Feb. 24, 1822: First Swaminarayan temple, now a landmark, opens in India

Christy Karras

The Shri Swaminarayan Temple in Ahmedabad was the first built for its branch of the Hindu religion, and it set a design tone that others would later follow. Built according to specifications laid down by the founder of this sect, Swaminarayan, it’s a masterpiece of detailed decoration.

British government officials granted the land for the temple, set in Gujarat province’s largest city, and they were so impressed when it opened that they commissioned a 101-gun salute. Its carved teak wood is painted a multitude of colors, and the reds, greens and yellows bring out the beauty of its three-dimensional art, much of it sculpture representing richly dressed Hindu gods and goddesses. The temple looks like something that belongs in a fantasy film, representing an opulent lost kingdom, perhaps.

But the temple, by now an intricate complex of several temples added over the years, is very much a living structure. Up to a million people visit on its busiest day, the day after Diwali or the festival of lights. With an air-conditioned guesthouse, it’s a nice place to stay during slower times. Those wanting a more brief taste of this city can take a mile-long Heritage Walk of Ahmedabad, which goes past many of the Kalupur neighborhood’s cultural attractions.