The marble-clad Lotus Temple, the Baha’i House of Worship, resembling the shape of a lotus, is a symbol of excellence in modern Indian architecture, and a famous tourist attraction located near Nehru Place in South Delhi. Designed to reflect the simplicity, clarity, freshness and a symbol of the unity of mankind and religions, the temple has won numerous international architectural awards and was reported to be the most visited building in the world in 2001.
The land on which the Lotus Temple is constructed was bought from the money donated by Ardishir Rustampur of Hyderabad for the purpose in 1953, but nothing was done before 1976 when the Iranian architect Fariborz Sahbba was commissioned for its design. Intending to give the building a familiar look and acceptable to the Indians, he designed the temple in the shape of a lotus, common to several Indian religions, namely Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. Another basic idea of the design was the priority of the two fundamental elements, light and water, which he used as ornamentation instead of the commonly used statues, reliefs, and carvings.
While the structural design was undertaken by Flint and Neil, a UK-based firm, the construction project was carried out by the ECC Construction Group of Larsen & Toubro Limited. On completion of the project, the unique temple was opened in December 1986, in the presence of 8000 Baha’i from 107 countries around the world.
At the first sight, the Lotus Temple gives the impression of a blooming lotus surrounded by water-bodies. Set on an elevated platform in the vast expanse of well-maintained greenery and gardens, the white marble edifice, surrounded by nine pools bordered by re sandstone walkways, rises to a height of around 130 feet (40 m), comprising 27 free-standing marble petals arranged in clusters of three to form nine sides. While the petals in the first ring face outwards to form the canopies over the nine entrances, the second ring covers the outer hall. The petals in the innermost ring curve inward to partially enclose the central prayer hall, which has a diameter of around 112 feet (34 m) and a height of 110 feet 933.6 m) above the podium. There are nine doors open onto the prayer hall, sufficiently big to accommodate 2500 people. The floor of the central hall is also covered with marble, procured from the Penteli Mountain in Greece.
The double-layered interior dome, forming the innermost part of the blooming lotus, consists of 54 ribs, with concrete shells in between. Although the top of the structure seems to be open, it contains a glass-steel roof, which allows natural daylight to enter inside. In fact, the entire structure is designed to function as a series of skylights glazing at the apex of the inner petals, through which light filters into the central hall, like the sunlight passes the lotus flower.
The Lotus Temple is a unique place of worship, open to all, irrespective of religious faith, sex, or any other distinctions, to gather, reflect, and worship. Following the Baha’i scripture, which states that the House of Worships should be devoid of pictures, statues or idols, the Lotus Temple does not have any idol, statue, or altar, like the places of worship of other religions. While sacred texts of the Baha’i faith and any other religion can be read or chanted, no set pattern for worship services, ritualistic ceremonies, delivering sermons, and chanting non-scriptural text is forbidden. Any Musical rendition of prayers can be sung by choirs, accompaniment of musical instruments is not allowed.
The Lotus Temple is surrounded by nine reflecting pools, suggesting the leaves of the colossal lotus. Added to it, the external illumination is arranged in a way as to appear the lotus structure floating on water. Air from outside, which becomes cool as it passes over the fountains and pools, is drawn inside the building through openings in the basement, and carried up into the central hall, and expelled through a vent at the top of the building. Apart from the magnificent temple, the huge complex measuring 26 acres (1,132,560 sq feet) also contains a reception centre, a library, and an administrative office.