31st July 2016
The family wants to visit the Akshardham temple; the husband is mainly interested in the food. We plan so that we get there around lunch time, so we can visit the temple, have lunch there (not necessarily in that order) and then head out peach picking. When we get there, the temple building is open, but the sanctum sanctorum is closed. God is resting. The doors will open again in about three hours. The temple, situated on a hundred and sixty two acre plot in Robbinsville, New Jersey is in itself an offering of adoration, reverence, and gratitude. This exquisitely embellished marvel, with ornate pillars and panels was carved piece by piece in India, assembled to make sure everything fits, disassembled and shipped halfway across the globe and reassembled here. The Carrara marble used imparts a soft, heavenly glow to the edifice. The intricately carved, high domed ceilings, artistic arches, and ninety nine pillars, each made out of a single stone, give it stature and magnificence. Each of the hundred and forty four figurines in the temple celebrates the Hindu faith of the sect. Ninety one elephants are carved on the outer walls of the inner sanctum and each elephant is decorated differently. The husband tried his hardest to find two similar ones. The main dome rests on an octagonal bay surrounded by windows allowing natural light to seep in through the stone latticework – a little bit of modern in this confluence of traditional northern and southern Indian architecture. The inlaid floor contrasts the opulence of the marble and adds a quiet elegance. In winters, the temple is heated by pipes that run under the floor, as opposed to heating the space above. This ensures that the floors stay warm. As hot air rises through the building, it warms the occupied spaces and gradually loses heat as it moves into the unoccupied above. Given that it is considered disrespectful to wear footwear inside Hindu temples and is strictly prohibited, and that devotes like to sit on the floor and pray, this is a necessity. It is also a neat touch of energy efficiency.
The mandir was inaugurated and opened to the public on August 10, 2014, but parts of the building complex are still under construction. We walk around admiring the carvings – deities and devotees, saints, sages, dancers, musicians, peacocks, elephants and processions. The husband has been given a veshti, with elastic and Velcro to cover his lower body. Shorts not allowed. Sleeveless shirts, skirts and dresses are also not allowed. Please dress respectfully. This applies to both men and women. A small victory for gender equality – DING! We get lunch at the tiny cafeteria cum shop at the back. The food is good, but the fare at the Guruvayurappan temple was far superior. We are done eating and shopping, but the Lord is not done resting. Dark rain clouds looming overhead make the decision easy. Peach picking is cancelled, we wait inside the temple. Photography is not allowed inside the temple. There are volunteers carry plaque cards to remind you this. They also remind you to remain silent, so as to maintain the spiritual atmosphere and to not touch the carvings. You cannot lie down and nap either. God is resting, why can’t devotees? It is now pouring outside, which means we cannot go catch a few winks in the car. There is an eight minute audio-visual on the temple and its making, which we watch twice.
The raised platform on which the gods in our prayer nook stand was bought from the temple store
I am telling the husband what fun it would be if they were to blow conch shells and ring bells to announce to opening of the doors, when we hear the conchs. The doors open to slowly reveal the beautiful faces of the idols inside. That first glimpse is absolutely magical. If you can, time your visit to experience this. Each idol is painstakingly adorned. The wooden throne like canopies they are enshrined in are gilded with beaten gold. It is all very grand. This is also the time when parts of India celebrate the Hindola festival. Gods and Goddesses are seated on seated on swings and the faithful move the swing for their enjoyment. The temple has an idol of Swaminarayan on a swing, and we pull the string attached to rock it.
We prostrate ourselves on the bare floor and offer our ego to the great ones before we head home.