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Akshardhaam – IV

The next day we started our day with breakfast in a local shack; enjoyed the generic Gujarati food there. Then we decided to cover our farthest point first – the Akshardhaam temple in Gandhinagar. It took us about 1½ hrs to reach the place. This was the much famed temple on which terrorists had staged a hostage drama some months ago. But on all other counts I had expected a normal temple and didn’t expect my visit to last more than ½ hr.
        As I entered after thorough security checks into the premises, I saw green lush lawns and a long pathway…. Nothing was visible beyond the pathway. As I walked across the pathway into the large door, a large open space opened before me. It was now that I realized how big this place was. But the real fun was yet to come. We went into the temple and paid our respects to lord Swaminarayan. It was a very beautiful temple and the carving on the inside was articulate and impressive. I was surprised to find that there was not a single notice or plaque about the temple anywhere. Such an illustrious temple deserved at least one board!
Then just to roam around the place we stated towards the verandah, where some people were standing. As we entered the verandah we realized that we were moving in a queue with the others; soon the verandah led to a set of barricades, and we found ourselves standing in a row for tickets to an exhibition.  It was amusing to find an exhibition in a temple, but I imagined that it must be like the “Bharat Bhavan” (a one-of-its-kind art gallery in Bhopal), showcasing the religious art (temples, sculpture etc. Little had I realized that I was in for an experience of a lifetime.
     As we entered I saw a plaque welcoming us to the Akshardhaam ‘experience’. After looking at a few pictures we entered the next hall which turned out to be a small home theatre. A short 15 minute movie was played, describing a period in medieval India when masses were in a state of downfall due to bad rains and following irresponsible attitude of the ruling classes. From here we went to the next room depicting some paintings of the state of affairs at that time and slowly the pictures and tabloids led us to the birth of Lord Swaminarayan in this era. Then we entered a life-size tabloid which illustrated, with light and sound effects, young Swaminarayan’s adventures, his sojourn across India and final enlightenment on the coasts of Gujarat. The next hall was a setting of an ashram with a large banyan tree; the location was not well lighted. We all were made to sit in the courtyard of this ashram by a volunteer there. Slowly, the musical playback in the background faded into a commentary and the statue of young Swaminarayan was enlightened under the banyan. And suddenly to my astonishment the statue’s hand moved! Then another statue of a priest standing in front of Swaminarayan was enlightened. A whole scene of the conversation between the priest and Swaminarayan was played in front of us and the statues enacted it out by motion of hands. The next hall had tableaus and paintings describing the crowning of Swaminarayan as the heir to Ramdas swami and his teachings. This marked the end of the first section of the exhibition.
      The next section was about Indian mythology; a repetition of Mahabharat, Ramayan and few other mythological texts – this was of more interest to foreigners.
      The 3rd and final section was just of two stages, but the two stages were really worth it. The first was a multimedia show shown at a time using 3 screens. It was mostly philosophy but the presentation was very good. The second stage was in an auditorium. On the stage I could see a setting for a musical performance. I could see silhouettes of some people sitting on the stage with musical instruments. After a bit of commentary, the performance started – slowly as the lights on the stage brightened, I found that the silhouettes were of statues. And suddenly I realized that these statues were moving – I dare not call them statues, they were life size puppets. But the movements of body parts were so smooth that it was hard to believe that the stage was filed by non-humans. The puppets were nothing less than robots, and better than the ones that we see in tech-exhibitions.
       I have always considered myself to be a technology enthusiast, but never could I imagine technology being applied in religion and I can see no better example. This also has given me an idea – small children will understand their subjects better if they are taught by use of such androids or robotic presentation.
      This wonderful experince ended at a snacks and meals area in the premises of the building. The place was clean, well furnished and the food was tasty.... it was a delicious epilogue to the Akshardham visit.
    Akshardhaam was an experience …. a techno-spiritual experience worth the expense and time !! Guess whether the terrorists who forced into the place knew about it ???

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