Akshardham (Gujarati: સ્વામિનારાયણ અક્ષરધામ, Devnagari: स्वामिनारायण अक्षरधाम) is a Hindu temple complex in Delhi, India. Also referred to as Delhi Akshardham or Swaminarayan Akshardham, the complex displays millennia of traditional Hindu and Indian culture, spirituality, and architecture. The building was inspired and developed 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.
The temple, which attracts approximately 70 percent of all tourists who visit Delhi, was officially opened on 6 November 2005. It sits near the banks of the Yamuna adjacent to the 2010 Commonwealth Games village in eastern New Delhi.
The temple, at the center of the complex, was built according to the Vastu Shastra and Pancharatra Shastra. In addition to the large central temple crafted entirely of stone, the complex features exhibitions on incidents from the life of Swaminarayan and the history of India, an IMAX feature on the early life of Swaminarayan as the teenage yogi, Nilkanth, a musical fountain on the message of the Upanishads, and large landscaped gardens. The temple is named after a belief in Swaminarayan Hinduism.
The main monument, at the center of the complex, is 141-foot (43 m) high, 316-foot (96 m) wide, and 356-foot (109 m) long, 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. It is constructed entirely from Rajasthani pink sandstone and Italian Carrara marble, and has no support from steel or concrete. The monument also consists of 234 ornately carved pillars, nine domes, and 20,000 murtis and statues of Hinduism's sadhus, devotees, and acharyas.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.
Within the monument, under the central dome, lies a murti or statue of Swaminarayan which is 11-foot (3.4 m) high. The murti is surrounded by similar statues of the gurus of the sect. Each murti is made of paanch dhaatu 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.
The building had been planned since 1968 as a vision of Yogiji Maharaj. 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. 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 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.
A team of eight sadhus were assigned to oversee the Akshardham project. The majority of the team had gained experience from work on the Akshardham in Gandhinagar, Gujarat, Delhi Akshardham's sister complex. During development, Pramukh Swami Maharaj was consulted in many aspects of the monument's construction.
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, 15-foot (4.6 m) of rocks and sand were entwined with wire mesh and topped by five feet of concrete. Five million fired bricks raised the foundation another 21.5-foot (6.6 m). These bricks were then topped by three more feet of concrete to form the main support under the monument.
On 2 July 2001, the first sculpted stone was laid. 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 eighth and twelfth century. This research was done at various sites such as Angkor Wat, as well as Jodhpur, Jagannath Puri, Konark & temples of Bhubaneswar of Odisha and other temples in South India.
Seven thousand carvers and three thousand volunteers were put to work for the construction Akshardham. With over 6,000 tons of pink sandstone coming from Rajasthan, workshop sites were set up around places within the state. 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.
Akshardham was consecrated on 6 November 2005 by Pramukh Swami Maharaj and ceremoniously dedicated to the nation by the President of India, Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, 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. After touring the central monument, president Kalam then gave a speech on where Akshardham fits with society, and finished by saying,
"Pramukh Swamiji Maharaj has inspired thousands of people across the country and abroad and brought together the best of the minds for creating a beautiful cultural complex. It has become a place of education, experience and enlightenment. It creatively blends the traditional stone art and architecture, Indian culture and civilization, ancient values and wisdom and the best of modern media and technology. Multiple layers of this complex expresses the strength of the mind, willpower of the human being, indomitable spirit, flowering kindness, fusion of scientific and medical talent, myriad colors of varied cultures and ultimately the power of knowledge. In essence, it is a dynamic complex with lively images.
... Akshardham has happened at the dawn of 21st century with the commitment and dedication of one million volunteers. What has happened today at Akshardham inspires me and gives me the confidence that we can do it? The realization of developed India is certainly possible before 2020 with the millions of ignited minds like you."
Prime Minister Singh followed by hoping that this would usher in religious tolerance and praised the architecture of the complex. He made note of it becoming a future landmark of India while L. K. Advani called it "the most unique monument of the world." 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."
Guinness world record
On 17 December 2007, Michael Whitty, an official world record adjudicator for Guinness World Records, travelled to Ahmedabad, India to present a new world record to Pramukh Swami Maharaj, the spiritual leader of BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha, for the Akshardham complex.
The record was presented for Akshardham as the World's Largest Comprehensive Hindu Temple.
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.
The fountain is named after the founder of the Hindu organisation, Shastriji Maharaj. The fountain measures 300 feet (91 m) by 300 feet (91 m) 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.