Akshardham Temple

Akshardham Temple in New Delhi, India, is the world’s largest Hindu temple. It’s constructed according to ancient Hindu architectural principles from pink sandstone and marble with no steel or concrete. Approaching the temple it rises to the sky like something out of the Game of Thrones.


Although hardly unknown, tourist guides typically don’t give it pride of place because it isn’t old, having opened in 2005 after just five years (!) of construction. My view, however, is that in 500 years people will flock to this site and marvel at how it was made without use of any robots. So why wait when you can see it now while it is still fresh. The Taj Mahal was new once, but that shouldn’t have deterred people from seeing it at the time.

[To make time, skip the Red Fort in Delhi as Agra Fort next to the Taj is similar to the Red Fort but better.]

The temple features beautiful carvings from thousands of artists but unfortunately, photography is not allowed. (The pictures I found were online). The elephants shown below are modelled on similar designs but at much smaller scale at ancient Hindu temples.

The site is easy to get to and there is no entrance fee. A small fee covers an Imax movie and a boat ride featuring Hindu history.

Akshardam was built by the Hindu organization BAPS:

Bochasanwasi Shri Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha (BAPS) is a socio-spiritual Hindu organization with its roots in the Vedas. It was revealed by Bhagwan Swaminarayan (1781-1830) in the late 18th century and established in 1907 by Shastriji Maharaj (1865-1951). Founded on the pillars of practical spirituality, the BAPS reaches out far and wide to address the spiritual, moral and social challenges and issues we face in our world. Its strength lies in the purity of its nature and purpose. BAPS strives to care for the world by caring for societies, families and individuals. Its universal work through a worldwide network of over 3,850 centers has received many national and international awards and affiliation with the United Nations. Today, a million or more Swaminarayan followers begin their day with puja and meditation, lead upright, honest lives and donate regular hours in serving others. No Alcohol, No Addictions, No Adultery, No Meat, No Impurity of body and mind are their five lifetime vows. Such pure morality and spirituality forms the foundation of the humanitarian services performed by BAPS.

BAPS has built temples like this throughout the world. In fact, you don’t have to come to India to see one! I said Akshardham Temple is the world’s largest (working) Hindu temple but it is about to be eclipsed by another temple built by BAPS in Robbinsville, New Jersey! Yes, New Jersey.

Go see it!



Akshardham / Swaminarayan represents a neo-Hindu merchant caste led movement based largely out of north west India. These are not particularly orthodox temples in the traditional brahminical mould.

The truly traditional, old-school temples are to be found in the Southern part of India, particularly the state of Tamil Nadu. Visit the temples in Srirangam or Madurai to get a feel of those.

There are a number of things about the the Swaminarayan sect which may be of interest to readers of this blog.

Swami Sahajanand (known in the sect as Swaminarayan for theological reasons) was a Brahman from the vicinity of Ayodhya in North India who settled and preached in Gujarat. Although he was orthodox and mainly moved in upper caste circles he did not reject the Patels who soon became some of his most enthusiastic followers. Contrary to Shrikanth they are not a merchant caste. The word Patel comes from Patidar, a Mughal-Mahratta administrative term meaning a farmer who owns the deed to his own land (as opposed to a sherecropper.) At the turn of the 19th century they were quite low on the social ladder. They were non-vegetarian, and practiced customs like female infanticide. Under Swami Sahajanands influence they became more aligned with mainstream Hinduism. Today they are one of the economically and socially dominant castes of Gujarat. This shows how social mobility works under the caste system. Some would have you believe it is non-existent and eternally fixed but it does happen albeit slowly and at the group rather than individual level.

A pivotal event was the time Swami Sahajanand met with the Anglican Bishop of Calcutta, Reginald Heber who was moving into the area on a missionary tour with an armed force. (Whether it was the Bishop or the cannon that were going to be doing the evangelizing is a matter of opinion.) They were impressed (or not disappointed) enough with each other that Heber continued on. As a result Christian activities didn't make any headway in the region for another generation. Gujarat after the decline of the Mughals and Mahrattas was in a state of near anarchy being ruled by over 200 Rajas, Thakurs, and Nawabs, known sarcastically in Gujarati as Rajvis ("princelings") Swami Sahajanand urged his followers not to resist the Pax Britannica and Gujarat remained formally outside British India.

One upper caste custom the Patels did not adopt was the taboo against crossing the ocean. They took advantage of the colonial empire and established themselves as far as Kenya, Uganda, and Fiji as the traders and small shopkeepers they are ubiquitously known as today. (Capitalism has never been considered a dirty word in Gujarat.) They put a lot of their wealth back into the Swaminarayan faith which began its rise to prominence to that time. After revolutions in post-colonial Africa led to their expulsion, many Patels moved to the UK, US, and Canada. (Some had also come straight from India.)

While the original Swaminarayan lineage established by the founder still exists (and again contra Shrikanth there is nothing "neo-" about it.) it has split several times due to one charismatic leader or other. BAPS is one of these offshoots and has been turning into more of "neo-Hindu" Guru cult of personality. It remains to be seen whether it will survive as those types of arrangement rarely remain stable after the source of charisma dies or is eclipsed. The building of these virtually identical Akshardhams (the original is in Gandhinagar the capital of Gujarat) are an attempt to give it a more institutional basis which is a new development in Hinduism.

Thanks, I was looking for something like this.

Sounds like a bit of legend and myth mixed with fact. The Greeks also do this sometimes; same with the Chinese and their history. How much is really accurate is hard to say, but it's fun to read.

Ray if you were referring to Jaldhar's comment, none of it is legend or myth. It is something any historian can confirm. Now there are myths about how the gods themselves built some ancient temples. No such myths are narrated about this temple ... yet

Excellent summary. More ancient spiritual lineages also feature periodic 'cults of personality' when a charismatic pontiff flexes his spiritual muscles, and though this can cause problems short-term, the Indian experience is, no great harm is sustained long term.
The superior rationality, organisational ability, comparative transparency and lack of corruption characteristic of this sect has enabled it, in a very short time, to gain legitimacy from all Hindus who come in contact with it. Without question, the Patel community deserves much of the credit for this. Interestingly, a short while later, a learned Gujerati founded the Arya Samaj which had most impact in Punjab and Haryana. However, it was more iconoclastic- indeed there is a 'liberation theology' version of it!- and controversial.
The problem with Hindu sects is that a narrow clique get control of Temples and Monastic Institutions. As happened in the medieval Church, this could give rise to anomalous situations where the 'shebait' (owner entitled to the ground rent) of a sacred place might belong to a different sect or even religion whereas the operations (and associated rents) were in the hands of a priestly family from some other place and different ancestral tradition, leaving the worshippers without any 'Voice' to compensate for their 'Loyalty'. In Sikhism, there was the scandal that the priests of the holiest shrine were 'Udasis' (not wearing Turban etc) whereas the worshippers were Khalsa (followers of Guru Gobind Singh). These Udasi priests conferred honorary Sikh status of Gen. Dyer, the butcher of Jallianwallah Bagh- provoking a sharp reaction which continues to shape Punjabi politics.
I see no similar danger with the Swaminarayan sect. Though followers of Vallabhacharya, they are not sharp in their denunciation of votaries of Sankaracharya unlike the ISKCON savants. It must also be said that the leaders of the sect cooperated with the Govt. after the terrorist attack on Akshardham temple in 2002 so as to prevent a backlash against a minority community.
Patels, too, have their own inscrutable internal divisions and arcane political rivalries but are sensible enough not to let this cause a problem for the wider community.
All in all, like most Hindus, despite some initial suspicions or reservations, I have to say that these beautiful, very clean, temples constructed according to orthodox Shilpa and Vastu Shastras are a very positive contribution to the communities where they have been established.

Just one note: philosophically the Swaminarayans follow the Vishishtadvaita Vedanta of Ramanujacharya as filtered by the medieval North Indian Vaishnava saint Ramananda so their customs are markedly different from the Shrivaishnavas of South India. The forms of worship are influenced by Vallabhacharya but there is no other doctrinal affiliation.

"Vishishtadvaita Vedanta of Ramanujacharya" - so this is the qualified non-dualism (?). The ostentatious temples, a sign of the economic strength of the Patel burghers, registers like a mix of American suburban mega-church with its prosperity gospel ethos fused with medieval Catholic churches with images of saints (here the images of the leaders of the sects predominate). Would it be wrong to see it as a "Christianization" of sorts?

Jaldhar : Patels may not have been a merchant caste 200 years ago. But today they are very much a business/trading community. So my referring to them as "merchant caste" is not totally out of place. Nor was I wrong in stating that this is not a brahminical orthodox sect like say Sri-Vaishnavas of TN or Madhwas of Karnataka or even the Gaudiya Vaishnavas of Bengal. This is a personality centric movement very different from the traditional Hindu sects which originate from a "new" interpretation of the Vedanta Sutra (the starting point for any orthodox sect in India).

They are shopkeepers outside India. Inside, they are still mainly farmers. And as I said before the original Swaminarayan Sampradaya is very much in the traditional form. It's the offshoots which are cults of personality. The problem is that Swami Sahajananda bequeathed the leadership to his two householder nephews who descendants still lead it today yet it is very ascetically oriented. So every so often some charismatic monk deems the acharyas deficient in some way and breaks off with his own following. Where I live in New Jersey there are five Swaminarayan temples in a short distance each following some particular Guru but nearly identical in practices.

"not particularly orthodox temples in the traditional brahminical mould." "truly traditional, old-school temples" This is the kind of fetishization of the old and the "traditional" that Alex was arguing against. The Taj Mahal was worth seeing even in 1660, not just after 350 years now. I agree with Alex that people will marvel at Akshardham in another 500 years. Please leave your brahmin love at the door btw. India has enough "brahminical" temples already.

Are you trying to start a race riot online my Greek named fiend? I recall hearing from an Indian friend of mine: you can insult various Hindu gods more or less with impunity, but, if you insult the elephant god, Vinayaka / Ganesha, you'll get punched in the nose by the common man!

Not particularly relevant, but anyway ...

I met a guy who grew up in Agra, whose childhood bedroom window looked out on the Taj Mahal. "So," I asked him, "when you see it for the ten thousandth time, is it still amazing"?


He probably just said that to give an appropriate answer.

This complex needs some greenery, such as lawns for color contrast and trees for shade and to illustrate the scale of the temple.

Hindus are aesthetically challenged. It is something they have common with Americans.

The color scheme could use work.

Judging from the aerial picture at the top of the post, the complex is unpleasant looking, but I suspect that could be fixed fairly cheaply by putting better colors here and there.

By the way, the consensus is that this is the largest hindu temple, not akshardham.


This temple has a shrine that is atleast 1500 years old, and it has been renovated and expanded almost continuously over the past 1000+ years.

"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." https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Akshardham_(Delhi)#Development

This is an unintended reference to Bastiat ;) What you see: pink limestone & ancient architectural principles at work. What you don't see: steel reinforced concrete foundations.

My mistake, I trusted the Wiki too much .They used (synthetic) fiber reinforced concrete for the foundation of that heavy building. Synthetic polymers are great.

Yes, they use such polymers for transmission belts (along with Velcro ®) and for formerly steel football helmets. Plastics. The key to a fortune someday...

Yeah, heard that at a cocktail party back in the '60s. Should have listened; let myself get distracted by a woman.

In 500 years, people are more likely to marvel that there were elephants.

Nah, we will have brought back all the animals we worry about. Problem solved.

And that those elephants managed to build shrines to themselves.

Only in the sense that they'll all have been replaced by mammoths.


Brazil's Temple of Solomon, a replica of the temple Solomon built in Israel is much more impressive. It is bigger than sixteen soccer fields, took 200 milion dollars and two thousand tons of iron and about one million cubic feet of concrete to build it. Construction took only four years thanks to the special cooperarion of federal, state and city officials. It is considered one of the Seven Wonders of modern world. Millions have visited it and many more will come. Even the Israeli ambassador in Brazil said he was impressed with the boldness, dynamism, vision and competence of Brazil's people. It has made São Paulo the Protestant Mecca and risen the profile of our country.

There must be a few thousand places that are one of the seven wonders of the world, modern or otherwise.

"the temple Solomon built in Israel": the purported Solomon purportedly built.

"the purported Solomon purportedly built."

If he didn't build it, how could we buid a glorious replica praised by the Israeli ambassador himself? Some say, he (Solomon, not the ambassador) forced demons to build it for him- we used Brazilian workers and had to pay them, so I would say we did sometging harder and more praiseworthy indeed.
"There must be a few thousand places that are one of the seven wonders of the world, modern or otherwise."
But only fourteen (seven ancient, seven modern) really deserve it. The Temple of Solomon is onemof them - not only a monument dedicated to God, but to men's ability to make great things. We made a name for themselves as the men of yore did.

A temple was built and history gave that man a name.

Trying to portray it as less real than that is *unnecessarily* offensive.

What our good friend Thiago fails to mention is that this structure cost fifty percent more than initial estimates (go here: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2010/jul/21/solomon-temple-brazil-christ-redeemer). Not to mention that The Temple Institute in Jerusalem takes a different approach, calling it a “hubris-inspired act of self-aggrandizement… the equivalent of [yet another] destruction of the [Holy] Temple, even before it is [re-]built. This planned church is a mockery which stands in diametric opposition to everything that the Holy Temple of Jerusalem represents.”

This difference is well within Brazilian best practices - it was much bigger in the case of the stadiums for the World Cup and Olympic Games. Also some money had to be spent in permits and urban renewal in the neighborhood as a condition for the necessary authorizations. Again, the works were concluded in four years, which is much faster than the average. Few countries woukd be able to accomplish it.

Yes, evidently Brazilians are just like the Romans who conquered, terrorized and scattered the Jews. Why not? It is a shame they couldn't shoehorn a comparisson with the Final Solution somewhere. Shame on them. "How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is
To have a thankless child" The leader of the church that built the Temple allowed his beard to grow and uses kippah-like hat to honor the Jews' pioneer relarionship with God and this is how his efforts are paid.

"the equivalent of [yet another] destruction of the [Holy] Temple, even before it is [re-]built."
Because evidently we can count on the Jews to re-build it. By the way, how can they have a Temple Institute, if they have no Temple? I am not criticizing, we once upon a time had a nursing home for veterans of the Paraguay War - a century after the war ended. I know how it is - someone's son needs a paycheck and all that (although tqo thousand years keeping this scam may be too much), but I don't see why one would think they have anything useful to say about Brazilian efforts. We have made a name for themselves and this name will live forever as Prphet Bandarra proved.

Cost overuns for public works projects appear to be common throughout the world. It's not clear to me that Brazil deserves to be singled out.

At least, we didn't buy US$ 435 hammers (more than a thousand bucks in today's money) as some countries do.

Besides, the temple was actually built as scheduled, which is more than can be said for some other Brazilian projects from the A-Bomb during the military rule to some of insfrastructure for the World Cup and the Olympic Games.

@TR - off-topic, what is the Brazilian press saying about this? Is it a conspiracy? Was it murder? Operation Car Wash seems to have rounded up a bunch of famous South Americans, not just former billionaire Batista but Dilma, Lulu, and a Peruvian president, amazing! Lots of enemies...


On January 19, 2017, a small plane carrying Brazilian Supreme Court Justice Teori Zavascki crashed into the sea near the tourist town of Paraty in the state of Rio de Janeiro, killing the magistrate and four other people. Zavascki had been handling the politically-charged Operation Car Wash corruption trials

In January 2017, Brazilian authorities issued a detention order for Batista and eight other individuals as part of a $100 million money laundering investigation

Many conspiration theories were suggested, but none held water until now a crazy woman stated that a Lula's follower, a sargeant, was the culprit - umfortunately, the man happens to not exist). It is not the first time an airplane accident changes Brazilian history. Brazilian former dictator Castello Branco died in 1967 when he apparently was ready to challenge his successor, Costa e Silva, who ended up signing a law making the dictatorship even more dictatorial.

Unfortunatelly, the airport Mr. Teori was flying to was somewhat subpar compared with the ones in the bigger cities. Also, the weather was pretty bad. I would say it is an accident even allowing for the fact it was too convenient for some people. Unfortunately, convenient things happen all the time.

Yet, the judge who spearheaded and directs the Car Wash operation, Sérgio Moro, probably should not fly for now. The good news, as this internet montage shows, is that if he shows to fly, he probably will have a lot of leg space: https://www.google.com.br/search?q=moro:aviao&num=40&client=tablet-android-samsung&prmd=ivn&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjRxsWeqLPSAhUKlJAKHbLMCj0Q_AUIBygB&biw=800&bih=1280#imgrc=SBSyqlYUhIApKM:

OK thanks TR. I understand the man who now replaced judge Zavascki is a crony of the current president, so my conspiracy theory is this: Operation Car Wash was getting too close for comfort to the current president, who ordered the assassination, and put his own man in charge. That's my conspiracy theory but I can't prove it. See you on the next thread, adios!

But his man won't be in charge. Normally, he would, but a new responsible judge was chosen among the remaing Supreme Court ones before the president announced his choice to fill the vacancy. His guy will only get a vote. Since the Dilma-Temer ticket is under the risk of annulment, which would mean Temer's fall, he has food reason to try to get a garanteed vote at the court (remember, however, Dilma and Lula have chosen all the other judges of the court, but one or two).

We are going to build our own

Temple of Greatness

Along the Mexico border.

And, we'll even let Mexicans see it

From their side.

They can pay for it, too. Although I wonder. The Great Wall didn't srop the Barbarians. Hadrian's Wall or not, the Romans left Britannia. The Mexicans are crafty, I don't think a wall will stop them. It will become Maginot Line of failed border defenses.

I get the feeling building the wall will be just as beneficial to our national security as rebuilding the cavalry.

Tell me, what are the benefits a wall brings that a fence does not?

Ladders aren't necessarily unobtainable technology and drug cartels have been tunneling for years. Here's to the days conservatism meant bringing a cost effective solution to the table.

Maybe the government can put pikes and broken glass at the rop of the Wall. It works in Brazil's walls. Cats usually get hurt.

The Maginot Line worked. It forced the Germans to attack through what should have been easily defended territory.

Point taken. What is the American equivalent of easily defended territory? I fear it is as desastrous as the French original was.

The wall is to deter labourers from entering the US without following formal procedures, not to stop tanks. Right?

I hope so, but who will prevent the Mexicans from infiltrating the country? As I said, they are crafty bunch.

There is just something wrong with this kind of excess in a country where most of the people live in abject poverty.

People would still be living in abject poverty even if the temple had not been built. Taken seriously, it would mean that Western Civilization for example would have not built anything but huts and tents.

What you say is true but incredibly short sighted. Like a rich person saying that I could spend my money on caviar or burn it in the stove and the poor would be no better off. Imagine if the same money and effort that went into building these palaces and monuments was spent on schools or hospitals. I'm not saying give the money to the poor but history is replete with these wasteful uses of production while the people starved. It is like Kim Jong-un living a life of excess while North Korean peasants eat grass. It's not that I care what a wealthy or moderately rich or middle class person does with their own money, but rather what a government does with the citizens money. I accept that for the entire history of civilized man that this has been the norm and governments doing good is abnormal but why accept that and why acknowledge it by showing these pictures without a notation that it caused the death of 100,000 Indian citizens and impoverished 100 million but the Maharaj could have cared less and enjoyed a long and happy life. At least call them out.

It is hard to blame Shastriji Maharaj, if it is who we are blaming, for somthing that happened half century after hemdied. Anyway, the Indian knows hoa to build temple, he does not know how to run schools, hospitals or a working society. Let them build temples, I say, it is the lesser evil.

Ah the old "Why won't the Pope sell his solid gold toilet to feed the starving orphans man?" argument. When will it dawn on some people that people have more than material needs?

This particular temple and the others like it are largely financed by overseas donors not anyone living in"abject poverty." But they convey to the poor an aspirational message that there are "some of us" who have made it. And as Rodney Stark has shown with American Christians, religious charity also correlates with secular giving. Take the earthquake that hit Western India about a decade ago. I know from first hand experience that here in New Jersey there were several wealthy businessmen who wrote out blank cheques to their Guru and told him to fill in whatever number was needed. The help given by the BAPS volunteers was acclaimed as much better than what the government provided. (Admittedly that's a low bar but still...) They also run schools, hospitals, and other philanthropic activities.

A lot of Gujarati-Americans who were not Swaminarayan back home join here because of the many educational activities their temples provide, not just religious instruction but Gujarati language, cooking, and culture etc. (Alex mentioned the "Hindu Disneyland" aspect.) I am not a follower for various theological reasons but I respect them for what they do.

"Why won’t the Pope sell his solid gold toilet to feed the starving orphans man?"
Can I at least borrow it?

Abject poverty might be easier to tolerate with such wonders around.

For example, I doubt fewer kulaks would have been murdered or fewer Ukrainians would have starved if Stalin had not built the Moscow Subway.

It's a monument to the good sense of the East India Company in keeping Christian missionaries out of India.

Why do you say that?

Because if they had succeeded then rather than receiving a wonderfully gaudy Hindhu temple India might have been lumbered with an array of dull churches.

Because I think missionaries in India might have caused a good deal of avoidable trouble: "The supreme function of statesmanship is to provide against preventable evils".

Because dearime is one in the dingy, tepid line of bitter British atheists. The British lower middle class speed these bores out in record number. Sons and daughters of struggling dry grocers and tinkerers from non-conformist backgrounds with chips the size of redwoods on their shoulders. Too meek to take out their bitterness on the swells they take it out on good for having created the swells.

All the time I knew the problem was non-Conformists dry grocers. Who else?

San Haysom, Jacques Riviera - seriously, do you think Dearieme is anything but a Christian posing as an Andy Kaufmannesque type phony anti-Christian who revels in posting again and again in saying that which he would say if he were anti-Christian in such a way as to make the best of anti-Christians, from the sad poor Oxbridge point of view, even to the Oxbridge subset, look simplistic? Wheels within wheels (Wodehouse), four degree chess, that sort of thing? That being said, I have often been entertained and educated by his comments. God loves us all and God likes a good laugh now and then: sure it is wrong to take the risk of misleading people via sarcastic imitation of one's enemies - in fact, it is wrong to say to oneself 'I have enemies' without immediately thinking further on the subject (Robinson Crusoe discussed this at length when deciding whether to confront the unloveable cannibals - I am not the first to point out this particular ethical question) - well we say what we say. When Nobody listens to Anybody else Nobody has often made the right choice, but not Always.

Interesting theory Id like it if that were the case because I agree with dearime on a lot of things- I just find his whiny anti-American and unrelenting pouting about religion tiresome and emblematic of a certain English "type."

Thanks for the compliment "interesting". I said what I think is true. Glad it was interesting, in any event, at least to someone.

There is a BAPS temple just outside of Atlanta which is pretty cool too. The carvings inside and outside are really awesome. Apparently it was all made in India and shipped over here.

Behold: https://www.google.com.br/search?q=templo+de+salomão&num=40&client=tablet-android-samsung&prmd=minv&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwi1zJa1m7PSAhXCg5AKHfB0D-QQ_AUICCgC&biw=800&bih=1280#imgrc=2m7Iupc74MlkJM:
Twice as taller than the height of the Crist the Redeemer statue - the trees, gouses and churches nearby look like toys. I say, Look on our works, ye Mighty, and despair!

And then look in a history book at the year 1891 and despair, if you are Brazilian.

In 1891, Brazil crished the rebels and was made strong enough by President Floriano Peixoto, the Iron Marshal.

LOL, no. Fake news.

No, it is not and not even news, it happened almist a century before I was born. All history books take note of it.

"My view, however, is that in 500 years people will flock to this site and marvel at how it was made without use of any robots"

Why would a poor country of 1.3B people displace labour with robots?

In 500 years one would hope they aren't so poor.

They've been poor for a long time. Why change?

Why would a poor country of 1.3B people displace labour with robots? Well I live in that country and I see increased mechanization on farms , and most Indians are still holed up in agriculture. Mechanization does not depend only on income levels

Holy cow, how is that thing 2 miles from my house without me knowing it existed? Amazingly low key for such a big thing.

The growth of Indian culture in central NJ really is impressive.

Victorian era prudery, writ large. Also, Gujarat has one of the highest rates of child malnutrition in India. Ah, well.


Also, same old claustrophobic garbha griha design? Just because arches and domes are not Vedic?

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