What do you get when you cross Universal Studios effects, intricate carvings, and a rich society adamnt on promoting its founder?After dropping Nikku n Sinni didi at the airport yesterday (their college classes start today), we (mama, mami, Dad, Mom, and I) proceeded to Akshardham. At the entry of Akshardham, you are ordered to take off your belt, watch, wallet, and keychains, then pass through a metal detector, get frisked and wear them all back again. A lady stood at the side complaning that her pace maker had ticked off the metal-detector, thus the security personnel were not letting her in. She was desparately trying to explain to the guard that there was no way she could remove her pace-maker.
Once we were all in, we saw a long line to buy 125 rupee tickets for some show in some building somewhere inside Akshardham. I asked some of those standing in the line what the tickets were for, but all I got were replies like, "I don't know either" or "that's what I'm going to see too". Dad chuckled, "The sheer population of India insures that if you get two monkies to dance, start charging for the tickets, gather around fifty people, then in no time, the crowd will have increased manifold." But, after all we are Indians, so like the rest of India, we got into line to buy tickets; for what? we had *no* idea. Standing in the sun made us all thirsty, so we entered a room marked 'Filtered Drinking Water'. There was a row of taps there each labled, 'pani upar se piyen'. I don't know about you, but I couldn't figure out pani neeche se kaise peetein hain. The taps too were inside this tiny cubicles dug into the wall, so I found it really difficult getting my head and hand inside together.
After getting the tickets, we joined the line to enter the exhibit where the tickets would take us. The first exhibit turned out to be Sahajanand Pradarshan which used stuffed figures and dioramas complete with Universal Studio like effects of rain and lighting to showcase stages from Swaminarayan's life. Swaminarayan was the founder of the sect whose principles BAPS (the society behind Akshardham) believes in. And after half an hour of bosting about Swaminarayan, we were ussered out of that exhibit to the next. (I have nothing against Swaminarayan, but I do believe one should let Swamiji's work speak for itself and promote his teachings rather than trying to idolize him.)
The next exhibit, 'Nilkanth Kalyan Yatra', featured one of those huge I-MAX type screens (complete with I-MAX like sounds) that showed an hour long movie about Swaminarayan's life as a child. It portrayed how he left home at the age of eleven, barefoot and travelled through the Himalyas and across India. (Why didn't he just wear shoes? Is not wearing shoes a sign of greatness? Or plain stupidity?)
The third and final exhibit, rather the best one, featured specially designed peacock boats which floated through an artifical river (obviously pulled by chains underneath). On both sides were exhibits showcasing India's heritage and ancient Indian Emperors, scientists and their contributions to the society. Speakers on the boats explained the exhibits as we sailed through. However, something was wrong: almost ten minutes had passed and I had not seen a single hint of Swamiji. But I was not disappointed -- at the end, after praising Aryabhatta, Emperor Ashok, and the like, there was a diorama of Swaminarayan, portraying him among India's greatest personalities.
After the exhibits, we went to the fountain, overlooking a 50 feet tall statue of Swamiji) to watch the Sangeetmay Phuaarein (Muscial Fountain). Now this, I must comment, was beautiful. Using a combination of multiple water jets and lighting effects the fountain gave the effect of water dancing to music being played in the background. The fountain is one thing though, which cannot be described in words - one has to see it. After the water show, I gave a quick peak to the main Mandir of Swamiji. The extremely intricately carved and well degined Mandir shows the economic status of some of BAPS's and Swamiji's sect's followers (the more famous among them including the Ambanis).
It was eight by the time we left Akshardham so we came straight back home for dinner.
(Further Reading: You can find more about Swamiji HERE, more about his teachings HERE, more about BAPS HERE, and more about Akshardham's exhibits HERE and HERE)