Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (centre) in front of the BAPS Hindu Mandir in Abu Dhabi on Feb 24, 2024
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (centre) in front of the BAPS Hindu Mandir in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday Image Credit: X/@narendramodi

Abu Dhabi: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi officially inaugurated the BAPS Hindu Mandir - Middle East’s biggest and Abu Dhabi’s first Hindu temple - on Wednesday evening.

BAPS, or Bochasanwasi Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha, is a volunteer-driven Hindu fellowship.

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On Wednesday at the inauguration, Modi was joined by His Holiness Mahant Swami Maharaj, the present spiritual guru of the BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha, which built the Dh350 million BAPS Hindu Mandir on land donated by the UAE President His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, when he was the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi during Modi’s UAE visit in 2015.

Modi with Pujya Guruhari Mahant Swami Maharaj and Brahmavihari Swami at the temple’s inauguration
Modi with Pujya Guruhari Mahant Swami Maharaj and Brahmavihari Swami at the temple’s inauguration Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

The temple structure in Abu Dhabi has been constructed with donations from the Indian community members and represents the religious tolerance and harmony upheld by the UAE’s leadership.

Modi, who had unveiled a 3D printed model of the traditional stone temple in Dubai during its foundation laying ceremony in 2018, arrived to the temple site in Abu Mureikhah area for the historic public dedication ceremony of the BAPS Hindu Mandir during his seventh visit to the UAE.

Earlier in the morning, the BAPS priests took part in the consecration ceremony of the temple.

Thousands of devotees and VIP guests from across the world witnessed the official opening ceremony of the temple, which was an invitee-only event.

While Modi joined the head priests for religious ceremonies, special prayers were held simultaneously across thousands of temples across the world under BAPS.

Guest during inauguration of BAPS Hindu Mandir in Abu Dhabi on Feb 24, 2024
A guest during the event Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

Remarks by UAE Minister of Tolerance

Speaking at the public dedication ceremony, Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, UAE Minister of Tolerance and Coexistence, said he was honoured to join the ceremony during the visit of the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi.

“We welcome you as a great friend and representative of a great and friendly country… The depth of trust and cooperation that has long existed between our countries has been strengthened by you,” he added.

Sheikh Nahyan said he shared the excitement, hope and optimism of the community that the temple “would be a success now and in the future”.

He spoke of the UAE as a tolerant country where people of different regions and ethnic backgrounds live in peace and prosperity

“May this mark the beginning of something special - a place of worship and a community centre for all. May the temple come alive with your vitality and strengthen the bonds within the community,” he added.

Modi on India-UAE friendship

While addressing the invited guests from different walks of life and various faiths, Modi took the opportunity to thank the generosity of the Sheikh Mohamed and dedicate the temple to the world as a symbol of the shared heritage of the humanity, that of the love between the people of India and Arab countries and that of the spiritual reflection of the India-UAE friendship.

He said Sheikh Mohamed and his government fulfilled the wish of the Indians with a very big heart and thereby won the hearts of 1.4 billion Indians.

“Thank you is a small word,” Modi said.

He emphasised that the greatness of Sheikh Mohamed and that of the India-UAE relations should be known not just among the Indians or the people of the UAE. “The entire world must know about it,” he said.

Modi recalled how Sheikh Mohamed took no time in approving land for the temple when he first proposed it during his first UAE visit in 2015.

He highlighted how the temple has already instilled diversity and inclusion by showcasing the stories from various countries on the carved stones and by having people of various faiths construct its majestic structure.

He drew parallels to it in his “brother Sheikh Mohamed’s vision that we are all brothers,” and cited the Abrahamic House as an example. “Now, this temple will give new dimension to that vision.”

Modi then expressed his profound gratitude to Sheikh Mohamed “with loads and loads of thanks” on behalf of millions of Indians living across the world and urged the audience to give him a standing ovation, while applauding the UAE’s leader himself.

Modi pointed out that the temple has become the latest addition to the historic landmarks the UAE is known for such as Burj Khalifa, Museum of the Future and the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.

“Now people will recognise this landmark also and come down to see it. The number of people visiting the UAE will go up and the people-to-people connect will also grow.”

He said friendship between India and the UAE has been acknowledged as a model across the world. “In the past few years, we have reached new heights. But India is not looking at our present relations only. Our friendship has been centuries-old from the time Arabs used to make bridges of trade between India and Europe.”

Pointing out that Arabs were the main trading partners of the forefathers of the traders in his native place Gujarat, Modi said the temple is a symbol of how those ties have grown beyond trade to culture and heritage.

Citing that the temple has given a new spirit to the age-old relations, Modi said the new Hindu temple is not just a place of worship.

“It is an example of the shared heritage of the humanity. It is a symbol of the love between the people of India and Arab countries. It is a spiritual reflection of the India-UAE friendship.”

For this, he lauded the BAPS Sanstha and its volunteers and thanked them for their efforts in realising the dream of their spiritual guru.

He also thanked the Bohra community members who gifted a ‘Wall of Harmony’ to the temple and the Guru Nanak Gurudarbar Gurudwara in Dubai which served langar (free community meal) to 5,000 people during the opening ceremony.

His Holiness Mahant Swami Maharaj, the present spiritual guru of the BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha, which built the BAPS Hindu Mandir, and Swami Brahmaviharidas, head priest of BAPS Hindu Mandir in Abu Dhabi, also thanked Sheikh Mohamed for his generosity and Modi for his personal support for the dream-come-true moment which they said has made Abu Dhabi the “epicentre of harmony”.

Thousands of volunteers have worked for weeks and months for the temple’s opening ceremonies dubbed as the ‘Festival of Harmony’. Rina Patel, a pharmacovigilance auditor from the UK, said 300 BAPS volunteers flew in from London alone.

Joy of the community

The opening of the temple was dubbed a millennial moment by several Indian expats who attended the ceremony and a book titled the same was released by Modi.

“The mandir opening event was nothing less than spectacular from the very start. It’s truly a millennial moment for us Indian expats. The significance of the temple’s seven spires symbolising the seven emirates is a beautiful testament to the Indo-UAE friendship,” said Bandana Jain, a Dubai resident for 23 years.

Indian business leaders in the UAE hailed the inauguration of Abu Dhabi’s first Hindu temple by the Indian Prime Minister as a beacon of the values of tolerance and coexistence upheld by the UAE rulers.

MA Yusuffali, chairman of the Lulu International Group, said it was a momentous day in the history of the UAE. “The Inauguration of the first Hindu temple in Abu Dhabi truly symbolises the core values of the UAE leadership – inclusiveness, tolerance and coexistence — because of which more than 200 different nationalities live in this great country in the most peaceful and harmonious society,” he said.

Alisha Moopen, managing director and group CEO, Aster DM Healthcare GCC, said: “As an Indian who grew up in the UAE and have seen the bond deepen between India and the UAE over the last decade, it has been awe-inspiring for me to witness this historic moment. It symbolises UAE’s tolerant culture and values which inspires people from different parts of the world to prosper and thrive together. It is also symbolic of our Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s commitment to foster international harmony and open India’s rich cultural heritage to the world.”

Abdul Salam KP, vice-chairman, Malabar Group, said the unveiling of the temple marks a significant milestone in strengthening the enduring relationship between India & the UAE. “This mandir, poised to become a cultural landmark, will play a pivotal role in cultivating greater understanding and appreciation for the vibrant tapestry of Indian culture amongst a global audience.”

Shamlal Ahamed, managing director, International Operations, Malabar Gold and Diamonds echoed the sentiments and said the momentous occasion signifies a deep-rooted spirit of religious harmony, cultural exchange and cooperation between India and the UAE. “The Mandir serves as a symbol of the visionary objective to promote tolerance and unity among nations, cultures and faiths, while also serving as a meaningful acknowledgement of the Indian community, underscoring the importance of our cultural heritage on a global platform,” he said.