Abu Dhabi: The grandeur of the first Hindu temple in Abu Dhabi was unveiled during a media tour on Wednesday, showcasing a blend of traditional Indian architecture and a celebration of global cultures and values of tolerance and harmony upheld by the UAE.
Details revealed ahead of the invite-only opening ceremony to be attended by the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on February 14 specified when and how people of all faiths and nationalities can visit the BAPS Hindu Mandir built by the BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha.
The Bochasanwasi Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha (BAPS) is spiritual, volunteer-driven fellowship promoting individual growth through Hindu values of faith, service, and global harmony. The BAPS Global Network is composed of more than 1100 mandirs and 3,850 centres. All are welcome to visit any of these centres.
As announced earlier, the public opening date of the BAPS Hindu Mandir in Abu Dhabi is February 18, four days after the consecration ceremony. However, UAE residents have been urged to visit the temple from March 1 with pre-registration on a dedicated website and app.
This is due to specially themed events that have been lined up on the days following the inauguration and a huge number of international visitors who had already registered to visit the temple during that time, said Brahmaviharidas Swami, head priest of BAPS Hindu Mandir, Abu Dhabi.
However, residents who have already registered through the Festival of Harmony website and app would be allowed to enter. The entry to a series of religious and community events to mark the phased opening will also be restricted to those who pre-registered slots.
Uniting cultures, communities
A focal point of harmony, the temple aims to bring together cultures and communities, embodying the spirit of tolerance ingrained in the nation, he said.
“Tolerance and harmony is not skin-deep but it is the soul of this nation,” he pointed out, thanking the leaders.
He said the temple has also followed the environmental ethos of the country, aiming to minimise its carbon footprint by using 55 per cent of fly ash in the foundation. No iron or steel has been used in the mega structure built with pink sandstones from India and white marbles from Italy.
“All the wooden crates in which the stones arrived have been repurposed into the furniture and interior pieces in the food court.”
Touring the temple
With seven towers representing the seven emirates in the UAE, the temple complex has come up on a 27-acre land which was donated by the UAE President His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan.
Standing tall at 108ft, the temple’s seven spires can be seen from far away as you take a detour to the Cultural Village in Abu Mureikhah from the Dubai-Abu Dhabi highway. More than 100 workers are still giving final touches to the majestic temple structure and several volunteers are helping with the cleaning process.
Flags of India and the UAE are placed at the entrance to the temple. After the security screening, visitors were led to the ‘Wall of Harmony,’ a structure gifted by the Bohra community in the UAE.
Child volunteers at the temple then tied tiny sacred threads to the visitors’ hands. During a guided tour, the visitors will then be directed to an orientation hall where an audio visual presentation will give them an overview of the temple, said Pranav Desai, the director of BAPS Hindu Mandir, who accompanied the Gulf News team during the media tour along with his wife Shaily, one of the several volunteers providing the guided tour.
Six trees brought in from the Czech Republic dot the walkway to the temple where three water bodies have been built to symbolically represent the sacred rivers of ancient India — Ganga, Yamuna, and Saraswathi.
RFID for footwear
An RFID-tagged system will be used to store the footwear of the visitors. “With the Radio Frequency Identification technology, when you come closer to the exit, those in charge of the footwear can make sure that your shoes and footwear are ready for collection,” said Shaily.
There are 96 bells which the worshippers can ring as they walk towards the temple, she said, explaining that the number 96 symbolises the age of Pramukh Swami Maharaj, the former president of BAPS.
The temple’s foundation is equipped with 300 sensors predicting tectonic movement and the structure can withstand earthquakes of magnitude 7 in the Richter scale.
The temple’s structure is engineered to last 1,000 years.
While a few fleets of stairs take the visitors to the main temple structure, lifts have been seamlessly integrated into traditional architecture to provide accessibility to the entire structure.
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Marvel in carvings
The temple structure consists of over 30,000 carved stones, with each one handcrafted by more than 2500 artisans in Rajasthan in India. “At the peak time of construction, we had more than 5,000 artisans carving these stones,” said Sanjay Parikh, coordinator of the Mandir project.
Having been associated with 40 temple projects of BAPS, Parikh said the intricate carvings tell stories of various scriptures from the Hindu mythology as well as value tales from global cultures.
“We have stories from the Mesopotamian culture, Greek culture, Aztec culture, African and native American cultures etc”
While the carvings of elephants, peacocks and cows depict stories related to Indian culture, those of oryx, gazelles, camels and falcons represent the Arab culture, with all narratives telling different stories.
The carvings on the pillars outside the structure tell stories related to Hindu scriptures. One pillar inside the temple is called the Maha Pillar or the Pillar of Pillars, which is made up of 400 miniature pillars made of white Italian marbles.
The central dome symbolises five elements of nature — Earth, light, fire, air and space — spreading the message of harmony and interconnectedness among different communities.
While an amphitheatre with a ghat-like structure (riverfront steps) gives a view of the temple that makes one feel that you are watching it from India, a dune set up on the other side with sand collected from the seven emirates, gives a view of the temple that makes one feel that you are watching it from the UAE, said Desai.
The temple complex also features a community centre where worshippers can perform various rituals.
The BAPS Global Network is composed of more than 1100 mandirs and 3,850 centres. All are welcome to visit any of these centres.