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Monday, January 29, 2018

Lotus Temple, New Delhi, India

The Lotus Temple at dusk.
About five years ago, I wrote a piece to which I gave the presumptive title, "The Most Beautiful Building in the World." The focal point of that item was the Taj Mahal, located in Agra, India. That may have been a rather impetuous choice. Quite apart for dozens of other possibilities around the world, India itself, is home to a very strong competitor for such a title. Located about 130 miles south-southeast of Agra in the capital city of New Delhi, we find another similarly exquisite architectural masterpiece known as the Lotus Temple. Notable for its flowerlike shape, the Lotus Temple is a Bahá'í House of Worship which serves as the Mother Temple of the Indian subcontinent, and has become a prominent attraction in the city. Begun in 1980 and completed near the end of 1986, the temple takes its name from its lotus blossom shape. Around the blooming petals there are nine pools of water, which light up, in natural light. Creating a spectacular glow at dusk when it is flood lit.

New Delhi, India--location of The Lotus Temple.
The temple is actually in the village of Bahapur, Kalkaji, to the South of Connaught Place in Mandir Marg; a secluded area of the bustling center of New Delhi. The Lotus Temple has come to be known as the "Taj of modern India" owing to its distinctive lotus-shaped marble petals surrounded by a landscaped garden. This architectural marvel of the Bahai faith is essentially a symbol of peace. In the Bahai's Holy Writings great importance is given to prayers as is revealed in all the scriptures. But according to Bahai faith, the mere act of praying is not sufficient. The inspiration drawn from one's prayers must be translated into action which promotes the well being of humanity.

Regardless of the time of day (or night) the Lotus Temple is a "budding" rival in its beauty to the centuries old Taj Mahal.
Construction News, a technical journal from the United Kingdom, was the first to give the Lotus Temple the appellation of Taj Mahal of the 20th Century. The comparison brings to mind the words of the famous Indian poet and philosopher, Rabindranath Tagore, who described the Taj Mahal as "a teardrop on the cheek of eternity". Considering that the Bahai House of Worship is an affirmation and a celebration of man's love of God, the Lotus Temple could be described as "a dewdrop on the brow of eternity". The temple is a powerful icon of great beauty that goes beyond its pure function of serving as a congregation space to become an important architectural symbol of the city.

Bahai Lotus Temple, architect Fariborz Sabha
Fariborz Sabha, the architect of the temple, was given an award in 1987 by the International Federation for Art and Architecture. Further the temple itself received an award for its structural design from the Institute of Structural Engineers in UK. It also won a Citation Award for personifying the visual impact of the beautiful Lotus flower and received an accreditation for its outdoor illumination in the year 1988. The American Concrete Institute gave the temple an award for being one of the most artistically built concrete structures. In the year 2000 it received the "Glob Art Academy Award" from Glob Art Academy in Vienna. The Bahai House of Worship at New Delhi is one of the marvels of modern architecture. The temple gives the impression of a half-open lotus flower afloat, surrounded by its leaves. The shining pure white marble, the majestic dome, the petals clearly standing out create a sense of awe. The temple is surrounded by walkways with beautiful curved balustrades, bridges and stairs that surround the nine pools representing the floating leaves of the lotus. It is a remarkable tabernacle of peace and beauty and an engineering feat that will set standards for centuries.

Bahai Lotus Temple sectional plans. First conceived in 1976, the Lotus Temple was under construction for six years.
The temple complex consists of the main house of worship with a basement and the ancillary block, which houses a reception canter, a library and the administrative building. The library contains a rich collection of religious books along with an hourly introductory audio-visual presentation for the visitors. The inner dome is spherical and patterned after the innermost portion of the lotus flower. It is like a bud consisting of 24 petals. Light filters through these inner folds which is diffused through the central hall. While the flooring inside the auditorium is of white marble, the walkways and stairs of the outer portion are of red sandstone, offering a majestic contrast. The Lotus has three sets of petals. The outermost set of nine petals, called the entrance leaves, open outwards and form the nine entrances all around the outer annular hall. The next set of nine petals, called "inner leaves" appear to be partly closed and rise above the rest and form 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 lets natural light into the auditorium.
The Lotus Temple under construction, ca. 1984.

The interior dome therefore is like a bud consisting of 36 petals and light filters through these inner folds and is diffused throughout the hall. Light enters the hall in the same way as it passes through the inner folds of the lotus petals. The central bud is ringed by three sets of nine petals as they appear in a natural flower--the just-opening petals, the semi-open petals and the completely open petals. The just-opening or inner petals constitute the external dome; the semi-open or outer function as high skylight; the completely open or entrance petals form a canopy over each of the nine entrances.

The temple superstructure is designed to function as a skylight. The interior dome is spherical and patterned after the innermost portion of the lotus flower.

In the architecture of India, perhaps more than in other places, it is possible to the see the religious roots in a clear and different manner. The representative symbols which can be seen on the buildings and in their decorations, and which include the surroundings in which they have been placed, are inspired by the religious convictions of the people; convictions which are integrated and form part of the way of life of the country. The bushes which grow in the corner of a temple courtyard or the color of its walls can indicate to us to which religion the temple is dedicated. In this way we can also discover the allegorical significances which the forms, colors or statues wish to convey to us, in such a way that we can consider Indian architecture as an architecture of story-telling and symbols, in which hidden meanings dwell in every form. These hidden meanings have an intimate and inspired connection with the lives of the people of this place.

Yes, there's a Lego version.

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