Today was a bonus day for me! I had arrived on January 11th shortly after 1 am, and thought that i needed to fly out to Bodh Gaya at 11 am that morning. I didn’t realize that my flight to Bodh Gaya was actually scheduled for the 12th, so this gave me an entire day to spend in one of my favorite cities, Dehli. On my previous trips I had never been able to visit two of the most exquisite temples in all of India: The Akshardham Temple and the Baha’i Temple. I was excited to finally be able to view these. And, what would a visit be to Dehli without a visit to the amazing world of Chandi Chowk, one of the most colorful and oldest areas of all of Dehli.
I was able to hire a very pleasant gentleman to be my guide for the day, and off we went through the hustling streets of Dehli. Our first stop was the grand Akshardham temple, a sprawling temple complex covers over 100 acres of land and was completed in only five years. It took over 300 million man hours to carve 300,000 marble and sand stones and create the entire complex!
Swaminarayan Akshardham means the eternal abode of Bhagwan Swaminarayan (1781-1830) a torchbearer of Indian culture and spirituality. The grand complex was was inspired by His Divine Holiness Pramukh Swami Maharaj (Swamishiri) to fulfil the wishes of his guru, Yogiji Mararaj. Satish Gujral, an internationally renowned architect of India said “It would have taken 50 years to build such a thing.” Swaminarayan Akshardham is an incredible feat of management-from acquiring the land in New Dehli to the logistics of construction: the stones were quarried in Bansipahanandpur (400 km from Dehli), and carved in Pinvada (600 km away), Sikandra (250 km away) and 24 other rural workshops in Rajasthan. After being transported to Dehli, each stone was assembled like a giant jigsaw puzzle. 11,000 Sadhus, volunteers and artisans went into creating the monument. The complex was inaugurated on November 6, 2005.
Bhagwan Swaminarayan was born on April 3 1781 in the village of Chhapaiya, near Ayodhya in north India. He was called Ghanshyam in his childhood years. At the age of eight, Ghanshyam was given the sacred thread, and thereafter he completed the study of Sanskrit grammar, the Vedas, Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita, Dharmashastras, Purans and Shad-Darshans within three years. Ad the age of ten he won a debate in Kashi and revealed his divine glory to scholars, He left home at the age of 11 to guide and elevate mankind. His 12,000-km, seven year spiritual travels as Neelkanth Varni took him to Kalias-Mandir and Ganga Sagar in the east. Wherever he travelled, Neelkanth asked five questions regarding the jiva, ishwar, maya, Brahman and Parabrahman. He did not get satisfactory answers till he reached Ramanand Swami’s ashram at Loj in Saurashtra (Gurajat). Ranamand Swami appointed Sahajanand Swami as the head of the Sampradaya at the age of 21 years. After Ramanand Swami passed away Sahajanand Swami gave the Swaminarayan mahamantra to his congregation. Thereafter, he became popularly known as Bhagwan Swaminarayan.
Unfortunately, there were no photographs or cells phones allowed into the complex.
Next we drove through the Chandni Chowk district of Old Dehli. It is probably my favorite place in all of Dehli to wander around and inhale the aromas and sights. I bought some of their famous spices at a local market and took a long and winding rickshaw ride through the very narrow streets. At this time, there is a major street construction project as many of the overhead wires are being buried (finally!) so the already very narrow and congested streets were even more so. I marveled at the skill of my rickshaw driver as he maneuvered through what to me looked impossible passageways. A couple times i climbed out of the rickshaw and we lifted it up over broken concrete, bricks, and giant slabs of rubble. (See slideshow below.)
The Baha’i “Lotus” Temple was our last stop before returning to the hotel. It is an architectural wonder built in the shape of a lotus flower. The last of seven major Baha’i temples built in the world, it was completed in 1986 and sets amidst beautifully landscaped gardens. Made of pristine white marble from Greece, the temple was modeled after a lotus, chosen by architect Fariborz Sahba as a symbol common to Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Islam. The temple welcomes everyone, irrespective of their faith, to come and meditate and enjoy the aura of spirituality. There are nine surrounding pools of water that reflect the mass white arches that make up the temple walls.
Today I am taking a short flight to Bodh Gaya to start my 10 day Vipassana meditation course. Phir Milenge!