Bahá'í Houses of Worship, India

The Lotus of Bahapur

Since its inauguration to public worship in December 1986, the Baha'i House of Worship in New Delhi, India has drawn to its portals more than 50 million visitors, making it the most visited edifice in the world, its numbers surpassing those of the visitors to the Eiffel Tower and even the Taj Mahal. The maximum number of visitors the Temple has received in a single day has been 150,000. They have come regardless of the scorching summer heat of Delhi which rises above 40?C during the months of June to September, and have braced the chill and cold rains that Delhi experiences during winter. These visitors have admired the beautiful lotus form of the Temple, and have been fascinated by the teachings of the Baha'i Faith impressed by its tenets of the oneness of God, oneness of religions and oneness of mankind.

This "House of Worship of the Indian subcontinent" joins six other Baha'i temples around the world. Each of these Houses of Worship, while sharing some basic design concepts, has its own distinct cultural identity embodying the principle of unity in diversity. The lotus, the national flower of India, is a recurring symbol in the religious architecture of the Indian subcontinent. This ancient symbol has been given a modern and contemporary form in the structure of the Baha'i House of Worship drawing into its sanctum sanctorum people from all races, religious backgrounds and culture from around the globe.

To the people of India the lotus flower signifies purity and peace, a representation of the Manifestation of God. Rising pure and unsullied above stagnant, muddy waters, the Indians have seen this flower as worthy of emulation, teaching them to be detached from material preoccupations. It is because this flower is so revered in Indian mythology and cultures that its translation into the design of a temple has caught the attention of the people at large.

The structure of the House of Worship is composed of three ranks of nine petals; each springing from a podium which elevates the building above the surrounding plain. The first two ranks curve inward, embracing the inner dome; the third layer curves outward to form canopies over the nine entrances. The petals, constructed of reinforced white concrete cast in place, are clad in white marble panels, performed to surface profiles and patterns related to the geometry. The double layered interior dome, modelled on the innermost portion of the lotus, is comprised of 54 ribs with concrete shells between. The central hall is ringed by nine arches that provide the main support for the superstructure. Nine reflecting pools surround the building on the outside, their form suggesting the green leaves of the lotus flower.

In the raising of the House of Worship in New Delhi traditional Indian means of construction were employed coupled with the most modern Western engineering design. Fariborz Sahba, Canadian architect of Iranian origin, spent 10 years in designing and project management, and with the help of a team of about 800 engineers, technicians, artisans and workers brought to realisation one of the most complicated constructions in the world. The conversion of the lotus into structural designs and working drawings alone took the architect and his structural consultant Messrs. Flint and Neil Partnership nearly 18 months of work.

Translating the geometry of the design, in which there are virtually no straight lines, into the actual structure presented particular challenges in designing and erecting the framework. Not only was it difficult to align, so as to produce accurately the complex double-curved surfaces and their intersections, but the closeness of the petals severely restricted work space. Nevertheless the task was carried out entirely by the local labourers. Before assembling the temporary works for the roof, a number of full-scale mock-ups were constructed to check the feasibility of the proposed methods of construction, geometric form, practicality of fixing the complex reinforcement, entrance and inner leaves, and interior dome elements. Forms and their supports for all the petals were designed to withstand pressures from continuous concreting. To avoid construction joints, petals were concreted in a continuous operation for approximately 48 hours. Concrete was carried up the staging by women bearing 50-pound loads in baskets balanced on their heads. All the steel reinforcing for the shells of the lotus petals was galvanised to avoid rust stains on the white concrete in the prevailing humid conditions, and guarantee the life of the delicate shell structure of 6 to 18 cm thick shells of the petals.

Ventilation and cooling are based on techniques traditional to the Indian subcontinent. Fresh air, cooled as it passes over the fountains and pools, is drawn in through openings in the basement, up into the central hall, and expelled through a vent at the top of the interior dome. During the humid season a set of exhaust fans in the basement recycles air from the main hall into the cool basement and back.

India is well endowed with human resources. This resource was amply utilised and most of the work was carried out by a work force of almost 700 people, including 400 carpenters at a time, using the most traditional techniques and equipment to achieve the highest quality and sophisticated construction. People have marvelled that such a modern and complex design could be built in India. The architect in fact believes that this design could not have been executed anywhere else because it is rare to find the combination of traditional craftsmanship, pride in one's work, empathy for spiritual undertaking, perseverance under all odds and ample patience, as can be found in the people of India. As commented by progressive Architecture of USA in their article on the Baha'i Temple "It goes to prove that high-tech concepts do not always demand high-tech solutions."

When the temple was first opened to the general public on January 1, 1987 they flocked to the "Lotus Temple", as they fondly call it, from sheer curiosity. The vast lawns, the massive white structure, the high ceiling Prayer Hall, and a temple without idols standing so close to an ancient Hindu temple aroused the interest of all and sundry. The Indian visitors, from the most sophisticated to the most simple, expressed perplexity at the absence of any idols. It has been a hard task since explaining to them that the all-pervasive Almighty cannot be put in any limited form. Often the visitors ask the guides where the object of adoration is. In their simplicity some have placed flowers before the lectern used during regular prayer services.

Over the years the visitors from India have begun to understand that the purpose of the Baha'i House of Worship is to unite the hearts of the people and bring them closer to their Creator. Many a visitor has penned his impressions in the Visitor's Book maintained in the Library of the Temple. Some of these are reproduced to convey the impression the Temple and the Baha'i teachings are making on the visitors.

  • "Few temples radiate the atmosphere of sublimity, peace and calm so necessary to elevate a devotee spiritually as the Baha'i House of Worship."
  • "My visit has aroused great interest in the teachings of Baha'u'llah. That harmony is the primary purpose of religion is the teaching that has impressed most."
  • "I am deeply impressed by the humanism and universalism of the Baha'i religion."
  • "Every time I come here I feel totally at peace. I like the philosophy of the Baha'i Faith and the devotion of all the volunteers.. .."

Not only have there been millions of visitors from India, but also large numbers from most countries of the world have also paid a visit to the House of Worship, and continue to visit. Besides the hundreds of thousands of visitors from all walks of life, a great number of dignitaries--Heads of State, Government Ministers, Ambassadors, Heads of foreign missions, diplomats, leaders of religion, scholars, academicians, artists and other prominent people have been received at the House of Worship. And many have commented that one has not seen India if one has not visited the Baha'i Temple in New Delhi.

The Temple also continues to be a source of great interest to the media, both the print and the audio-visual media. It has been featured in television programmes not only in India, but also countries like Russia and China. The Baha'i World Centre Library has archived more than 500 publications which have carried information on the Indian Temple in the form of articles, interviews with the Architect and write-ups extolling the structure as a marvel of 20th century architecture.

The House of Worship has won praise in numerous architectural and engineering journals for its innovative design. Twentieth Century Architecture, an anthology of the most outstanding structures of the twentieth century lists the Lotus Temple as one of the three major architectural achievements of the year 1987. The 1994 edition of Encyclopaedia Britannica, in its 'Architecture' section gives recognition to the Temple as an outstanding achievement of the time. Some of these journals are listed below:

  • Architecture, U.S.A. September 1987
  • Progressive Architecture February 1987
  • Asian Architect, Hong Kong February 1987
  • Building, U.K. January 1987
  • Architecture & Design, India Jan-Feb 1985
  • Engineering News Record, U.S.A. November 1984
  • Construction News, U.K. April 1986
  • Concrete Quarterly, U.K. Jan-March 1987
  • Structural Engineer, U.K. Gala, Germany Sep-Oct 1987
  • de Architect, Netherlands March 1987
  • Constructional Review, Australia August 1987
  • Concrete Structures for the Future IABSE, France September
  • Construction Modern, France November 1987
  • International Lighting Review, Netherlands
  • A&U, Japan November 1987
  • l'Arca, Italy Jan-Feb 1988
  • Encyclopaedia Iranica 1989
  • Twentieth Century Architecture, USA 1991
  • Forever in Bloom, Singapore July 1992
  • Innovative Large Span Structures, Canada July 1992
  • Modern Architecture in India, India 1993
  • Encyclopaedia Britannica 1994
  • Architecture of Israel, Israel July 1995

Soon after its inauguration, a number of prestigious awards were conferred in connection with the House of Worship in India:

1. On 25 June 1987, the Institution of Structural Engineers U.K. gave their special award to the Temple which they called: "a building so emulating the beauty of a flower and so striking in its visual impact . . ."

2. On 19 October 1987, the Interfaith Forum on Religion, Art and Architecture, Affiliate of the American Institute of Architects, Washington, D.C., gave their First Honour award for "Excellence in Religious Art and Architecture" 1987 to Mr. F. Sahba for the design of the Bah?'? House of Worship - New Delhi.

3. On 28 June 1988, the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America conferred the Paul Waterbury Outdoor Lighting Design Award - Special Citation.

4. In 1989, the Temple received an award from the Maharashtra-India Chapter of the American Concrete Institute for "excellence in a concrete structure".

The dedication of the Baha'i House of Worship of the Indian sub-continent has indeed been a momentous event. Millions have crossed its threshold. Some have come as tourists, others to spend some time at a beautiful spot, many more have come with reverence in their hearts, touching the steps leading into the Prayer Hall in the traditional Indian manner. Many have been perplexed by the absence of deities inside the central auditorium, still others have appreciated the fact that it symbolises the unity of all religions. Whatever impression these millions have gathered, one thing is certain - the House of Worship has touched a spiritual chord in the hearts of the people of India in particular, and people around the world in general. Many visitors have called it a symbol of integration, where differences submerge and dissolve to create a wonderful calm. Its purpose has beautifully been summed up by Mr. Hooshmand Fatheazam, one of the members of the highest administrative body of the Baha'i Faith, during his visit in October 1987. He wrote in the Visitor's Book: "Here is love and devotion crystallised in stone. This magnificent edifice is a befitting tribute to the peoples of India whose never-ending quest for spiritual advancement has inspired so many generations. May the fragrance of love and unity emanating from this heavenly 'Lotus of Bahapur' perfume the hearts and souls of diverse people and bind them together in praise of their Creator."


COMMENTS OF PROMINENT VISITORS ON THE LOTUS TEMPLE

  • Ambassador of Panama to India (1989)
    "The most beautiful Temple in the world for the love of humanity".
  • Bermuda
    "I had a most enjoyable and inspirational visit! God bless you all". --- Jerome Dill Deputy Premier of Bermuda
  • Hungary
    "Wish you much success in achieving your noble goal". --- Lt. Gen. Ference Vegh, Chief of Defence, Hungary
  • India
    "The Baha'i Temple's imposing, yet gentle structure, its inspiring atmosphere, its beautifully sung prayers are a symbol of religious harmony and co-existence." --- Mrs. Sonia Gandhi wife of the late Prime Minister of India Rajiv Gandhi

"I am happy to see the Lotus Temple and experience the peaceful atmosphere. I hope we can achieve global peace in the near future". --- The Honourable Minister, Babagaud Patil Minister for Rural Development & Employment, Govt. of India

"It was only yesterday, I heard of this temple. But when I came here, I was wonder struck. I am very happy to record that anybody who sits inside the prayer hall will get peace of mind in no time and forget all his worries. I pray to the Lord to bless this organisation." --- Justice M. Srinivasan, Supreme Court of India

"Every time I come to the place, I feel more or more enchanted. The ambience of the place, the scope of meditation inside the temple and the serene surroundings impress me the most". --- Manoj Kumar Mukherjee Judge, Supreme Court of India

  • Moscow, (former USSR)
    "What we have seen here made an unforgettable impression on us. The idea and thoughts put in this religion by its Creator make us spellbound and we are very thankful to Him for everything." --- Minister for Coal and Mining
  • Nepal
    "Type of religion and belief which I had always imagined. I am amazed to find its existence here. It has touched me." --- Lt. Col. Indra B. Karki, Military Attache, Royal Nepalese Embassy, London, Accompanying His Highness, Prince Niranjan Shah, Prince of Nepal
  • People's Democratic Republic of Yemen
    "Very happy to visit this great place. Very good architecture for prayer and meditation. With appreciation and thanks." --- H.E. Mohammed Bur Mohammad Al. Hubeishi, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of People's Democratic Republic of Yemen
  • Republique de Cote d' Ivoire
    "The temple is a spot of worship, unity and peace. May God help us build this world with justice and peace as envisioned by Prophet Bah?'u'll?h". --- Honourable Minister Roland Komenan Zakpa, Minister of Technical Education and Vocational Training, Republique de Cote d' Ivoire
  • Singapore
    "Having made a previous visit to the Bah?'? Shrine in Haifa, my wife and I are enchanted to have made a visit to this beautiful Temple for its architectural concept, design and execution. There are so many features, aesthetic and functional. We are most privileged to have been here. May it last beyond the thousand years? It gives meaning to Peace, Divinity and Holiness. It calls for prayer and meditation." --- Hanz Chan Keng Howe, Singapore High Commission
  • Tajikstan
    "If Taj Mahal of Agra is Persian in it's body form, then this Lotus is the spiritual crown on India's head." --- Deputy Minister of Religious Affairs
  • World Health Organisation
    "I am very glad to come for the third time in 5 years. The Bah?'? House of Worship continues to be well maintained and organised and I saw thousands and thousands of visitors come daily". --- Dr. Uton Muchtar Rafei, Regional Director, WHO
  • Zambia
    "Well received as we presented ourselves to all His mighty, the Lord". --- Hon. Keli Walubita Minister of Foreign Affairs, Zambia


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