There are now nearly 1 billion Hindus in the world, and a majority of them live in India. On this expedition, we’ll visit Swaminarayan Akshardham. It is the largest Hindu temple in the world.
There are many forms of Hinduism, and various sects of the religion have varying customs, rituals, and forms of practice. Many practicing Hindus worship their deities through devotional practices. These practices may include some form of meditation; worship of deities through prayer, sacrifice, and offerings; and various rites of passage.
Important rituals are performed by people and priests in the temple. The Hindu temple is a house of god(s). Hindu temples come in many styles, but most feature rich imagery of the gods and their stories rendered in carvings, sculptures, and paintings.
The construction of the temple
In keeping with its traditional style, the Akshardham mandir is made of sandstone and marble, with no steel in its construction. It is more than 140 feet tall (42.7 metres), 316 feet wide (96 metres), and 356 feet long (108.5 metres).
The Akshardham mandir
The word Akshardham means “divine abode of God,” and mandir means “temple.” Built in the traditional Hindu style, the Akshardham mandir is devoted to Bhagwan Swaminarayan, the guru, or teacher, who founded the Swaminarayan sect.
The Main Entrance to the Temple
The first stone of the Akshardham mandir was laid in July 2001, and the temple was opened in November 2005. Over the years of its construction, many Vedic rituals were performed in order to bless the temple and its makers.
The term Vedic sometimes refers to the traditional Hindu way of life and sometimes to the Vedas. Dating from the 2nd millennium B.C., the Vedas are the oldest of the Hindu scriptures. A Vedic prayer greets all visitors to Swaminarayan Akshardham: “Let noble thoughts come to us from all directions.”
The Narayan Sarovar
The pool that surrounds the Akshardham mandir on three sides is the Narayan Sarovar. It contains holy water drawn from 151 lakes, rivers, and stepwells throughout India.
The Gajendra Peeth
The lower base of the Akshardham mandir is the Gajendra Peeth, or Elephant Plinth. An elephant plinth is a traditional architectural feature of Indian palaces and temples. The 148 stone elephants of the Gajendra Peeth portray scenes from legends and stories.
The Narayan Peeth
It is a Hindu custom to walk clockwise around a temple. The path for performing this ritual at the Akshardham mandir is on the upper plinth, or base, of the temple, which is called the Narayan Peeth.
The Yagnapurush Kund
The Yagnapurush Kund is an example of a traditional Indian architectural form: the stepwell. As its name indicates, a stepwell features elaborate steps leading down to a well or pool. The Yagnapurush Kund has 2,870 steps and 108 shrines. In the evenings, it is the site of an elaborate water show.
The water show
The water show features a story from the Kena Upanishad. The Upanishads are a genre of Vedic literature that deals with the connection between humanity and absolute reality, or brahman.
The nine-lotus design of the fountains is traditional. In Hinduism, the lotus is a symbol of purity in the midst of the material world.
The Yogihriday Kamal
The Yogihriday Kamal is one of two gardens at Swaminarayan Akshardham. This lotus-shaped garden honors the fourth successor of Bhagwan Swaminarayan, Yogiji Maharaj. It was he who was first inspired to build a mandir on the Yamuna River, where Swaminarayan Akshardham is now located.
The 100-acre Swaminarayan Akshardham complex is located in New Delhi, a city in northern India that has served as a cultural and commercial center for centuries. The region of Delhi has been settled for millennia, and the site of the city itself has changed many times.
Present-day Old Delhi was originally built as the 17th-century capital of the then-reigning Mughal Empire. New Delhi was built in the early 20th century as the capital of British India. It has been the capital of India since the nation gained its independence from Britain in 1947.
The Yamuna River flows through New Delhi just to the west of Swaminarayan Akshardham. One of India’s most sacred rivers, it flows southward more than 800 miles from the Himalayan mountains into the Ganges River.
The Akshardham mandir has 234 pillars, each of them intricately carved by hand. The carved figures that grace the temple represent Hindu deities and stories, as well as episodes from the life of the founder of the Swaminarayan sect.
The carved façade of a traditional Hindu temple is called a mandovar. Carvings at the base of the Swaminarayan Akshardham’s mandovar represent earthly life. Higher in the façade, carved figures represent sages, teachers, and deities.
And above these, carvings represent the highest spiritual aspirations.