Hindu temple in Dubai fulfils a decades-long Indian dream

Community project has at its heart the story of one family’s focus to build a spiritual space

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A striking marble Hindu temple in Dubai that “will last generations” has been the labour of love of an Indian family.

Businessman Vasu Shroff, 82, had dreamt for decades of building a temple for tens of thousands of Hindu worshippers in the UAE.

After the Dubai government granted land for the temple in Jebel Ali three years ago, his son Raju Shroff volunteered to take on the task of planning and carrying out the project.

The temple with distinctive brass spires that cap sheer white domes will officially open on Tuesday, a day before the Hindu festival of Dusheera.

Dusheera or Vijayadashami is an important Hindu festival which signifies the victory of good over evil.

Final touches add a sheen to hand-carved pillars decorated with bells, flowers and elephants, as emerald and saffron inlays on marble floors are being polished.

For Mr Shroff, the temple was high up on a list of philanthropic initiatives he aspired to set up, since coming to Dubai 62 years ago.

“I had a dream to have our own temple,” he told The National, while seated in the temple community area filled with marigold flowers.

“I used to pray day and night hoping we would get land for the temple. When the government granted us land, I handed it to my son. Once he took on the responsibility, I was so happy.”

Mr Shroff, chairman of the Regal Group, arrived in Dubai as an ambitious 20-year-old and established what was to become one of the oldest businesses in the Emirates, starting with textiles and expanding to technology and property.

He remembers a time when cars drove on sandy streets with no electricity, and water was ferried by donkeys.

Spiritual space for a growing community

Meet the pioneer behind Dubai's newest Hindu temple

Vasu Shroff, founder of the Regal Group, the Indian High School, India Club, temple in Bur Dubai has written a book about life in the Emirates before the Union in the 1960s and why he set up education, recreation and religious organisations for residents in the early days. Chris Whiteoak / The National

There was one Hindu temple in Bur Dubai, where the community gathered to pray.

His family started the second place of worship in 1958, in an old building in Dubai’s historic Al Fahidi district.

Mr Shroff’s elder brother and brother-in-law placed the Guru Granth Sahib, the Sikh religious scripture, in a small room that then grew from a tiny shrine to spread over several rooms.

“When I came in 1960 to Dubai, there were no facilities, no roads, no telephones, no electricity,” he said.

“My brother started a gurdwara [Sikh temple] in a small room and we were eight to 10 people singing bhajans [hymns] from 7pm to 9pm.”

Over the years, the numbers grew from a few friends and colleagues to thousands of worshippers

He approached authorities for a larger space to better serve the spiritual needs of the community.

Mr Shroff gradually completed his wish list of setting up a school, a club, a textile merchants' association and a cremation ground.

He has supported, financed and built more than 100 temples in India, Europe, Africa, the UK and the US, and was always keen to build a temple in his adopted country.

Land for the temple was approved in 2019 and construction began a year later in the Jebel Ali area that houses six churches and a Sikh temple.

Completed ahead of schedule, the temple was constructed within the Dh65 million ($17.69 million) budget, with the community pitching in with financial support and volunteering services.

Distinctive architecture

As part of a soft opening to test facilities, worshippers have been allowed in to pray over the past few weeks.

Online registrations are required for residents and tourists to control crowds and it already figures among Dubai’s must-see tourist spots.

“Whatever you see here is my dream come true,” Mr Shroff said.

“I felt peace when my son took over. What he has built will remain for generations and generations.

“Now we have tourist buses of people coming here to see the temple.”

Speedy approvals were obtained from officials in the Community Development Authority, Dubai Municipality, Dubai Police and the Dubai Land Department. Clearances came through even during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Unlike the two older temples in Old Dubai housed inside buildings, the new structures stand out, with ornate pillars, Arabic and Hindu geometric designs on the facade, 105 bells on the ceiling leading to a large prayer space with a pink lotus design across the skylight.

Deities have been selected from across northern and southern India, covering different sects of the Hindu religion.

“Architecturally we were not given any restrictions on the design and structure,” said Raju Shroff, trustee of the Sindhi Guru Darbar temple, which oversaw construction.

“The temple gives a feeling of peace and harmony. We have tried to marry historical, contemporary elements and incorporate Arabian architecture.

“The design is pure serenity in white marble with carvings that depict Hindu mythology and the lotus as a sign of peace.”

Inclusive project

Having grown up hearing his family speak of plans for a temple, Raju Shroff is pleased to have led a project that relied on community support.

“In the past, over the lunch and dinner table, the talk in my family was always about how can we build a temple because we have a very small temple for a very large community,” he said.

“This is a community-run temple.

“It has been a group effort with the community helping in kind, cash, with their time and professional advice.”

For the official opening on Tuesday, the temple will be closed for worship.

About 200 people, including senior government leaders, diplomats, multi-faith and community leaders have been invited to the inauguration.

Residents and tourists can register online to book slots from October 5 at www.hindutempledubai.com

“The temple will be inclusive and host events and festivities for all faith,” Raju Shroff said.

“We invite everyone to see the temple not only for culture and the religious aspect but to understand the traditions and history of India.

“With education comes knowledge and that will bring harmony and peace.”

Updated: October 04, 2022, 3:54 AM