Baha’i House of Worship – The Lotus Temple

January 12, 2014 By:

I came to know about the Baha’i faith just by chance.

In the early seventies, immediately after my initial training at Grindlays Bank (Now Standard Chartered), I was asked to man the foreign exchange desk. Those days the foreign exchange business could only be transacted at banks and hence the desk was mostly busy. On that day, a young boy, probably in a hurry, was trying to jump the queue. He told me that he had to attend his class and had no money for bus travel. I told him to get the consent of the girl standing next to her, which she very graciously gave.

Long view from outside

Long view from outside


On checking her passport, I observed that she was an Iranian national and her name sounded like some Indian Parsee girl. I asked her if she was one of the Zoroastrians from Iran!! She said she was a Baha’i. I scratched my head for a second and said “Like the Baha’i House at Curzon Road (Now K G Marg). She said “yes” and invited me to a congregation that evening at Baha’i House, their regional center.

There were not many persons in the audience and one, Mr. Sethi (if I remember correctly) told those present about the organization and its founder, Baha’u’llah (meaning “the glory of God” in Arabic), a Persian nobleman from Teheran, who gave up a princely existence of comfort and security to preach the new faith. Being young and basically involved in work and family life, I didn’t pay much attention to what he said, till the construction of a lotus shaped structure at Kalkaji, in the heart of the capital city of New Delhi, which was formally opened for public worship in December 1986.

I have visited this place over half a dozen times, but last week after re-visiting the temple along with a cleric friend from Connecticut, US and discovering a few new things, I thought of writing this post.

Baha’i faith

Before we talk about the making of the temple, it would be pertinent to say a few words about the Baha’i faith.

The Baha’i Faith is a religion founded by Baha’u’llah in the nineteenth century in Persia (now Iran), emphasizing the spiritual unity of the mankind. It is an independent monotheistic religion with its own sacred scriptures, its own laws, calendar and holy days (like Hindus’ bi-annual Navratras and Muslims’ Ramzan, the Baha’is too have an annual fasting period, which falls in March every year). The religion has three core principles: the unity of God, the unity of religion, and the unity of mankind. The notable thing is that it has no clergy and its affairs are administered by freely elected governing councils that operate at the local,national, as well as international levels.

Front View with pathway leading to temple

Front View with pathway leading to temple

The Baha’i faith teaches that prayer and meditation are two important instruments for the progress of the human soul.

Worldwide there are around 5.5m Baha’is and in India they number around 2.2m.

The temple
Since it was my friend’s first visit to the temple, for better understanding of Baha’i faith and to have an introductory knowledge about the temple, I thought it prudent to take him to the “Information Center” rather than going straight to this magnificent opus.

Information Center

Information Center

We were welcomed at the gate by a girl from North East, who guided us to the reception, where we were told a very brief history of the temple and were asked to see the exhibition. We were also told that a short film on the making of the temple was being shown at the auditorium. Since it was scheduled to start in the next two minutes, we opted to see the show before heading for the exhibition.

From the film and the exhibits, we learnt that this very recent architectural marvel of the Baha’i faith situated in the sprawling lush green 26 acres campus (this privately owned property was purchased by the Baha’i community in 1953, without any sort of grant from the Government), was designed by Fariborz Sahba, a Canadian architect of Iranian origin. He visited hundreds of temples all over the country with a view to discover a concept that would be loved by people of the different religions and would also reveal the simplicity, clarity and freshness of the Baha’i Revelation.

During his travels, he met a simple looking Indian Baha’i, Kamrudin Bartar, whom he had spoken to for the first time. Bartar suggested the lotus form for the temple. For Sahba, he was like a messenger of his master, sent especially for this. Probably it was destined that the temple be built in this shape.

View from Outside

View from Outside

The lotus flower is a manifestation of God, and is a symbol of purity and tenderness. Its significance is deeply rooted not only in the hearts of Indians, but even in some other countries this sacred flower has been associated with worship for many centuries.

The architect chose to use this ancient Indian symbol to create a design of ethereal beauty and apparent simplicity.

The construction work on the project started in 1980 and was completed in 1986. During the construction of the marvel, several traditional Indian means of construction were deployed together the most modern Western engineering design and appliances. Around 800 persons were involved in the construction activities.

The music for the inaugural function was conducted by the famous Sitar Maestro, Pandit Ravi Shankar, who was so much touched when he said “I was deeply moved visiting this great beautiful place, that I find no words to express my feelings”. The inaugural Baha’i conference was attended by over 10,000 Baha’is from all over the world.

From the Information centre we headed for the temple passing through some of the most exquisite lawns, full of flower beds of petunias, pansies, sweet sultans, flocks, white roses, etc and lush green grass.

Flower Beds

Flower Beds

The lotus, as seen from the outside, has three sets of leaves or petals, all of which are made of concrete shells. The temple is 34. 27m from floor to the apex, 70m in diameter and has a seating capacity of 1300. Twenty seven lotus petals form the walls. The architectural blossoming of the lotus has been very neatly described by S. Naharoy as:


1. The outermost set of nine petals, called “entrance leaves”, open outwards and form the nine entrances all around the outer annular hall.

Petals - At the entrance

Petals – At the entrance

2. The next set of nine petals, called the “outer leaves”, point inwards. The entrance and outer leaves together cover the outer hall.

3. The third set of nine petals, called the “inner leaves”, appear to be partly closed. Only the tips open out, somewhat like a partly open bud. This portion which rises above the rest, forms the main structure housing the central hall. Near the top where the leaves separate out, nine radial beams provide the necessary lateral support. Since the lotus is open at the top, a glass and steel roof at the level of the radial beams provides protection from rain and facilitates the entry of natural light into the auditorium. “

Top of the dome

Top of the dome

As per the normal practice in most of the religious places in India, shoes are required to be removed before entering the temple. There are requisite arrangements in place to help the visitors put the shoes in bags, which are kept in safety deposit at a room at the basement level, just before the entrance. This ensures absolute cleanliness of the temple complex. The best thing is that there are volunteers at all the strategic points to assist the visitors.

Right before the steps leading to the temple entrance, there is a fairly large library, where the visitors can sit and peruse the books borrowed from the library.

Lotus Temple Library

Lotus Temple Library

The real marvel starts once the visitors step on the huge pure white marbled elevated platform. The edifice is surrounded by nine beautiful pools, which signify the green leaves of the lotus. From a distance, it looks like a huge pond, out of which the lotus flower is just blooming out. These pools are not only an attractive feature, but also keep the building cool. There are nine archways to the temple, of which only one is used as entrance (perhaps to streamline the crowds) and another one as the exit.

Archway

Archway

The figure of “9 “ seems to have some significant meaning as we could see the temple surrounded by nine pools and there were nine archways into the temple. Another interesting thing is that a simple nine-pointed star is generally used by the Baha’is as a symbol of their faith. At the Information center, we were told that “nine” is chosen because it is the highest single-digit number and in many countries symbolises comprehensiveness, oneness and unity.

The most astounding thing is that this beautiful edifice has no pillars or beams. The petals are made of white concrete and are covered by marble (the same quality of marble as used in the Parthenon, mined in Greece, cut and polished in Italy and 10,000 pieces were brought to the site and assembled as a jig saw puzzle).

The volunteers at the entrance tell the visitors to maintain absolute silence in the temple, though every one is free to meditate or pray as per one’s religious practices.

No deities inside the hall

No deities inside the hall

On entering the temple, some of the visitors are perplexed on the absence of any idols, deities or altar in the temple. This perhaps is owing to the fact that the Baha’i faith is inspired by the basic tenets of monotheism. Also we were told that the most basic idea in the design is that light and water are used as its two fundamental elements and these two elements alone are responsible for the ornamentation of the edifice. Accordingly, there is just a microphone and rows of sitting chairs in the prayer hall, where the visitors can peacefully pray and meditate.

The large prayer hall, which is an embodiment of peace and tranquility, is cool, even in the peak summer season. Ventilation and cooling is perhaps based on the age old technique of fresh air getting cooled as it passes over the fountains and pools. It is drawn in the openings in the basement and goes up into the central hall and expelled through vents at top of the interior dome.

This magnificent edifice is not only one of the most visited places in the country, but also has been accredited with some of the most coveted awards. The International Federation for Religious Arts and Architecture, a US based organisation, gave very early recognition to this great work of architecture and conferred on Sahba the award for “Excellence in Religious Art and Architecture for 1987″. In 1988, this opus received award for structural design from the Institute of Structural Engineers of the United Kingdom.

House of Worship - Uganda

House of Worship – Uganda

House of Worship - Samoa

House of Worship – Samoa

House of Worship - Sydney

House of Worship – Sydney

House of Worship - Germany

House of Worship – Germany

(Some of the pictures have been received through the kind courtesy of the Director, Public Relations, Baha’i House of Worship. Our most grateful thanks to them.)

It would be pertinent to add that Baha’is have seven other places of worship located at Illinois (USA), Western Samoa (South Sea in the pacific), Panama City, Kampala (Uganda), Sydney and Frankfurt. The one at Santiago is at the drawing board stage and construction is likely to start there shortly. Like all these temples, the lotus shaped temple at New Delhi was also constructed using the voluntary donations of Baha’is of India and abroad. The most interesting feature is that only the Baha’is are eligible to contribute to the Baha’i funds. No wonder there are no entry fees, no parking or any kind of other charges. It is very fondly said that the House of worship is a gift from the Baha’i community to the world.

As our next port of halt was the ISKON Temple, we quietly took a last look at this magnificent edifice, which looks particularly spectacular at dusk, when it is floodlit.

Night View from Front

Night View from Front

We passed through the ancient Kalka ji temple, which is less than a Km away from Lotus Temple and reached ISKON Temple on time to attend to the evening “Aarti” and watch the sound and light show on “Shreemad Bhagwat Gita”, which in itself is an experience of life time. I would endeavour to write about this in my next post.

Thank you for visiting.

About Ram Dhall

Ram Dhall has written 22 posts at Ghumakkar.

(vo) Puchhte Hain Kii Ghalib Kaun Hai, Koi Batalaye, Ke Hum Batalaayen Kya. An avid book lover, a passionate traveller (always looking for the next destination) and a lover of Indian and Western classical music - that's what Ram Dhall is all about.

85 Responses to “Baha’i House of Worship – The Lotus Temple”


  1. mehak says:

    well it was quite rocking.when i recently went there i forgot abt myself n my companion n only icud remember was your words n lotus temple.thus i replied.marvellous Ramji.to be honest it was jhakaaas!!!!!!!!!

  2. Ram Dhall says:

    Prajkta ji,

    Thanks for your kind words.

    I am glad you have raised these questions. Such constructive and interactive remarks do help the writers to overcome their shortcomings and to that extent I am grateful to you.

    I give below a seriatim response to your queries:

    Funding:

    I re-iterate what I have said in my post:

    a)— situated in the sprawling lush green 26 acres campus (this privately owned property was purchased by the Baha’i community in 1953, without any sort of grant from the Government),

    b) Like all these temples, the lotus shaped temple at New Delhi was also constructed using the voluntary donations of Baha’is of India and abroad. The most interesting feature is that only the Baha’is are eligible to contribute to the Baha’i funds.

    I would also like to add an excerpt from one of the interviews given by Fariborz Sahba, the designer and the architect of this edifice:

    “ The National Spiritual Assembly of Baha’is of India printed a large number of coupons valued from one rupee to one hundred rupees to raise funds from Baha’is scattered in several thousand localities in India. Baha’is from all over the world also contributed voluntarily for the construction of the temple”.

    Volunteers

    All the volunteers are Baha’is. Many of the volunteers are from India, though there are volunteers from Nepal, Pakistan, Malaysia, Canada, USA and many other countries too, as the community has a worldwide presence. The tenure of the volunteers is between one to three months.

    Number of temples

    I think Duane L Herrman in the comment no. 9 has very aptly clarified your query. It says:

    “The reason six million Baha’is have only seven temples is because far more money goes to educational and medical projects all over the world than to buildings. The temples are merely symbols, one per continent. There are thousands of educational, agricultural and medical projects, most in countries where the government can not or does not provide education or other assistance, so the focus is not on buildings, but helping people improve their lives.”

    I personally feel that as the Baha’i community grows, there could be other temples in the smaller towns as well. It is also good to know that the community doesn’t believe in the stand alone temples only, but also envisages other social organisations in the vicinity of the temple, like hospitals, old age homes and educational institutions.

    While thanking you once again for your kindness, I trust that the above is to your satisfaction

    Please do keep us apprised of your valuable views from time to time.

    Best regards,

    Ram Dhall

  3. Susan says:

    To Priscilla,

    I watch the Lotus Temple being built, and I can tell you that it gave thousands of pretty destitute people what they needed most, jobs. Right now Baha’is have only one building like this for each continent. I think that is hardly squandering our resources. As for how much worshipping goes on there, I suppose you can answer that for yourself. How many prayers did you say? For my own part, I recall how stirring it was to hear the Hidden Words being sung in Hindi by a children’s choir. The arrangement was done by Pundit Ravi Shankar.

    warmest, Susan

  4. Ram Dhall says:

    Susan,

    Thanks for your kind remarks.

    I fully agree with you that one of the objectives of construction of such edifices is the generation of employment, though as very aptly mentioned by Patrick Jones, Nandan and others, such monuments are almost a necessity for the cultural, spiritual and educational awareness.

    Thanks for reminding about the beautiful compositions of Pandit Ravi Shankar, especially composed for the inaugural occassion. I have an audio cassette of the recording and enjoy this soothing music from time to time.

    Please do keep on visiting the site and share with us your views.

    Warm regards,

    Ram Dhall

  5. Ram Dhall says:

    Mohit,

    It is a great honour to get such encouraging remarks from a person who is himself a civil engineer and understands the intricacies of the structural engineering.

    I am glad that you found the post informative.

    Thank you very much.

    Mehak,

    Your heart warming “mast” comments brought an immense joy to me.

    Do keep on sharing your views.

    Thanks and God’s blessings.

  6. prajkta shukla says:

    hello ramsir,im quite impressed by your answer.well you mentioned abt a volunteer sabha from kuwait.i wud like to contact her for more details.plz provide me d contact no if you can.

  7. Ram Dhall says:

    Prajkta,

    Thanks for your kind remarks.

    As I mentioned earlier, the normal tenure of the volunteers is between 1-3 months and they stay at a hostel located close to the Information Centre. In case you need any information about the volunteers, you may please contact:

    The Director, Public Relations,
    Baha’i House Of Worship,
    Kalkaji, Near Nehru Place,
    New Delhi – 110019.
    Tel No. 2644 4029, 2644 4035.

    E-mail: [email protected]

    Regards.

  8. Kalyan says:

    WoW…the pictures are simply excellent & the writeup in one word ‘Marvelous’. I have read very few of detailed posts like this & that too so beautifully done…Your research, observations & thoughts are so vivid and beautifully captured in words, I could visualise the Lotus temple even without viewing the pictures…a comprehensive post….Excellent work!

  9. Ram Dhall says:

    Kalyan Da,

    I am profusely overwhelmed by your very kind and generous remarks.

    Getting such sweet words from a scholarly person like you could be a matter of honour for any one. Sir, I am deeply touched

    Please do keep on enriching us not only through your enthraling writings, but also your kind views on our posts.

  10. s.v.kumar says:

    God give an golden oppertunity in my life is period of “one month” that is when i was stayed in lotus temple as volunter “THAT IS MONTH OF MAY”
    It is GODS GRACE
    by S.V.KUMAR Chennai

  11. Jeevan says:

    The world needs sincere souls like Ram Dhall in abundance. I am proud he, being a non- believer in the Bahai religion is able to see beauty in the Bahai religion. I am equally deeply moved and touched by the passion with which he glorifies what is good in other religions. I have read and heard of the Lotus Temple. But it is this particle article that has tempted me definitely visit the Lotus Temple. Kudos to Ram Dhall!

    Jeevan
    Chennai

  12. Elena says:

    Dear Ram,
    Thank you for a wonderful moving report and wonderful pictures. You have done such a great job here!
    I also enjoyed reading the comments.
    I am a Baha’i living in the UK. I have always wanted to visit India and the Lotus Temple and now feel even more encouraged to do so. I have visited two other temples – in Germany where I sang as part of a choir and Samoa on holiday. As you say the Lotus Temple attracts a lot of visitors from all over the world. For instance, I noted recently that a UK based tour of India was including a visit to the temple as part of their itinery.
    Regarding the interesting discussion about people living in poverty and the raising of funds for building the temple, I am sure that I read a moving account about how the funds for the temple were raised. This related that an Indian Baha’i, originally Hindu and from an impoverished background, had worked hard all his life, saving and establishing a business. Later, he heard of the Baha’i Faith and became a Baha’i. On hearing that monies were needed for purchasing the land and the building of the temple, he decided to sell his assets and donate to the funds. I think I have got the story right. Does anybody else know of it and who this gentleman was?
    Thank you once again Dear Ram and May God Bless you!

  13. Ram says:

    Jeevan,

    I am deeply touched and moved by your very kind words. I am glad that the post was to your satisfaction.

    As a matter of fact, I was indisposed for sometime and was practically out of touch with my ghumakkar friends. Your comments have motivated me to bounce back and catch up with the unread posts.

    Please do keep on posting your views.

    Thanks and God’s blessings.

  14. Ram says:

    Dear Elena,

    Thanks for your very sweet words and for liking the post.

    The gentelman you have mentioned in your comments was called Ardeshir Rustampour. an Indian Parsee, who accepted the Baha’i faith.

    Another interesting fact is that for the purchase of land and construction of the temple, coupons of Re. 1 -100 were purchased by the Baha’is all across the country (as you know contributions from Baha’is only are accepted), with a view to have a total community support. I am told that at the time of purchase of land, the shortcoming was made up by Ardeshir by selling his assets, which helped immensely. His sacrifice will be remembered for a long time.

    Needless to say that the Bahai’s across the world have contributed to the cause not only financially, but also provided manual labour during the construction of the temple.

    Singing in a choir at the German temple, speaks of your devotion and talents.

    Last but not the least, no itnerary is complete without a visit to the Lotus Temple. It would be interesting to note that this is the second largest visited eddifice in the country (after Taj Mahal and may be the Golden Temple)

    Please do keep on visiting and apprise us of your views.

    May God be with you.

  15. Ram Dhall says:

    S V Kumar,

    Working as a volunteer at the temple is not only a great service to the society, but also a matter of honour.

    The excellent upkeep and maintenance of the temple is largely due to the untiring efforts of the volunteer force.

  16. Priscilla says:

    Here is Peter Khan, member of the Universal House of Justice, the supreme governing body of the Baha’i Faith, confirming that the “Baha’i strategy” is indeed to favor showy buildings over other priorities. He thinks it is right through a spriitual perspective:

    “It gives us also insight to Baha’i strategy. For example, consider the Baha’i strategy to spend a vast sum of money on beautifying Mt Carmel at a time when the world is crying out for hospitals, for schools, for more effective means of agriculture, for scholarships for bright kids to get a good education. If you and I were running the world, the beautification of Mt Carmel, a construction of an elaborate series of terraces and a bunch of marble buildings would not be our highest strategy at a time of inadequate material resources. Yet this is the Baha’i strategy; it is best appreciated, can only be appreciated, from a spiritual perspective. If you look at it from a material perspective, it’s either megalomania or some distorted sense of priorities. From a spiritual perspective, it is none of those things, it is the fulfilment of the millennia-old prophecies of the establishment of the seat of God’s administrative order on God’s holy mountain and all the spiritual forces that are attracted by that accomplishment. So, my point is that the most pressing need before us all over the world is that of acquiring a heightened spiritual consciousness.” http://bahaistudies.net/khan.html

    • Greg Moore says:

      Dear Friend, I think Dr Khan’s point was that the long term priority for humanity is the estblishment of a spiritual world governing body on Mount Carmel. Likewise, construction of the temples in various lands is a long range plan for the spiritual growth of humanity as a whole. Hospitals and schools are good, but help far fewer people on the global scale and in the long run.

  17. pankaj jain says:

    Besides a book lover and a passionate traveller you also appear to have a good sense of taking photographs. Your snaps are giving a very pleasing feeling to my eyes. Thanks . Keep on taking.

  18. Prasad Np says:

    This is such a beautiful post, I have passed near the lotus temple so many times but never ventured in. Now it is on my must do list next time I am in NCR. Thanks for giving a brief about history of the Baha’i faith

  19. Dear Mr. Dhall,

    This is perhaps the most comprehensive account of the Lotus temple. Your k een observation skills and attention to details are incomparable. Thanks for sharing this with us, as I must admit that before reading this article, I wasn’t much aware of the Baha’s faith.

    I am so glad this article has been republished.

    Cheers,
    Vibha

    • Ram Dhall says:

      On the onset, welcome back to your editorial desk. Needless to say that though Archna had been doing a wonderful job, your presence was always missed.

      Thank you for your kind words for this re-published humble post.

      I keep on getting news about you and Vijay from Nandan, including his visit to Hamirpur to attend the wedding. May God bless you both and keep you happy, always. I would request Nandan to inform me of your next visit to his home. Would look forward to meet you and Vijay.

      Warm regards, God’s blessings and Season’s greetings

      • Vibha says:

        Dear Sir, thank you for your reply. The next time we visit Nandan, I will remind him about informing you. In the meanwhile, may be you could visit me and Vijay at our home. You just have to let us know and we will be there to greet you… :)

  20. AUROJIT says:

    Hello Mr Ram Dhall,

    It is a great post by all accounts….I somehow missed it in the previous edition. Despite more than one visit to the temple, almost the entire information provided here is new for me.

    Always interesting reading your posts…..

    @ Nandan – it is a wonderful idea, republishing such gems.

    Thanks,

    Auro.

  21. Nandan Jha says:

    I failed to update here that this has been re-published early today and it is heartening to see a lot of new comments already. Thank you Auro. Let me read it once more as well. :-)

    • Ram Dhall says:

      Thanks Nandan and the editorial team for re-publishing this humble post. It has revived many of my fond memories of visiting the edifice to gather material for this post.

      God bless you all.

  22. Munesh Mishra says:

    Hi Mr Ram Dhall,
    Nice post about your visit to Lotus Temple Delhi. Your post provides detailed information to readers.
    Photos of different view of the temple and other Baha’i House of Worship also very interesting.

  23. Nirdesh Singh says:

    Hi Ram Sir,

    I have savoured this post several times. And it keeps getting better.

    There was a time when we had an unhindered view of the contruction of the temple and the completed temple from our third floor terrace in Alaknanda. But now newer buildings have blocked the view.

    It is time I visited the temple.

    • Ram Dhall says:

      Nirdesh Babu,

      It gives me an immense satisfaction, when an artist of your calibre finds time to re-read such an humble post and also like it.

      My heartful thanks for your kind words.

      May God bless you.

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