The lotus temple

It is located in Kalkaji, south of Delhi and is shaped like a half opened Lotus flower. This recent architectural marvel of the Bahai faith, is made of marble, cement, dolomite and sand. It is open to all faiths and is an ideal place for meditation and obtaining peace and tranquility. The lotus flower signifies purity and peace, a representation of the Manifestation of God, to the people of India.

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.

Since its inauguration to public worship in December 1986, the Bah?’? 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. These visitors have admired the beautiful lotus form of the Temple, and have been fascinated by the teachings of the Bah?’? 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 Bah?’? 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 Bah?’? House of Worship drawing into its sanctum sanctorum people from all races, religious backgrounds and culture from around the globe.

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.

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.

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.

The dedication of the Bah?’? 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. 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.”