The Birla Temple of Jaipur is one of modern India’s architectural masterpieces. Constructed in the 1980s, it is one of a series of shrines known as the Birla temples. These temples, about twenty of which have been constructed all over India throughout the last century or so, were sponsored by the wealthy Birla family as a way of reinvigorating Hinduism in the waning years of the British Raj and the early years of Indian independence. While probably not the most visited, the Birla Temple of Jaipur is arguably the best and most beautiful, and serves as an excellent representative of the genre.
The Birla Family was one of India’s most prosperous and powerful mercantile clans throughout much of the 19th and 20th centuries. At the height of British imperial power in India, the Birlas began the growth of their business empire from reasonable humble origins. Under the direction of the family head Shiv Narain Birla in the 1860s, they began to get involved in the cotton trade.
Moderately successful, they eventually set up trading houses in Bombay and Calcutta in the 1880s, and by the turn of the century had become quite prosperous. The family’s real fortune came with World War I and the decades that followed, when the Birla’s business expanded into many manufacturing sectors. By the time of independence, they were among the wealthiest non-European families on the Subcontinent.
The religiously devout Birlas became known as philanthropists, contributing considerable sums of money to pulic works projects. Among these were many temples that they would sponsor around the country (mainly in the northern and central areas). These temple construction projects began in the 1930s and are still ongoing today.
The Birla’s became known throughout India, and became associated with the national independence movement. The first temple they constructed, the Laxminarayan Temple in New Delhi, was formally opened by none other than Ghandi. The most recent major temple to be completed, the Birla Temple, is only a few decades old and it is part of the family foundation’s ongoing mission to continue the Birla family’s work.
The Birla Temple of Jaipur is a masterpiece in brilliant white marble. Not particularly huge, it is nevertheless the largest and best known Hindu temple in the city. Because of its modernity, it lacks the detail of carved stonework found on most Hindu shrines, but makes up for this with a modern grace and elegance. It is crowned with three domes which are very memorable to look at when it is lighted up at night.
The temple interior is loaded with artwork depicting many Hindu deities. Of primary interest are the shrines to Vishnu and Lakshmi, the two deities to whom the shrine is dedicated (the temple is also known as the Laxminarayan Temple). In a nod to the greater world of which India is now a very important part, the temple also bears images of Buddha, Confucius and even Moses and Jesus Christ, as well as other important religious figures and philosophers from around the world.
The Birla Temple is located on the Moti Dungari Hill close to the city center of Jaipurm, approximately 150 miles southwest of New Delhi. It is open daily from 6:00am-9:00pm (closed for lunch noon-2:00pm). There is no cost of admission. Web: N/A.
There are a score of Birla temples scattered throughout India. The best and most popular of these include the Laxminarayan Temple of New Delhi; the Birla Mandir of Varanasi; the Birla Mandir of Shahad; and the Birla Mandir of Kolkota.