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Abode of God in Marble

Lotus-1Nestled among walkways with beckoning curved balustrades, bridges and stairs that surround nine turquoise pools, the Baha’i House of Worship stands as a beacon of light leading people into the presence of the Creator, into a world of peace and hope far removed from the hustle and bustle of New Delhi. Popularly known as the Lotus Temple, it’s a sight for sore eyes, a spiritual oasis for the restless and the seeker – this magnificent Taj Mahal of the 20th century.
A paean for God and his creation, the Temple is certainly an architectural triumph: light, water, air, sound and building materials have been judiciously used to foster the spiritual atmosphere in the temple. And from a distance this glorious edifice looks like a precious objet d’art.


When one beholds the Lotus Temple for the first time, one is instantly struck by its silvery whiteness -a whiteness that is not blinding, but soothing. On closer inspection, one discovers that this glorious, inviting whiteness springs from the marble panels that cling to the outer surface of the concrete shells and the inner surface of the arches. It is the shimmering of 10,000 square meters of marble that was quarried from the Mount Pentelikon mines of Greece. These marble panels give a touch of antiquity to the exterior of the edifice; they sort of subdue the newness of the structure; and it is for this reason that when one enters the Prayer Hall, one gets a feeling while entering the building that the Creator has always been there.

Lotus-2Before these marble panels were transported to the site in Delhi, they were sent to Italy, where each panel was cut to the specified size and shape to suit the geometry and architectural pattern. Speaking about the marble that adorns the Temple, Mr. Shatrughun Jiwnani, Director-Public Information, Office of Public Affairs, Baha’i House of Worship said, “We got marble from Greece because it is of excellent quality. But India has very good marble too. The main reason why we went for Greek marble is that we couldn’t find a single quarry in India that could give us all the marble we needed-marble of one kind, belonging to the same family. This marble was mined in Greece and then shipped to Italy, where it was cut and polished and then sent over to India. Fitting them together was like solving a jigsaw puzzle.”

The 10,000 marble panels used in the construction of the Temple were of different sizes, due to the fact that the structure has no straight lines. There are only curved surfaces.

“We wanted symmetry,” Mr. Jiwnani explained, “All the lines had to flow in a certain way. To achieve that, each marble panel had to be sort of ‘stretched ‘to meet the end of the petal in a certain way – so that there was symmetry. When you look at the petals, you’ll see two marble panels next to each other. The impression is that they are identical in size, but they are not. Each one had to be ‘stretched’ out a bit to meet the ends in a certain way; it is curved in a certain way.”

Flint & Neill, a UK-based engineering firm, was hired as consultant for the Temple construction.


Technical Procedures

After the waterproofing of the top surface of each shell, timbre templates of the same size as the marble panels were used to define the location of the bottommost rows of marble panels first. The geometry of the re-entrant and edge lines was then accurately checked with respect to these panels, and the marble pieces were fixed in position from bottom towards top and cusp towards re-entrants and edges. Edge holes were drilled at ground level for each marble panel before the panels were placed in position. Holes were drilled in the concrete to accommodate the anchor fasteners of the stainless steel brackets to suit the holes in the marble, after each panel was aligned. After the fixing of the brackets, the area around the bracket hole was sealed with a special waterproofing compound.

The alignment of the panels was adjusted at each layer so that surface geometry and pattern lines were maintained. The pieces near edge, re-entrant and cusp lines were cut to suit the boundary lines. Gaps 8 to 10 mm wide at the joints were filled with molded rubber carbon, and the top joints as also the holes in the marble were sealed with silicon sealant. The entire marble surface was, lastly, washed with a solution of 30 percent muriatic acid diluted in water.


Light is a prominent feature of the architectural design of the Temple; it plays an important role in giving visitors the feeling that there is something beyond them, something beyond all understanding. It puts the visitor in a more relaxed or meditative mood. Temple Architect Mr. Fariborz Sahba expounds on this utilization of light in the book “The Dawning Place of the Remembrance of God”: “The whole superstructure is designed to function as a skylight. The interior dome is spherical and patterned after the innermost portion of the lotus flower. Light enters the hall in the same way as it passes through the inner folds of the lotus petals”. The interior dome, therefore, is like a bud consisting of 27 petals, and light filters through these inner folds and is diffused throughout the hall, Mr. Sahba continued.

The central bud is held by nine open petals, each of which functions as a skylight. The nine entrance petals complete the design. External illumination of the Baha’i House of Worship was also executed with careful consideration, “arranged to create the impression that the lotus structure is afloat upon water and not anchored to its foundation, by having the light focused brightly on the upper edges of the petals,” Mr. Sahba added in the book.

Elaborating on the use of light, Ms. Amy Kems, Officer-Public Information, Office of Public Affairs said, “The architect has made good use of light and water in the Temple’s architecture. Light and water give a feel of nature and underscore mankind’s connection with nature. The petals – three layers of nine petals each – are constructed in such a way that they allow plenty of light to enter. When you walk in you see a wonderful play of light within.”

Water and Movement of Air

Lotus-5Lotus-6The interaction of water and architecture has always been intriguing. Water has always had a predominant role in conjunction with architecture. The canals of Venice, the waterfront of New York and Château de

Chenonceau in France are isolated examples of the fascinating interplay between water and architecture. We see an intriguing interaction of water and architecture at the Lotus Temple as well. With relatively small amounts of water in the Temple’s nine pools, all the water in the world is called to mind.

According to Architect Mr. Sahba, the pools around the building form the principal landscaping and represent the green leaves of the lotus afloat on water. Moreover, the pools and fountains help to cool the air that passes over them into the hall. The superstructure, the podium, and the pools are designed as an integrated whole, and the parts cannot be separated from the whole.

The Environment

Certain requirements of the environment were meticulously worked into the architectural design of the Temple. “This is a matter to which a great deal of thought has been given,” Mr. Sahba stated in “The Dawning Place of the Remembrance of God”. Since New Delhi’s climate is very hot for several months of the year, and the degree of humidity varies, it seemed as though the only solution for the ventilation problem would be air-conditioning. However, this is very expensive to install and maintain, and, therefore not feasible for a temple in India. On the basis of the methods of ventilation used in ancient buildings, a different, though complicated, solution for the ventilation problem of the Temple was devised. “This in a way can be called ‘natural ventilation’, and is based upon the results of ‘smoke tests’ which were performed in the Imperial College of London on a model of the Temple,” the architect explained. The results demonstrated that with openings in the basement and at the top, the building would act like a chimney drawing up warm air from within the hall and expelling it through the top of the dome. Thus, constant draughts of cool air passing over the pools and through the basement flow into the hall and out through the opening at the top. Ventilation is complemented in two other ways: a set of exhaust fans is arranged in the dome to cool the concrete shell and prevent transference of heat into the Temple, while another set of fans funnel air from the auditorium into the cold basement, where it is cooled and recycled back into the auditorium.

“There’s almost 5 to 6 degrees temperature difference between the outside and inside of the Temple,” said Mr. Jiwnani. “So, when you walk in, you find the place much cooler. If the temperature goes down from, let’s say, 42 degrees outside to 35 degrees inside, you feel the difference. And like the architect once said, this is an ancient technology, because if you look at the old monuments of India, you’ll notice that they were all built near water bodies – like the Taj and many other buildings that were built during those days.”


Architects say that straight surfaces reflect sounds back into the central space making sound clarity muddy. As the Prayer Hall has curved surfaces, the sound one hears within is always clear and ringing. One can clearly hear even a small bird chirping inside it. “The Temple was built to have very good acoustics,” said Ms. Kems. “Listening to someone with a beautiful voice chanting a prayer in the Temple is therefore a very moving experience for most people”, she said emphasizing the impact of sound in the building’s architecture. A multi-faith prayer service, in which passages from the holy scriptures of all major world religions are read or chanted, is held several times daily at the House of Worship.


The Lotus

Lotus-4Pure and beautiful, a symbol of goodwill, peace, harmony, prosperity and happiness, the lotus is regarded as the king of flowers in many parts of South Asia. According to the Puranas, the lotus emerged from the navel of Lord Vishnu. Hindus believe that Brahma, Saraswati, Lakshmi, and other gods and goddesses have used the lotus as a seat. It is therefore customary in India to offer the lotus in prayer to many gods.

The lotus also occupies a special place in Buddhism. It is so because the beautiful and undefiled lotus blooms in a muddy swamp, thereby symbolizing the emergence of Buddha nature from the everyday problems and desires of our ordinary lives. The lotus is significant in Buddhism also because it puts forth its flower and seedpod at the same time. The lotus, therefore, stands for the simultaneity of cause and effect. This concept is one of the central tenets of Buddhism – especially Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism.

In Shatpat Brahman, the forepart of the womb has been equated with the lotus; and both are symbols of creation.

It is perhaps for all these reasons that the lotus is present in figurative form in the classical written and oral literature of many Asian cultures. This flower has often used in poems and songs as an allegory for ideal feminine attributes.

The international Baha’i community also adopted this symbolism in the design of the Baha’i Temple in Delhi. In the book “The Dawning Place of the Remembrance of God”, Temple Architect Fariborz Sahba explained: “In brief, the lotus represents the manifestation of God and it is also a symbol of purity and tenderness. Its significance is deeply rooted in the minds and hearts of the Indians. In the epic poem, Mahabharata, the Creator Brahma is described as having sprung from the lotus that grew out of Lord Vishnu’s navel when that deity lay absorbed in meditation. There is a deep and universal reverence for the lotus, which is regarded as a sacred flower associated with worship, throughout many centuries. In Buddhist folklore, Boddhisatva Avalokiteswara is represented as born from a lotus, and is usually depicted as standing or sitting on a lotus pedestal and holding a lotus bloom in his hand. Buddhists glorify him in their prayers, ‘Om Mani Padme Hum’, ‘Yea, O Jewel in the Lotus!’, which signifies Lord Buddha’s teaching, “you have to be like a lotus which, although living in dirty water, still remains beautiful and undefiled by its surroundings. So, we realize that the lotus is associated with worship, and has been a part of the life and thoughts of Indians through the ages. It will seem to them as though they have been worshipping in this temple in their dreams for years. Now their vision has become a reality and God willing, some day they will all enter and worship in it.”


The Lotus Temple: A Perfect Symbol of Unity

Lotus-7The Baha’i House of Worship in Delhi is one of the most-visited monuments in the world, attracting around 10,000-12,000 people daily and more than four million visitors a year. Strange as it may seem, it attracts even thousands more visitors on Hindu holy days, from all walks of life! It is the most recent of seven Baha’i houses of worship raised in different parts of the world.

Completed in 1986, this remarkable structure -a building that does not look like a building – has won numerous international architectural awards. What distinguishes it from other religious buildings in South Asia is its unique architectural design, which is inspired by the lotus flower. The lotus shape of the building represents purity to rise above conflict and prejudice. The building consists of 27 free-standing marble-clad “petals” arranged in clusters of three to form nine sides. Nine doors open into a central Prayer Hall, which can accommodate 2,500 people. With its silvery surface, the Temple, with an altitude of 34 meters, at times seems to float on its 26-acre site on the outskirts of Delhi. The nine turquoise pools around the building play a key role in creating this impression.

Interestingly, several components of the Temple are repeated nine times. “The number 9 doesn’t have a particular religious significance in the Baha’i Faith,” explained Ms. Kems. “We are not superstitious people in any way, but the number 9 is universally seen as a number of completion, of unity, of fulfillment. This is because the number 9 is the highest of the single-digit numerals; it contains all the lower numbers within it – 1 to 8.”

A place for prayer and meditation, the Temple is open to all people. There are no sermons or rituals conducted within the Prayer Hall, and no images are displayed. As there is no clergy in the Baha’i Faith, the Temple is meant to be a place for silent prayer and meditation – communion between humankind and God.

A brief multi-faith prayer service, held four times a day, features readings from the Holy Scriptures of the Baha’i Faith as well as the other major world religions.

The construction of the temple started on 21 April 1980 and was completed on 21 December 1986. Architect Mr. Fariborz Sahba had estimated the construction to take six years, but it took six years and eight months to construct the temple. “These additional eight months were required because extra work was added to the project, for example, the ceramic tile cladding envisaged in the beginning was changed to marble cladding. We also landscaped the entire 26 acres of land, whereas originally we had planned to do this only around the main building,” explains Mr. Sahba in the book “The Dawning Place of the Remembrance of God.”

The building was constructed at a cost of $10 million. However, the architect points out that if the building had been made for any other purpose and any other client, it would have cost several times more. The work was based not on commercial considerations but on sacrifice and devotion, he states. From the laborers to the supervisors, engineers and suppliers, all undertook the project as a challenge and labor of love.

“Many have worked totally voluntarily, or have accepted a bare minimum for their expenses. It is impossible to value this building by the standard scales available for quality surveying or project management,” comments Mr. Sahba in the book.

Flint & Neill Partnership of London was the consultant engineering firm for the Temple project and Larsen & Toubro Limited, headquartered in Mumbai was the contractor respon-sible for building the structure.


The Bahá’í Faith

“Let your vision be world embracing…” — Bahá’u'lláh

Lotus-8Baha’is recognize Baha’u'llah as the Messenger of God for today, and it is on His teachings that the Baha’i Faith is founded. Baha’u'llah was born in 1817 in Iran. His given name was Mírza Husayn ‘Alí, but He is known as Baha’u'llah, which means “Glory of God,” a title by which He was addressed by His forerunner, the Báb. Baha’u'llah was raised in an environment of wealth and comfort; however, He preferred spending His time caring for the poor and the sick who affectionately referred to Him as the “Father of the Poor”.

In 1863, Baha’u'llah declared that He was the new Messenger of God, the Promised One of all Ages. Baha’u'llah suffered a great deal at the hands of His oppressors. He spent 40 years in imprisonment and exile; but everywhere He was sent He gained the love and respect of all people. Baha’u'llah died in 1892 in the prison city of Akka, Palestine.

Baha’is believe that over the ages God has revealed Himself to humanity through a series of divine messengers, whose teachings guide and educate humankind and provide the basis for the advancement of society. These messengers include Abraham, Krishna, Zoroaster, Moses, Buddha, Jesus and Muhammad; and Baha’u'llah is the latest of these messengers. The religions that these messengers founded come from the same source and are primarily successive chapters of one inclusive religion.

Baha’u'llah’s essential message is of unity. He proclaimed that “the earth is but one country and mankind its citizens” and that, as foretold in all the sacred scriptures of the past, now is the time for humanity to live in unity. Baha’u'llah stressed the oneness of God, the oneness of the human family and the oneness of religion.

Founded about 170 years ago, the Baha’i Faith has approximately six million followers around the world. Adherents of the Baha’i Faith live in more than 100,000 localities and come from virtually every religious background, caste, creed and social class. United by their common belief in Baha’u'llah and his teachings on the oneness of mankind, they work towards creating a world civilization characterized by justice and peace.

The Baha’i community has no clergy and conducts its affairs through a distinctive system of democratically elected councils. In India, Baha’is are engaged in spiritual education of children, youth and adults across the country.

The Baha’i s worship God through prayer and meditation, participation in devotional gatherings and active service to their communities. They recite one of three obligatory prayers every day as prescribed by Baha’u'llah.

The Baha’i scriptures offer guidance on the uses of prayer and contain many prayers for various purposes and occasions. According to Baha’i teachings, working in the spirit of service is equivalent to worshipping the Creator.

Baha’u'llah called for beautiful temples to be built in all localities where Baha’is live, each to be surrounded by institutions of social service. So far, seven temples have been built – one on each continent.

The architectural style of each temple reflects the local cultural heritage, though certain features are shared, such as nine entrances on nine sides and a central dome. All are set in magnificent gardens.

Baha’i temples are open to people of every religion. They are places for personal prayer, meditation and are dedicated to the oneness of mankind. There are no images or statues of deities in the Prayer Hall, and since there is no clergy in the Baha’i Faith no sermons are given and no rituals performed.

Multi-faith prayer services feature readings from the Holy Scriptures of all major world religions.

The Baha’i Faith offers a new mode of religious worship and spiritual life.

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