Bollywood star Akshay Kumar has hailed Abu Dhabi's landmark Hindu temple as a beacon of “peace, love and support” during a visit to the under-construction site.
The popular Indian actor took part in a prayer service at the striking place of worship, which is due to open next February.
He is one of more than 40,0000 people drawn from different nations and faiths who have gathered in recent months to pray over and bless bricks at the temple site in Abu Dhabi’s Abu Mureikha area.
These bricks are then used in the construction of the country’s first traditional, hand-carved Hindu temple.
“You are creating history,” he told the priests and volunteers who took him around the site on Saturday.
“What you are creating is not just a service to our community, but to mankind,” he said in a statement released by the Baps Swaminarayan Sanstha, the organisation building the temple.
“Creating a new world where there is peace, love, and support from one human to another, there truly is nothing more powerful than that.”
It has taken years of meticulous research, engineering and artistry to pull together a project that will bring to life ancient Indian scriptures.
The temple aims to be a symbol of harmony and tolerance as it welcomes people of all cultures and religions.
A dream project
Kumar’s planned 40-minute visit lasted for two hours as he listened to the plans for the temple and saw the marble and stone pillars that have been installed.
“It’s a dream of dreams,” he said about the building work being completed by thousands of sculptors and artisans from India’s Rajasthan and Gujarat states.
He offered flowers during the ceremony as Swami Brahmavihari, head of international relations for Baps Swaminarayan Sanstha, gave details of the mammoth project that would welcome people of all religions and faiths.
Officials and volunteers explained how pink sandstone sculptures of Hindu deities carved in India’s Rajasthan state were transported to the UAE.
Each unit is assigned a unique number and fitted on the site without using steel reinforcements in keeping with construction in ancient temples in India.
The actor, known for roles in Hindi-language action movies, also watched a video presentation that plotted the journey of the temple from conception to the current stage.
Tales from ancient civilisations
The UAE government granted land for the temple in 2015 during the first visit of Narendra Modi, India’s Prime Minister, when the plans were announced.
On a site off the main Dubai-Abu Dhabi motorway, the temple complex will comprise a community centre, exhibition hall, visitor centre, parks, an amphitheatre and water features.
The temple complex will hold about 2,000 worshippers, with organisers gearing up to welcome 40,000 people a day during religious festivals.
Spread across 5.4 hectares, the land was given to the Indian community by President Sheikh Mohamed when he was Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi.
The site is also being prepared for parking for cars, buses and two helipads.
Swami Brahmavihari took Mr Kumar and his team to a section where sculptures that told stories of tolerance and peace from other ancient civilisations in the Arab world and from Africa were being prepared.
“Fourteen international tales from ancient civilisations will be carved — a unique feature not found in any other mandir around the world,” the temple authorities said.
The two-storey structure will be topped by seven shikhars, or spires, placed above the stone murals.
They represent the seven emirates of the UAE.
A contemporary Hindu temple that blends Indian and Arabic designs was opened in Dubai’s Jebel Ali area in October, in an area that is home to six Christian churches and a Sikh gurdwara.