Askhar Dham – A 300 million person hour magnum opus

Last week, i had gone to New Delhi on business. I had some time on my hands and i decided to stop by my cousin’s place. We chatted for a while and he asked if i had seen Akshar Dham? I vaguely remembered having heard of it. My cousin told me that i had to see it. So we drove to Akshar Dham and we had about an hour and a half to spend.

As soon as we pulled in, i was awe struck by the splendor of the 100 acre complex. Photos don’t do justice to this place. Nevertheless, a sample photo from the Akshardham website is below.

We first stopped at the visitor center to learn more about the place. Learnt some impressive statistics – 11,000 artisans spent 300 million person hours over a 5 year period to build this. The whole monument has been built without steel using rajasthani pink stone and marble entirely. I am told that this is because they want this monument to last 1000 years! It has 300,000 carved stones, 9 magnificent domes, 20,000 carved figures.

After that we stepped into the Garden of India as they call it. Bronze statues of India’s great leaders, philosophers etc adorn this area.

Then we went into the main monument which houses Bhagwan Swaminarayan’s idol. It is a 141 ft tall building. Every inch (not exaggerating) is carved with intricate scultptures and art work. One can see such intricate work only temples that are more than 1000 years old (say the Big Temple of Tanjore). Inside the monument there is lot of carvings. The inside ceilings of the domes are magnificently carved as well. There is a series of pictures explaining Bhagwan Swaminarayan’s life – a very impressive and inspiring story. For those that don’t know, he founded the Swaminarayan Sect of Hinduism whose members have built this monument.

The base of the main shrine is adorned with 148 stone elephant sculptures called the Gajendra Peeth . The sculptures cover many stories involving elephants from Hindu mythology – very impressive like everything else here. The plinth is 1070 ft long and it weighed 3000 tons. It took almost 4 years to do just this plinth.

I couldn’t see all of the place in the short time that we were there. One question that arose in my mind is – what are key beliefs of the swaminarayan sect compared to regular hinduism?

They belong to the visishtadvaita (conditional non-dualism philosophy) school of thought. They always worship both the male god and the female goddess together. They are also staunch vegetarians.

On the whole, i was overwhelmed by this visit. The thing that blew my mind away is the scale and grandeur of this monument. My personal view is that we don’t really “get” scale in India as much as the westerners or the chinese and this monument has put a dent on my views. I wish more people in India thought about “scale” in whatever it is that we do.

I do plan to go there again to do a more elaborate tour. If you are visiting New Delhi, don’t miss this amazing monument. Don’t worry if you are not a Hindu. The monument has no restrictions based upon one’s religion. It may be hard to understand some of the sculptures without knowing Hindu mythology. You can take one of your knowledgeable Hindu friends to help with that.


  1. Anonymous said October 1, 2007, 7:17 pm:

    Oh! Seems like a very beautiful place filled with rich architectural design. I have visited Delhi a couple of times but nobody ever pointed out to visiting this place. Probably will go there soon. I am even hearing about Bhagwan Swaminarayan for the first time. Thanks for introducing me to a new monument and the marvels of India:)

  2. Anonymous said October 2, 2007, 12:01 am:

    Wow, appears to be a really grand place. I went to Delhi and missed it. I went there, it was too crowded and I had only a short while before my return flight, so I did not stop. I wish I had made time for it.

    It will surely be on my todo list next time I go to Delhi.

    Thanks for sharing.

  3. Anonymous said October 2, 2007, 8:34 am:

    Thanks Saraswathi and Archana.

  4. Anonymous said October 4, 2007, 12:18 am:

    I will pay a visit when I go New Delhi. Thanks for sharing the beautiful picture and statistics.

  5. Anonymous said October 4, 2007, 1:12 am:

    I had been to Akshardham temple during my recent assignment in Gurgaon. A truly mind blowing and impressive architectural monument. Like you said, the scale was huge.

  6. Anonymous said October 4, 2007, 9:05 pm:

    Sukumar, This was the place attacked by terrorists – the usual suspects. Despicable! I have not seen the place, just read your description, but the fact that some folks tried to destroy such a beautiful place is indeed shocking and condemnable.

  7. Anonymous said October 4, 2007, 11:38 pm:

    Thanks Vamsi, Meenaks and Sajith. When did that terrorist activity happen? I had not heard of that – Sukumar

  8. Anonymous said October 8, 2007, 6:49 am:

    Yes indeed the scale of the structure is massive. While visiting, please plan to visit during the ‘not so hot’ days and times of the day…as walking thru those marble is quite tough during the heat.

    But definitely a must see whilst in Delhi.

  9. Anonymous said October 8, 2007, 11:27 pm:


  10. Anonymous said October 9, 2007, 1:40 am:

    i had been to this place in May – bad time to go to Delhi anyways.

    it was fabulous and it is especially beautiful in the evenings.

    1 whole day is needed to visit the place, fountain of music , the boat ride and other events.

    i could not make the time to do all this as Delhi was a transit for me on that trip.

    regarding the terrorist attack i think it was on the akshardham temple in Gujarat and not this one.

    Subramanian VS

  11. Anonymous said October 16, 2007, 10:51 am:

    Thanks Sukumar! It is indeed a great place. One of the members referred to a terrorist attack at this temple. Just to correct it, the attack actually happened at another Akshardham temple at Gandhinagar, Gujarat. I am not sure whether this temple also has the same scale, but the overall structure looks similar in the photo.

  12. Anonymous said October 17, 2007, 11:01 am:

    Thanks Subramanian. Yes, i think it will nee atleast 1 day. Yeah, May is going to be too hot.

    Thanks for clarifying about the terrorist attack.

  13. Anonymous said October 17, 2007, 11:03 am:

    Thanks Harish for the clarification on the terrorist attack. I haven’t been to the one in Gandhinagar.

  14. Anonymous said October 18, 2007, 8:48 am:

    I’m curious to know about the purpose of Askhar Dham. Does the scale, labor, and investment, justify the purpose?

  15. Anonymous said October 18, 2007, 12:34 pm:

    The terrorist attack happened in swaminarayanan temple in Gujarat. I think that’s a different incident in no way related to this one

  16. Anonymous said October 18, 2007, 12:37 pm:


    On those days, the artisans were religious, and worked for the temple, only with daily meals. Such is their devotion. But today, everything is being commodotised and due to this, the cost of each work raised many folds.

    even in such situation, those artisans had done this splendid work, with so much beauty, excelling even the best temples of our ancient india.

    Its truly commendable.

  17. Anonymous said October 24, 2007, 10:59 am:

    The purpose is to promote the Radhaswami sect’s religion and they also mention that they want to highlight India’s ancient culture.

  18. Anonymous said October 24, 2007, 11:01 am:

    Thanks Senthil. As i said, the grandeur and the intricate sculptures are seen to be believed. I for one at least thought that we could never replicate the sculptures from our old temples and Akshar Dham has completely decimated that thought.