Decoded: The Architectural Secrets of the Bahá’í House of Worship

Spirituality gets a contemporary spin. | By Gina Tanik  
Temple Delhi
More frequently called the Lotus Temple, the Bahá’í House of Worship in New Delhi has 27 marble petals in half bloom. Photo: Suman Sengupta

Resembling a lotus bloom perched in a pool of water, the expansive Bahá’í House of Worship in New Delhi is a dramatic departure from the dusty neighbourhood of Nehru Place where it is located.

This Lotus Temple is visited by locals and travellers alike: uniformed children on school picnics, foreigners looking for closure after their overwhelming travels in India, city dwellers seeking respite on a searing Delhi summer day. But despite the crowds that mill about, it manages to retain an air of calm, a feat of its complex design.

Designing it was complicated. The structure needed to reflect the core belief of the relatively young Bahá’í faith, an independent, inclusive religion, founded in 1844, that preaches unity in diversity. Though the lotus was chosen as the inspiration for the structure, this ancient sacred symbol was given a distinctly modern makeover.

The temple reigns over a 26-acre piece of land. At its centre, lie manicured gardens, shimmering pools, and a long pathway that leads to the gleaming, white marble shrine. The structure’s curved, free-standing walls or “petals” demarcate smaller spaces of worship inside, leading visitors to the main prayer hall where believers of all religions are welcome to pray, chant, or simply reflect.

Conceptualised by Iranian-Canadian architect Fariborz Sahba, the structure was designed to make the most of available natural light. The sun enters the hall through the 27 petals, filling the halls with a gentle diffused light. Nine petal-shaped pools edge the structure. The bodies of water are meant to represent the leaves of the lotus blossom but also cool the air that passes over them, giving the marble floors an air-conditioned feel. At dusk, discreet exterior lighting comes on, giving the temple the illusion of being afloat. It’s an oasis of calm amidst the concrete jungle of the Indian capital (www.bahaihouseofworship.in; open Tue-Sun 9.30 a.m.-5.30 p.m.; entry free).

Appeared in the December 2014 as “Universal Appeal”

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