Spouses of African leaders visit Akshardham Temple

New Delhi, Oct 29 (IANS) Spouses of of 12 African leaders on Thursday visited the Swaminarayan Akshardham temple on the banks of river Yamuna here to get a sense of Indian culture, art, wisdom, heritage and values.

The delegation comprised South African first lady Bongi Ngema Zuma of South Africa, Angola’s Ana Paula dos Santos, Burundi’s Beatrice Harerimana of Burundi, Ethiopia’s Roman Tesfaye, Ghana’s Lordina Dramani Mahama of Ghana, Lesotho’s Mathato Mosisili of Lesotho, Mali’s Keita Aminata Maiga of Mali, Mauritius’ Lady Sarojini Devi Jugnauth, Namibia’s Monica Geingos of Namibia, Swaziland’s Queen Inkhosikati Make Lafogiyane, Tanzania’s Asha Mahmoud Mzee of Tanzania and Uganda’s Edith Kutesa.

They are India with their spouses to attend the Indian-Africa Forum Summit.

Each first lady was welcomed in a traditional manner with flowers, a ‘chandlo’ (vermillion powder) and the tying of kalava (sacred thread) on the wrist by temple representatives.

The women, some dressed in colorful traditional garb and some in western dresses, began their journey from Ten Gates that reflects the Vedic sentiments of inviting goodness from everywhere, and proceeded towards main temple premises passing through ‘Bhakti Dwar’ (Gate of Devotion), and ‘Mayur Dwar’ (Peacock Gates).

The delegation which were in the premises for over an hour and also went on a boat ride were all praise for the event.

“What an experience! We have learnt a lot about the Indian culture like the selflessness, sacrifice, and devotion of the leaders and their goodwill. Knowing that this place was built by volunteers is a lesson for the whole world,” Bongi Ngema Zuma wrote in the visitors’ book.

Delegates offered prayers for world peace and harmony by offering ‘Abhishek’, the ceremonial pouring of sanctified water from 151 holy rivers, lakes and ponds across India on the sacred image of Sri Neelkanth Varni.

“Akshardham is a setu (bridge) — a symbol for human beings’ attempt to reach to high level of holiness and goodness. The leadership of diligent and dedicated leaders could result in such a marvelous art work,” wrote Ethiopia’s Tesfaye in the book.

During the 14-minute boat tour inside the temple complex, the delegation got a glimpse of ancient Indian culture by sailing through the “Vedic village and bazaar”.

Sarojini Devi Jugnauth wrote: “I am very happy today to be here and I had the chance of getting somebody to explain to me the details of all the different periods in history that is here.”

“It has been a wonderful experience in my life. Thanks to everybody who has opened all the doors of this beautiful place to me,” she said.

Some visitors, including some foreigners, faced inconvenience as entry to the temple was closed before the African delegation’s visit due to security reasons.

No one was allowed to even stand on the road outside the temple complex, while long queues of the people could be seen in the waiting area of the temple.

“I came here early in the morning to see this famous temple but the entry is closed because of some VIP movement. We also waited for over 20 minutes but now will have to leave without seeing the temple as we have to catch a flight back to Spain,” Alberto told IANS.

Normally, a visit to Humayun’s Tomb or the Qutab Minar is packed into the schedule of visiting dignitaries, but however the two historical monuments were given a miss this time. The official reason was a time crunch with only three-four hours available for sight-seeing as several first ladies were leaving on Friday along with their husbands.

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