Religion divides, spirituality units, is a well
known aphorism. Here is a religion with a difference: the Bahai
faith. The core of the faith is unity.
Often religion has met
its defeat at the very hands of those who are its staunch believers.
The Bahai faith is devised to do just the opposite. Founded a
century and a half ago, the essential message of this faith is unity:
all religions are one, all people are one.
The faiths Founder
was Bahaullah, a Persian nobleman from Teheran who gave
up a princely existence of comfort and security to preach the new
faith. He believed that there is only one God. No religion is in
opposition to another. They are all but the different ways in which
God revealed Himself and expressed His will. In fact the followers
of the Bahai faith see Bahaullah as the most recent among
the Divine messengers: Abraham, Krishna, Moses, Zoroaster, Buddha,
Christ and Muhammad. The faith has no sects or sub sects.
The history of the Bahai
Faith in India started with the inception of the Faith in Iran when
the Bab (literally, the Gate) inaugurated a new era in the history of
the human race. The Bab himself had appointed one of the Indian
believers as the Letter of Living in 1844-45, the first
year of His Ministry. Since then, India is spiritually connected
with the Bahai Faith.
As foretold by the Bab,
the promised one of all ages and peoples, Bahaullah
(literally the Glory of God) revealed himself in 1863. He, himself,
dispatched one of the distinguished Bahai teachers, Jamal
Effendi, to teach the Cause of God in the years 1874-75. Jamal
Effendi traveled to many States and was successful in attracting many
learned people. A series of teachers from the East and the West
continued visiting India and traveling throughout the country during
the time of Abdul-Baha (literally, the Servant of Baha), the
much-loved Master of the Bahai Faith and established close
contact with the Master Abdul-Baha. Some of them went for
pilgrimage and enjoyed Abdul-Bahas famous hospitality in
Haifa and Akka. Among them was Mr. Narayan Rao Vakil from Surat
(Gujarat), the first Indian believer from Hindu background, who
enjoyed this unique privilege to be the guest of the Master.
My introduction to the
Bahai faith came when I went to the Bahai temple in New Delhi. I was
told it was beautiful and when I looked down from the aircraft I was
bewitched to see a white, romantically lit lotus standing in an
otherwise dark setting. The first thing I did the next morning after
I arrived in the Indian capital was visit this structure.
I was drawn to it by the
fact that the Bahai faith should have chosen to shape their place of
worship in the form, of a lotus. The lotus is a flower that has a
lot of symbolism in Hindus and Buddhist thought. The lotus flower
signifies purity and peace, rising pure and unsullied above stagnant,
muddy waters. It is a recurring symbol in Indian architecture. This
ancient symbol has been given a modern and contemporary form in the
stucture of the Bahai House of Worship drawing into its sanctum
sanctorum people from all races, religious backgrounds and culture
from around the globe.
I looked for more
information on the choice of a lotus as the architectural design and
its implementation. I found that the structure of the House of
Worship is composed of three ranks of nine petals; each springing
from a podium which elevates the building above the surrounding
plain. The first two ranks curve inwards, embracing the inner dome;
the third layer curves outward to form canopies over the nine
entrance. All Bahai palces of worship have nine faces. The number
nine has a special significance in the faith.
The petals, constructed
of reinforced white concrete cast in place, are clad in white marble
panels. The double layered interior dome, modeled on the inner most
portion of the lotus, is comprised of 54 ribs with concrete shells
between. The central hall is ringed
By nine arches that
provide the main support for the superstructure. Nine reflecting
pools surround the building on the outside, their from suggesting the
green leaves of the lotus flower.
In the construction of
the Bahai temple in New Delhi traditional Indian means of
construction were employed coupled with the most modern Western
Fariborz Sahba, Canadian
architect of Iranian origin, spent 10 years in designing and project
management. With the help of a team of about 800 engineers,
technicians, artisans and workers he brought to realization one of
the most complicated constructions in the world. The conversion of
the lotus into structural designs and working drawings alone took the
architect and his structural consultant Messrs. Flint and Neil
partnership nearly 18 months of work.
The second thing that
impressed me at the temple was the belief itself which deified peace
and unity. Harmony amongst men and women, the Utopian ideal was now
being elucidated upon. Maybe therein lay a possibility of reaching
Utopia! This thought itself made me feel peaceful.
Then the final impression
was made when I went into the large hall within the lotus. It has no
deity, no altar, there is just a microphone and a row of chairs.
People are expected to maintain silence within the hall. The hall is
for meditation. For long hours I sat there.
It was cool.
Ventilation and cooling seemed to be based on techniques traditional
to the Indian subcontinent. Fresh air, cooled as it passes over the
fountains and pools, is drawn in through openings in the basement and
up into the central hall, and expelled through a vent at the top of
the interior dome. During the humid season a set of exhaust fans in
the basement recycles air from the main hall into the cool basement
According to the
statistics available, more than 50 million visitors have so far
visited the temple. I saw the thronging crowds. Buses emptied out
and people streamed in. Tourists, local people, people out on a day
long outing, just so many different types with noisy children.
Yet I felt a strange
sense of peace. I knew that this is what religion is all about:
respect for brethren and love for humanity.