Lucknow part 6 – Akshardham

Inside Akshardham, I was struck by the vast area and designs on the walls. We went through the visitors area where Sankar picked a couple of small booklets. There were a few exhibition halls, some events like a boat ride and water show and the main mandir (temple). Sankar was visibly excited – he wanted to visit everything but time was a constraint and we had to buy tickets if we wanted to go to the exhibition halls; in the end he decided, “Let’s watch the water show.”
I knew it had good reviews and readily agreed.
Our leader wasn’t too keen; this wasn’t his type of place and boat rides and water shows were definitely not his thing. But having come here and the time being past 6pm we decided that we’d stay here for the water show.
Sankar didn’t even wait for the group’s consensus; since he didn’t see any voice of dissent, he rushed off to get into the queue for buying tickets; he was eager like a little kid bubbling with excitement to get an ice cream. While we waited for him, our leader sat on one of the parapets and covered himself as much as he could with his arms – he was finally showing signs of feeling the chill as the temperature dipped in the evening.

The main part in Akshardham is the mandir and that was quite a sight from the outside; the mandir will appear as if it is being supported by many elephants and other animals – that’s the first layer of carvings. Above this layer were pillars and walls which had more carvings like those of goddesses.

And inside the mandir it was even more grand – the marble flooring, the statues, carvings on pillars, intricate designs on the ceilings, the unusual lighting setup with light focussed upwards to illuminate the place. At the centre is a large golden figure of Swaminarayanan seated making the abhayamudra (gesture of fearlessness); Akshardham is a tribute to him. The large figure does have a calming effect on the mind. There walls in the temple had illustrations about his life.
This is one of those man made places that you could just look at in awe and forget the passage of time. But we were crunch on time and we had just enough time to see everything inside before moving on to the area for the water show.

Augmented reality

There was one food cart in the arena that sold coffee, soup and some snacks. Our gang tried every item available but didn’t really like anything. To add to the misery our leader was made to wait for ages as the guy at the counter didn’t give preference to the people standing in queue. At the centre of the open air arena was a large pool which had a lotus styled layout in the middle; around this pool were large steps where people could sit to watch the show; and bordering this were lengthy and tall compound walls – everything was constructed with the same material, reddish coloured bricks, and so even the compound walls blended with the arena. This place is called the Yagnapurush Kund – Kund is a reservoir of water; yagna means a ritual or offering.

We sat in 3 groups in different spots around the pool.
“I think we’ll get wet,” our Delhiite said since we were in the second row from the pool. Despite that thought we still sat in the same place; I guess we were just lazy to get up and find a new spot.
Suddenly we heard the Aarti song playing; there was nothing happening on the water pool but after a minute I noticed that there were a couple of people performing aarti in front of the large building that was facing one end of the pool; the other 3 sides were covered by the compound walls. At the end of the song the water came alive; a few kids appeared and danced around the edge of the pool as the water fountains came into play. Water splayed in different directions and colorful lights added to the visual effect. It was pretty good and reminded me of the musical water show in Dubai mall which was quite a spectacle. But the best here was yet to come. There was a narrator (audio recording being played) telling a story and we had visuals appear on the face of the large building. The images which were projected on the building blended uniformly with the building such that the background looked realistic and not like a projection. Characters appeared on the screen but what i found most impressive was when they depicted the forces of nature descend down from the building into the pool – it felt as if there was a really furious waterfall pouring down the building; the edges of the building added to the illusion. This was augmented reality!

The story involving the kids had an opening segment, a few segments with the gods appearing on the building and then the finale. The middle part felt repetitive after the 3rd time; each time a different god would appear and the plot was the same – but the visuals were different; for the fire god it was fire from the building, for the water god it was water gushing down and so on. Also the water fountains reacted differently to the different forces of nature. Just when you think the plot is dragging, the story moves to the final segment.
The real actor kids in the performance would sing a song in each of the middle segments (it gets repeated often with a slight change in few words).
Nahi jala… nahi jala
hamara phool nahi jala

By the end the song and tune will get etched in your head! Narration is in Hindi; but even for those who don’t understand the language while witnessing the middle segment they’d probably grasp the story. Kids of course would love the visuals.

A short clip of the performance is available online:

You can also view snaps of the place in the above link

The story I later found is adapted from the Kena Upanisad (part of ancient Vedic text); there are a lot of symbolic meanings in the story – one of which is the question “Who am I”.
During the remainder of the trip Arpit and our Delhiite would often start singing “Nahi jala, nahi jala” making the rest of us plead with them to stop!

The mandir looked even more brilliant at night with the lighting outside. As soon as we reached the luggage room, our leader rummaged through his bag to pull out his jacket! Quite daring that he was able to manage in a thin single layer so far.

Once outside the complex, after taking a snap as proof that we visited Akshardham, we returned to the metro where we ate a few delicious cream rolls. I consciously gulped half a litre of water; we barely sweat during the day and with the temperature dropping you didn’t really feel thirsty.

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