Watch artisans bring UAE’s first hand-carved Hindu temple to life

Sculptors in India chisel intricate figures that are then shipped to be fitted in Abu Dhabi

First hand-sculpted Hindu temple in the Emirates

First hand-sculpted Hindu temple in the Emirates
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Thousands of kilometres from the UAE in western India, 2,000 artisans are carving stunning statues, pillars and columns for the first hand-sculpted Hindu temple in the Emirates.

Their meticulous work over the past four years has been captured in a video released by Baps Swaminarayan Sanstha, the organisation building the temple in the Abu Mureikha area of Abu Dhabi.

The elaborate white marble and pink sandstone carvings that retell stories from holy scriptures are being set in place at the temple site scheduled to open in February.

I feel I'm creating something that represents the culture of India
Manoj, an Indian sculptor

Recently released footage shows craftsmen in Rajasthan villages chiselling marble blocks into stunning images of the sun, crescent moon and intricate carvings of Hindu deities Ram and Ganesh.

The sculptors painstakingly chip away at stone slabs from which gradually emerge a herd of deer, musicians playing the flute and traders leading camels into a market.

Clips show the artists adding deft finishing touches to leaves, flowers and trees that will be used to decorate the temple frame.

Families of sculptors

The skill, knowledge and artistry has been passed down over decades, with three to four generations of families in Rajasthan state sculpting works for Baps temples.

The sculptors are proud their work will be seen in Abu Dhabi.

“I get inspired with ideas that God places in my head. This helps me to carve his sculptures and his home – the temple,” Manoj, a sculptor from Dungarpur village in north-western India, said in the video.

“I feel I'm creating something that represents the culture of India. I feel very proud to make sculptures for the temple in Abu Dhabi.”

The engravings demand expertise, patient effort and attention to detail that stretches across months.

“Think of a pillar that is about 13 feet [four metres], it takes four artisans at least a year to complete it,” Pranav Desai, the temple project director, told The National.

“Each pillar is divided into four sections to reduce the error margin, so if there is a mistake the whole pillar does not have to be redone.”

The Baps organisation has built about 1,200 temples in India, the UK, US, Canada, Kenya, South African and Australia.

Work on track in Abu Dhabi

At the temple site in Abu Dhabi, the ground level and main prayer hall on the first level have been built.

Work is under way on the second level to prepare space for seven towering shikhars, or spires, to represent each emirate of the UAE.

The exterior walls of the temples have been fitted with columns that chronicle stories from the lives of deities conveying messages of peace.

“Every time I visit the site, I get surprised as something new has come up,” Mr Desai said.

“It is so beautiful to see such detailed carvings at eye-level instead of on the ceiling like many temples where it can’t be seen clearly.

“It is amazing to see carvings of stories I heard as a child.”

The temple will accommodate 40,000 people across the site with 2,000 worshippers inside the temple at any given time.

It is spread over 5.4 hectares of land given to the Indian community in 2015 by President Sheikh Mohamed when he was Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi.

Aiming to be an interfaith centre, the temple will welcome people of all religions, cultures and nationalities.

Unique construction

Once completed, the structure will stand at a height of 32 metres and feature more than 200 pillars.

“The beauty of the pillars is not just that these are all hard-carved but each are functional pillars that actually provide support and give strength to the temple," Mr Desai said.

Each pillar and column carved in India is assembled like a giant jigsaw puzzle at the site, off the E11 motorway connecting Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

Much like ancient Hindu shrines, the temple is being built without using steel, iron or reinforced concrete.

The construction technique is based on a compression method. Several layers of stone are used with granite at the foundation, followed by pink sandstone and marble work for structural strength.

One section will feature sculptures from other ancient civilisations including the Arab world, Africa and China.

Small channels have been built around the temple to replicate three Indian rivers and next year people can sit on steps that will overlook the structure.

Two parks, a visitors' centre, a community hall, an amphitheatre, food court, majlis, or welcome areas, are also being created.

A more contemporary Hindu temple that blends Indian and Arabic designs opened in Jebel Ali, Dubai in October. There are two smaller temples inside buildings in Dubai’s Bur Dubai area.

The Abu Dhabi temple site has been visited by ambassadors, Bollywood actors, officials, residents and tourists who are among tens of thousands of people to tour the area.

Details of how to view an exhibition area and participate in a brick ceremony are available on

Updated: July 07, 2023, 12:36 PM