Contrary to popular belief, the Lotus Temple is not a Hindu Temple. It is a Bahá’i House of Worship. The Baha’i Faith is a religion stemming from the Shaykhi School of Shia Islam. Originating in Iran in 1863, the religion soon spread to India.
In 1953, the Indian Baha’i community, that comprised of less than 1000 followers, bought 26 acres of land for the construction of the House of Worship. Over 10 years later, on the order of the Hand of Baha’ism, the Baha’i architect, Fariborz Sahba was approached to design the structure. A majority of the contribution towards the expenses of construction was by a Baha’i follower Ardeshir Rustampur.
The Lotus Temple was completed in 1986. Keeping with the beliefs of the Bahá’i Faith, the temple was opened to everyone, irrespective of their gender, religion or other distinctions.
In the 1800s, the Shaykhism is prevalent in Persia. The leader of this movement, Siyyid Kazim Rashti, leads the movement until his death. While on his deathbed, he refuses to appoint a successor. Instead, he tells his disciples to travel far and wide in search of the Promised One.
One of the disciples, Mulla Husayn, meets Siyyid Ali Muhammad, later known as the Bab, during his quests and proclaims him the Promised One. Thus, Bábism, or the Bayáni Faith is born in 1844. The Bab often refers to his successor as ‘Him Whom God Shall Make Manifest’ in his writings. His proclamations of being a manifestation of God leads to imprisonment, and eventually, his execution.
Eleven years onto his religious journey, Bahá’u’lláh of Tehran makes a public declaration of being the Messiah promised by the Bab in 1863. Being one of the first followers of the Bab, he gained the allegiance of most of the Babis, who later identified as Bahá’is.
The Bahá’is believe in the unity of God, the unity of religion and unity of humanity. They believe that religious beliefs should progress over the years, and the change will be brought in by Divine Messengers.
In the mid 19th century, many Shaykhis converted to Babism and eventually, the Bahá’i faith. Following the popularity of the movement, the Bahá’i followers travelled the world to spread the religious beliefs of Bahá’ism.
In 1875, some of the Bahá’i followers come to India, thus setting the foundation of the Indian Bahá’i community. From a mere 1000 followers in 1961, today, India has the largest Bahá’i community in the world.
The number 9 has high reverence in the Bahá’i Faith. The symbolism is evident in the design of the Lotus Temple. The lotus structure has three layers, with nine petals on each layer. The temple has nine doors leading to a central hall and is surrounded by nine ponds and gardens.
In accordance with the Faith, there are no statues, images, pulpits, or altars inside the House of Worship. The white marble used to construct this temple was imported from Greece and is the same one that has been used in other Bahá’i Houses of Worship and several ancient ancient Greek monuments. The temple is also the first temple in Delhi to use solar power.
Symbolism of the Lotus
In Bahá’i Faith, the lotus represents the manifestation of God. It is a symbol of purity and tenderness. In Hinduism, the lotus is associated with the deities Brahma, Vishnu and Lakshmi. The ability of a lotus to bloom while growing amidst mud is seen as a sign of spiritual promise.
This symbolism is also noticeable in Chinese cultures. A Confucian scholar once said, “I love the lotus because while growing from mud, it is unstained”. In Buddhism, the flower is also seen as a symbol of detachment, as water droplets tend to slide off it’s petals.
Over the years, the Lotus Temple has received several architectural awards. It is the most visited tourist spot in India. In the year 2001, it was the most visited religious buildings in the world, according to the Guinness Book of World Records.