Bahá'í House of Worship

Lotus floating on divine stream

(From the Indian Express, Chandigarh, April 28, 1990)

 The lotus-shaped Bahá'í House of Worship in New Delhi is an architectural marvel, often popularly called as the modern-day Taj Mahal. ANIL SARWAL describes the concept behind this unique structure and the Bahá'í ideals which inspired the construction.

The newly constructed lotus-shaped Bahá'í House of Worship at New Delhi has already endeared itself to thousands of visitors. The temple, in white marble, gives the impression of a half-open lotus flower, afloat, surrounded by leaves. Encircling it are walkways with beautiful curved balustrades, bridges and stairs. The nine pools which surround the main structure look like the floating leaves of a lotus flower.

The lotus has been universally revered and regarded as sacred. The Lotus seat and pedestal have been widely used with the figures of Hindu gods and goddesses. Lord Buddha and Mahavira are often depicted seated on the lotus base. The lotus has also been used in the Zoroastrian, Christian and Islamic-inspired art and architecture.

The Bahá'í House of Worship at New Delhi, therefore, apart from being considered a marvel of modern architecture, must be regarded as the culmination of the theme of lotus in religious art, sculpture and architecture.

Explaining the concept behind the design, Mr. Fariburz Sahba, the architect, says, "To design a temple which would reflect the rich cultural heritage of India and, at the same time, be compatible with the cardinal principle of the Bahá'í Faith, i.e., the unity of religions, provided for me a most unusual and remarkable chance…. It should, on one hand, reveal the simplicity, clarity and freshness of the Bahá'í Revelation, and on the other hand, should show respect for the basic beliefs of all the religions of the past, and act as a constant reminder to the followers of each Faith that the spiritual principles of all the religions of God are one."

The House of Worship was dedicated to humanity on December 24, 1986 in the presence of 8000 Bahá'ís gathered from all over the world. The construction of the temple had commenced six years and eight months ago on 22 acres of land acquired by the Bahá'í community of India way back in the early 1950s. The architect, Mr. Fariburz Sahba, a Bahá'í of Persian origin and a Canadian citizen, was chosen from among the world’s top 40 architects.

Soon 40 engineers and supervisors along with many Bahá'ís and 800 unskilled workers began work at the temple site. Messrs Marmi Vincentini in Italy supplied the carved and cut-to-size marble for the entire project. The building was completed at the cost of about Rs. 10 crore.

The temple complex, as seen from outside, has three sets of leaves or petals, all of which are made up of thin concrete shells and covered with white marble. The outermost set of nine petals, called ‘entrance leaves’, open outwards and form the nine entrances all around the annular hall. The next set of nine petals, called the ‘outer leaves’, are partly closed. Only the tips open out, somewhat like a partly opened bud. This portion, which rises above the rest, forms the main structure housing the central hall. Since the lotus is open at the top, a glass and steel roof provides protection from rain and facilitates entry of natural light into the auditorium.

There are nine doors leading to the innermost dome of the temple that can accommodate 2,000 persons. There are no statues in the temple, no pictures, no priests, no ceremonies and no rituals. It is a place of prayer and meditation. From within its holy precincts rise in unison voices of Hindus, Buddhists, Christians and Muslimspeople of all castes, colours and creeds—glorifying their Lord, the Almighty God. The daily prayer services include readings from the scriptures of all religions. There is also an introductory audio-visual presentation that is repeated hourly for the visitors. The temple is open to all and no entry fee is charged.

Light and water are the two fundamental elements that have been used for the ornamentation of the lotus temple in place of statues and carvings found in other temples. The whole superstructure is designed so as to function as a skylight. The external illumination creates the impression that the lotus structure is afloat upon water and not anchored to its foundation, by having the light focussed brightly on the upper edges of the petals.

The interior dome is spherical and patterned after the inner-most portion of the lotus flower. Light enters the hall in the same way as it passes through the innermost folds of the lotus petals. The nine pools around the building, besides forming the principle landscaping, also help in the ventilation process of the building.

The Bahá'í temples all over the globe are a source of great tourist attraction and are known for their splendour and beauty. The Bahá'í temple at New Delhi is seventh in the chain. The other Bahá'í temples are situated in Australia (Sydney), Western Samoa, Panama, USA (Wilmette, Illinois), West Germany (Frankfurt) and Uganda (Kampala). The Bahá'ís believe that such monuments attract divine bounties, and the spiritual atmosphere they create inspires many lives.

The Bahá'í Faith was founded in Persia in 1863 by Bahá'u'lláh (literally Glory of God) whom the Bahá'ís believe to be the Promised One of all religions. The main Bahá'í teachings include the oneness of God, oneness of man and oneness of religion. Thus, the purpose of religion for the Bahá'ís is unity of mankind in one Universal Faith. As Bahá'u'lláh teaches, "The earth is but one country and mankind its citizens."

The Bahá'í Faith also advocates the principles of equality of men and woman, universal education and removal of prejudices through independent investigation of truth. Another basic tenet of the Faith is that religion must be in accordance with science and reason. The Bahá'ís also actively work for the creation or adoption of a world language.

Today, the Bahá'ís live and work in more than 254 territories and countries and Bahá'í literature has been translated into more than 800 languages. According to the 1988 Annual Yearbook of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, the Faith is the second most global religion after Christianity. The Bahá'í House of Worship at New Delhi is, indeed, the embodiment of the aspiration of the Bahá'ís in concrete. The story it tells to the hearts of the people is important. The lotus flower is rooted in slime and yet it floats on the surface with utmost grace and remains untainted in the midst of filth.

Thousands of visitors, including ambassadors, ministers, parliamentarians, governors and judges, come to see the lotus temple daily. The legendary Dizzy Gillespie, on visiting the temple, wrote in the visitor’s book, "I still can’t believe it! It is God’s work." Pandit Ravi Shankar, the sitar maestro wrote, "I am so deeply moved after visiting this great, beautiful place that I canfind no words to express my feelings! I am sure people visiting here will find intense joy, love and peace."

The lotus temple is a design inspired by God and reflects the sophistication and potentialities of a scientific age destined to glorify God. It stands as a reminder to all mankind of their common origin, their destiny and their essential unity.