Wednesday, 19 October 2016

And then there were eight

Last weekend, the first Bahá’í House of Worship in South America was dedicated, in a ceremony in Santiago, Chile. Friends of mine sent me these photos. Somehow, the building suggests something organic rather than man-made. The outside of the building consists of nine “sails” or “wings”, which are made of thousands of glass pieces mounted on aluminium frames, with panels of translucent stone on the inside. (The second picture shows the inside of the dome.) The different parts of the building have been subjected to seismological tests, as earthquakes are relatively frequent in the Andes, and indeed the foundations have already been tested by the real thing, in 2015!

As part of the dedication event, a large concert hall was hired, in which South Americans of many different cultures and traditions performed. The prayers and singing were in many different languages, and people attended from 110 different countries.

There is now a House of Worship (“Temple”) in each continent. The proper name of the House of Worship is the Mashriqu’l-Adhkár, which means “Dawning place of the praise of God”. Each one has nine sides and nine gardens, with nine paths leading to the nine doors. This symbolically represents the idea that all paths ultimately lead to the same one, multi-faceted, truth.

Every Bahá’í House of Worship is open to people of all backgrounds, all castes, races and creeds for private prayer, and there are also “services” which include readings from the Scriptures of all the world religions. No sermons are preached, and there are no musical instruments other than human voices. Although every House of Worship is open to everybody, each one was built only with money from the Bahá’ís.

Among the Houses of Worship already built, I am particularly intrigued by the one for Central America, which is in Panama. There are Native American designs on the walls, and as Panama is a tropical country, there are no windows. It has been built in such a way that the air can move through, but the rain does not get in. It also means that birds can fly through!

This is the Bahá’í House of Worship in New Delhi, India, which is based on the design of the lotus flower. The lotus is a form of water lily, and is regarded as a symbol of purity. However polluted the mud may be at the bottom of the lake, and however filthy the water, the lotus blossom on the surface opens out pure and untainted by its surroundings. The House of Worship has been nicknamed the Lotus Temple (“Lotus Mandir”). An Indian gentleman was questioning recently why we had a picture of the Lotus Temple in our Bahá’í exhibition (here in England). When told that it was a Bahá’í building, he refused to believe that. “It is not a Bahá’í temple. It is for everybody. It is for people of all religions.” “Yes”, I replied, “the Bahá’ís built it so that…” “No, no. It is not a Bahá’í temple! It belongs to everybody!” He had definitely understood the spirit which underlay the building of this temple!

Technically, none of these Houses of Worship (there are now eight) is actually finished, because there should be ancillary buildings as part of the institution of the Mashriqu’l-Adhkár. As ‘Abdu’l-Bahá explained, “The temple, wherein each may worship God in his own way, is to be surrounded by such accessories as a hospital, pilgrim-house, school for orphans and university for the study of higher sciences.” As there are still only a few million Bahá’ís in the world, the majority of them in developing countries, finance for these is still some way off.

The next stage is the beginning of construction of national and local Houses of Worship, in countries where there are a large number of Bahá’ís. The first two national ones will be in Papua New Guinea and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. There are also five smaller local ones to be built in different countries: in Cambodia (this is an impression of the building in Cambodia), Colombia, India (in Bihar, over 500 miles from Delhi), Kenya and Vanuatu. In each case, the area has a significant and active Bahá’í population, who will make good use the building. Perhaps my friends will be able to attend more dedication ceremonies in the future!


For anyone interested in the construction of the temple in Chile visit: