasthani pink sandstone and Italian Carrara marble, and has no support from steel or concrete.[10] The monument also consists of 234 ornately carved pillars, nine domes, and 20,000 murtis and statues of Hinduism s sadhus, devotees, and acharyas.[2] The monument 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 scale sized elephants in total and weighs a total of 3000 tons.[11]

Within the monument, under the central dome, lies a murti or statue of Swaminarayan which is high. The murti is surrounded by similar statues of the gurus of the sect.[12] Each murti is made of paanch daatu or five metals in accordance to Hindu tradition. Also within the central monument lie the murtis of other Hindu deities, including Sita Ram, Radha Krishna, Shiv Parvati, and Lakshmi Narayan.[12]

The monument's central dome
The monument's central dome

Exhibitions

Hall of Values

Also known as Sahajanand Pradarshan, the Hall of Values features life-like 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. The Sahajanand Pradarshan is set in 18th century India and displays of 15 dioramas through robotics, fiber optics, light and sound effects, dialogues, and music.[13] The hall features the world's smallest animatronic robot in the form of Ghanshyam Maharaj, the child form of Swaminarayan.[14]

Theatre

Named Neelkanth Kalyan Yatra, the theatre houses Delhi's first and only large format screen, measuring by . The theatre shows a 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 called, was released in 2005 at IMAX theatres and giant screen cinemas worldwide.[15] A tall bronze murti of Neelkanth Varni is located outside the theatre.[16]

The musical fountain and the statue of Neelkanth Varni in its background
The musical fountain and the statue of Neelkanth Varni in its background

Musical fountain

Known as the Yagnapurush Kund, it 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 representing the circle of life is played to an audience which is seated on the same steps.[17] The fountain is named after the founder of the Hindu organization, Shastriji Maharaj.[18] The fountain measures by with 2,870 steps and 108 small shrines. In its center lies an eight-petaled lotus shaped yagna kund designed according to the Jayaakhya Samhita of the Panchratra shastra.

Boat ride

Named Sanskruti Vihar, this ride takes visitors on a journey through 10,000 years of Indian history in approximately 12 minutes. Visitors sit in specially designed peacock shaped boats that make their way around an artificial river, passing through a model of Takshashila, the world's first university,[19] chemistry laboratories, ancient hospitals, and bazaars, finally ending with a message expressing hope for the future of India.[20]

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. Of these figures, the more notable figures include the national figures such as Mahatma Gandhi.[21]

The Yogi Hraday Kamal, a lotus shaped sunken garden
The Yogi Hraday Kamal, a lotus shaped sunken garden

Additional features

Yogi Hraday Kamal

A sunken garden, 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.[21]

Neelkanth Abishek

Devotees offer abhishek, a ritual of pouring water on to the murti of Neelkanth Varni, and express their reverence and prayers for spiritual upliftment and fulfillment of wishes.[22]

Narayan Sarovar

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, symbolizing Janmangal Namavali or the 108 names for god, from which holy water issues forth.[23][24]

Premvati Ahargruh

The Premati Ahargruh or the Premvati Food Court is a vegetarian restaurant modeled on the Ajanta and Ellora caves in Maharashtra, India and an Ayurvedic bazaar. The restaurant caters a variety of traditional dishes.[25]

AARSH Centre

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.[26][27]

History and development

The Akshardham complex in Delhi
The Akshardham complex in Delhi

Planning

The building had been planned since 1968 as a vision of Yogiji Maharaj.[28] Yogiji Maharaj, the spiritual head of the BAPS 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.[29] 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 BAPS, 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 of land, and the Uttar Pradesh Government offered for the project.[30] 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.[31]

Development

A team of eight sadhus were assigned to oversee the Akshardham project.[29] The majority of the team had gained experience from work on the Akshardham in Gandhinagar, Gujarat.[32] During development, Pramukh Swami Maharaj was consulted in many aspects of the monument's construction.[29] Construction on the Akshardham complex

Around 1997 and 1998, the idea to start development on the temple, by beginning the stone carving, had been requested. However, this idea was denied by Pramukh Swami Maharaj who believed that the construction should only start after the land was acquired. The initial work done on the site was on the foundation. Due to the soft river bank, the site wasn't considered ideal for construction. As a result, a deep foundation was imperative. To construct a stable foundation, of rocks and sand were entwined with wire mesh and topped by five feet of concrete. Five million fired bricks raised the foundation another . These bricks were then topped by three more feet of concrete to form the main support under the monument.[29]

On 2 July 2001, the first sculpted stone was laid.[33] The team of eight sadhus consisted of scholars in the field of the Pancharatra Shastra, a Hindu scripture on architecture and deity carving. The sadhus watched over stone work as well as the research on carvings on Indian craftsmanship from between 8th and 12th century. This research was done at various sites such as Angkor Wat, as well as Jodhpur, Jagannath Puri, Konark, and other temples in South India.[29]

Seven thousand carvers and three thousand volunteers were put to work for the construction Akshardham.[29] With over 6,000 tons of pink sandstone coming from Rajasthan, workshop sites were set up around places within the state.[34] Amongst the carvers were local farmers and fifteen hundred tribal women who had suffered from a drought and received economic gain due to this work. The initial stone cutting was done by machine, while the detailed carvings were done by hand. Every night, over one hundred trucks were sent to Akshardham, where four thousand workers and volunteers operated on the construction site.[29]

Opening Ceremony

Akshardham was consecrated on 6 November 2005 by Pramukh Swami Maharaj[35] and ceremoniously dedicated to the nation by the President of India, Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam,[36] the Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, and the Leader of the Opposition in the Indian Parliament, Lal Krishna Advani, with the presence of 25,000 guests.[29][37] After touring the central monument, President Kalam then gave a speech on where Akshardham fits with society, and finished by saying,

Prime Minister Singh followed by hoping that this would usher in religious tolerance and praised the architecture of the complex.[29] He made note of it becoming a future landmark of India[37] while L. K. Advani called it "the most unique monument of the world."[29] Pramukh Swami Maharaj ended the night's speeches and expressed the wish that, "In this Akshardham, may one and all find inspiration to mould their lives and may their lives become divine. Such is my prayer to god."[38]

Garbhagruh fire and renovation

In June 2009, six murtis, including the Swaminarayan murti, were damaged in a fire inside the monument. The six murtis had been placed on a wooden pedestal which was gutted by a fire caused by a short circuit within the monument's cooling system. The murtis were damaged when the platform gave way.[39]

On 13 July 2010, a newly designed garbhagruh, or inner sanctum, was inaugurated by Pramukh Swami Maharaj in the main monument within the Akshardham complex. The new garbhagruh includes a decorated, canopied sihasan, upon which the murti of Swaminarayan rests and features intricate carvings and gold-leafed designs.[40] While the fire led to some of the renovations, the Akshardham monument currently features a state-of-the-art safety system that ranks amongst the best in Delhi.[41]

Akshardham served as a featured attraction during the 2010 Commonwealth Games held in Delhi. Through the duration of the Games, hundreds of athletes, teams, and enthusiasts from around the world visited the complex.[42] On 14 November 2010, the Swaminarayan Research Institute at Akshardham was inaugurated through an event organized by the women s faction of the organization, highlighting the value of seva, or socially beneficial volunteer efforts, in society through mandirs, churches, mosques, and other places of worship.[43] Anju Bhargava, the founder of the Hindu American Seva Charities and advisor to President Barack Obama on faith-based issues, delivered the keynote address, which emphasized the need for seva in society and the vital role of spirituality in one s life.

Guinness World Record

The Akshardham monument in Delhi
The Akshardham monument in Delhi
On 17 December 2007, Michael Whitty, an official world record adjudicator for Guinness World Records, traveled to Ahmedabad, India to present a new world record to Pramukh Swami Maharaj, the spiritual leader of BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha, for the Akshardham complex.[44]

The record was presented for Akshardham as the World s Largest Comprehensive Hindu Temple (certificate).[45][46]

The certificate states,

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..."[47]

Disputes

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, are claimed to be larger than Akshardham. The trustees of these temples have reportedly disputed the Guinness World Record.[48]

The Meenakshi temple in Madurai has the length of and width of . The entire area of this temple is , while the Sri Ranganathaswamy temple in Srirangam covers and the Arunachaleswarar Temple in Thiruvannamalai is .[49][50] Authorities at the Meenakshi temple have argued that temples are places for worship and therefore additional features and exhibitions are not components of a temple. They have also argued that construction area of the actual temple is more important than the land area.[48]

Akshardham Gandhinagar

Akshardham Gandhinagar in Gandhinagar, Gujarat is the sister complex of Delhi Akshardham. The monument in Gandhinagar was also constructed by BAPS.[51] Opened in 1992 amid fanfare, Akshardham Gandhinagar comprises a monument, exhibition halls, a vast colonnade, contemplative gardens, and a restaurant, much like the monument in New Delhi. The architecture and carvings of the monument in Delhi resemble those of the monument in Gandhinagar.[52]

Akshardham Gandhinagar has attracted millions of visitors from across the world, including Bill Clinton who commented, "Akshardham is not only a unique place in India but in the whole world. It is even more beautiful than what I had imagined. Taj Mahal is definitely beautiful, but this place, along with beauty, has a beautiful message."[53]

References

External links

Akshardham Information
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