The Lotus Temple in Delhi, more properly known as the Bahai House of Worship, is one of India’s newest major pilgrimage sites. It is a religious center of the Bahai faith, the latest of many faiths introduced to India. This huge steel and marble structure is among the most spectacular works of modern architecture in the Subcontinent. Designed to look like an enormous lotus flower, the Lotus Temple is an award-winning building which attracts architects, engineers and the curious of all faiths, and has become one of Delhi’s must-see sites.
The Bahai faith is one of the world’s newest religions. An outgrowth of the major monotheistic religions of the Middle East, it recognizes that there is one God, and that this is the same God in every monotheistic faiths. It was founded in 1844 in what is now Iran by Siyyid Ali-Muhammd, later known as the Bab, or the Gate. Early members of the faith were heavily persecuted in the Persian and Ottoman empires.
During the 20th century, the Bahai religion began to spread beyond the Middle East. One of the first places it was established was in India. Thanks to its proximity to Persia, as well as to its religious diversity, India was one of the few places in Asia where Bahai could safely and strongly take route. By the early 1900s communities were established in several major cities.
The community here was represented at the first Bahai world assembly in 1923. Nevertheless growth was very slow, especially during the British colonial era. Things picked up significant in the 1960s, and within a decade India boasted the world’s largest Bahai community, a distinction that remains to this day.
In the 1980s, Delhi was chosen as the site of a full-fledged Bahai House of Worship, as distinct from a local temple, of which there are only a handful in the world. The building was complete in 1986, and it was an overnight success both with members of the Bahai community as well as locals and tourists. Today it serves as the mother temple of the faith for all of Southeast Asia.
In a city full of amazing religious sites, the Lotus Temple more than holds its own. Each of the temple’s nine sides boasts a glass and steel entryway over which towers a huge marble flower petal. Viewed from above the nine petals form the namesake lotus blossom. The grounds of the temple are sizeable, and incorporate peaceful gardens and reflecting pools.
The temple interior is standard of Bahai structures, lacking images and idols, or even a main altar. The main hall towers at over a hundred feet in height and can accommodate well ever two thousand worshippers at a time. Because it is open to all it is among the most visited places of religious interest in Delhi.
The Lotus Temple is located in the Kalkaji District Park on the south side of New Delhi, approximately four miles from the city center. It is open year-round Tuesdays through Sundays from 9:00am-5:15pm (later hours in Summer). There is no cost of admission. Web: www.bahaihouseofworship.in (official website).
While Delhi is home to religious shrines of many other religions, there are no other truly major places of Bahai interest in India.