The Swaminarayan Temple of Ahmedabad was the first temple to be established by Swaminarayan Sampraday, one of the most popular Hindu leaders of recent centuries. It is also serves as one of the two seats (headquarters) of that movement. Among the nine temples personally founded by Swaminarayan, it is arguably the most popular among pilgrims as he spent much time here and there are artifacts connected to his life that are kept at the temple.
The Swaminarayan Temple is closely associated with the ministry of Sahajanand Swami, later better known as Swaminarayan, a prominent Hindu leader of the 19th century. Early in his career, Swaminarayan undertook a seven year pilgrimage journey that took him all over India. During his travels he became phenomenally knowledgable about the Hindu faith in its many practices and forms throughout the Subcontinent.
In 1799 he settled in Gujurat, where he pursued his studies further, eventually becoming the spiritual leader of a small Hindu community. A very popular leader, he became known for his concern for the less fortunate, as well as his ability to act conciliatorily with members of other religious groups as well as the British colonial government. He also established a number of major temples, some of the most important constructed in India during the 19th century.
The first temple he sponsored, and the first to be completed, was the Swaminarayan Temple of Ahmedabad. It was not only his first temple, but until the completion of the Akshardham Temple in New Delhi well over a century later, it was the most important. There are a couple of interesting stories related to the founding of this temple. One of which regards Swaminarayan’s excellent repoir with the British colonial government. He was on such good terms with the local British leaders that the Raj contributed the land for the construction of the temple, something virtually unheard of in the history of the British Empire.
Later, when the temple was completed, the British honored its opening with a public military salute. As Swaminarayan’s following grew, he established other temples, but made the Ahmedabed temple the first administrative center (it was later joined by a second regional headquarters in Vadtal). Although it has since been eclipsed in importance by the Akshardham Temple, the Ahmedabad temple still receives hundreds of thousands of pilgrims every year due to its historical importance.
The Swaminarayan Temple of Ahmedabad is a magnificient building featuring a beautiful riot of colors that damously stand out sharply from the buildings of the surrounding neighborhood. Tilework and art in rich reds, greens, blues and yellows cover almost every inch of its walls, while a see of white domes trimmed in gold and crowned with spired cover the roof. A regional heritage walk connects the temple to other parts of the city, including the local mosque, with which the temple historically has good relations.
The temple interior is huge, with separate sections for men and women. One of the temple treasures is the seat once used by Swaminarayan himself. The temple’s rich artwork includes paintings depicting the famous 1857 uprising against the British colonial authorities. There are altars to numerous deities, but the primary shrine honors Vishnu and Lakshmi.
The Swaminarayan Temple is close to the train station near the center of the Old City of Ahmedabad, approximately 480 miles southwest of New Delhi. It is open every day from 6:00am-8:00pm. There is no cost of admission. Web: www.swaminarayan.in (official website).
There are nearly fifty Swaminarayan temples scattered throughout India, nine of which were personally founded by Swaminarayan. The second most important after the temple in Ahmedabad is the Laxminarayan Dev Gadi Temple in Vadtal. Another popular Hindu site in Ahmedabad is the Sabarmati Ashram, where Mohandas Gandhi resided for a time.