The name Golden Temple is synonymous with Harmandir Sahib, i.e. The Golden Temple at Amritsar, a shrine of the Shikhs and a place of interest for others. But another similar masterpiece is located at Vellore, Tamil Nadu, India. Though Vellore is normally well-known as a place of better treatment, this temple is also a centre of attraction for tourists, devotees and lovers of structural wonder. As dedicated to Goddess Laxmi, this temple is officially known as Sri Laxmi Narayani Golden Temple (Narayani Amma to the Tamils, popularly known as Sripuram Golden Temple). It is located 8-km away from Vellore town, around 150 km car-travel distance from Chennai city, the capital of Tamil Nadu. This unique temple stands on 100 acres of land inside the Thirupuram spiritual park at the foot of a small range of green hills at Thirumalaikodi (simply speaking, a small village named Malaikodi) in southern Vellore. It is said that several centuries ago saints and sages performed intense penance for many years to the Universal Mother Thirumalaikod. They prayed to the Universal Mother to descend on the earth to protect creation from the afflictions of the Kaliyug (Dark Age). Selfless prayers of the sages were accepted by the Mother who agreed to incarnate in human form on the earth.
Unlike almost all other ancient temples in India and around the world, Shri Laxmi Narayani Temple has no history or heritage. This temple was built by the Sri Narayani Peedam, a charitable trust of Vellore, under the guidance of Sri Sakthi Amma, also known as Narayani Amma. According to record, this temple, built within seven years, was inaugurated on 24th August, 2007. It is the world’s biggest golden temple. Around 1500 kgs (including 75 kg for the idol of Laxmi) of solid gold costing about 300 crore rupees (65 million US Dollar) was spent to build the temple. Not only the idol, but everything including the peak, frames, pillars and platform are also made of gold. Only gold can be seem inside the main temple as far as eyes go. Everything, including converting gold bars into gold foils and then mounting the foils on copper, is manually created. The silver-idol of Ganesh weighs 75 kg. All details in the temple art have significance from the Vedas. Since inauguration the temple has attracted thousands of devotees and tourists that often crosses lakhs on special occasions. This temple has made Vellore more attractive.
It is believed that there are 33 categories of deities in Hinduism. As a result, there are thousands of temples in India and those are dedicated to different gods and goddesses. Those gods and goddesses are worshipped there. Out of devotion and to add beauty to the structure mainly upper portion of many temples and gods and goddesses inside have been decorated with golden colour or plated gold. Some temples are so popular that people come from far and wide to see those. Inside many temples there are huge amount of gold ornaments received as gift from devotees, but there is no other record that everything inside a temple is made of gold. Sripuram Golden Temple is such a temple that attracts attention of thousands of visitors from different places of the world.
For entering into the temple devotees and visitors have to follow an informal dress-code i.e. pant, shirt, pyjama and dhoti for men and saree, half saree, churidhar, slawar-kamij, even pant and shirt for women. At the time of entering everybody must cover his/her head. You can cover your head with your own scarf, otherwise borrow or buy one from just outside the temple. The temple remains open everyday throughout the year. Entry fee is Rs. 100/- per person. The General Darshan takes place from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. The Abhishekam is from 4:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. and Aarti Seva is from 6:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. For availing the Divya Darshan Seva that happens on Sundays and Saturdays the rush becomes extreme. Within the temple complex there is a general hospital named Sri Narayani Hospital and Research Centre, managed by the builder and owner of the temple i.e. Sri Narayani Peedam Charitable Trust.
Very recently I had an opportunity to visit this temple. Sandals and shoes are to be stored outside free of cost. But it is unusual that mobile phone, camera or any other electronic device is not allowed inside. Those are to be deposited at the main gate for Rs. 20/- each. Though located at two different sheds, at the time of exit shoes and mobile phones are delivered from one counter. The entire system is very effectively computerised and undoubtedly well-managed. There is no complain of mispacketing.
Like many other temples in Bangladesh and India this temple is also a place of business. In the well-decorated market inside the temple premises various items like worshipping materials, saree, idols of Ganesh and Laxmi, tea (both leaf and dust) with different flavours, cosmetics (mainly herbal), ornaments (original and imitation), ayurvedic medicinal items, gold coin and publications about the temple are available. However, with its dazzling beauty and exquisite craftsmanship this modern temple is a wonderful place for tourists and devotees as well.