By Pawan Sony February 1998 The gentle glow of dusk caresses the white marble of a half-bloomed lotus, setting it aglow with crimson. All at once, peace descends; peace, all engulfing, eternal, pristine. I watch, in silence, enriched by the beauty of the moment, and of the monument. Can mortal hands sculpt such a structure? Can a marble lotus reach out to the sky and commune with God? It makes me wonder, not just about man’s vision, but also about the essential oneness that permeates all existence. But then, isn’t it precisely this unity that the Baha’i House of Worship, popularly known as the Lotus Temple, embodies? Situated next to Nehru Place, (a busy commercial complex of Delhi, India) and the Okhla Industrial Area, the Lotus Temple is an oasis in a spiritual wasteland. As I approach the paved path leading to the temple, I breathe in its beauty and the lush greenery around. The incessant noise, filth and squalor of the slums and factories I have left behind cease to bother me. Must a lotus always grow in mud, yet transcend it? The lotus, apart from being the symbol of purity, has a deep spiritual significance in Indian mythology. Before designing the temple, its Canada-based architect, Faribuz Sahda, scoured eastern mythologies for symbols and decided on the lotus.Taittiriya Aranyaka, a Vedic text, says that when the universe was in a fluid state, Prajapati, the creator, emerged on a lotus leaf. The Mahabharata describes Brahma as having sprung from a golden lotus that grew out of Vishnu’s navel. In Sukhavati, the Buddhist paradise, everybody is supposed to be born as a god upon a lotus. The lotus is also often compared to the feet of gods and sages . In the Baha’i Temple, opened to spiritual seekers and visitors in 1986, the lotus has taken yet another meaning. It symbolizes the Bahai faith according to which God is unknowable; only His manifestations can be known. Its main tenet is the essential oneness of all mankind, transcending differences of caste, community and religion. As I approach the temple, the nine ponds or the nine lotus leaves surrounding it intrigue me. But watching the temple’s reflection on the blue waters, I feel that nothing could have been more apt than the number nine. The mystical number of perfection, symbol of comprehensiveness, synthesis and unity, nine seems to represent the Baha’i faith at its simplest. The sprawling compounds of the temple that stretch over 2.6 acres, receive over 10,000 visitors daily a number which often climbs to 40,000 or 50,000 on holidays. Apart from the main meditation hall, made conspicuous by the absence of any icon or religious/spiritual symbol, the complex also houses offices, a conference hall, a library and an audio-visual room. I take in the details and walk through one of the nine entrances to the temple. A man sits in quiet solitude in the prayer hall while, across the room, a group of school children stare wide-eyed at the impressive structure. I hear a tourist clear his throat to listen to its echo. Nobody talks here. A hushed silence permeates your being, cleansing you of all fear, guilt and anger. I sit still, letting the silence seep into my being. Perhaps if God was to commune with man, it would be in a place like this. Suddenly, I am reminded of a legend about Lord Buddha. It is said that whenever he took a step, he imprinted the image of the lotus on earth. Did he walk down this road also, I wonder, leaving his footprint behind as a reminder of eternity?
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