Baps Hindu Mandir: Everything we know about temple opening

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi attended a dedication ceremony on Wednesday before a public opening days later

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Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated Abu Dhabi's landmark Hindu temple on Wednesday ahead of its public opening on Sunday.

The leader arrived at the dedication ceremony just after 4.30pm, ahead of a guided tour of the place of worship and meetings with senior officials.

Speeches then took place to celebrate a landmark moment for inter-faith harmony in the Emirates.

The UAE's first traditional hand-carved Hindu temple is located in Abu Dhabi’s Abu Mureikha area, off the main motorway between Dubai and the capital.

Anticipations build

It is set to prove a huge attraction for both worshippers and tourists, from within and outside the UAE.

Following the inauguration, the temple will be open to the public from February 18.

Authorities have asked UAE residents to visit from March 1 due to thousands of overseas visitors travelling to the Emirates to view the venue.

From Thursday until next Wednesday, a week-long celebration will begin at the temple site, with prayers and talks on harmony and peace.

Visitors must register on the temple website at to attend the harmony week celebrations.

Celebrations begin

The consecration ceremony to bless the deities and temple got under way on Wednesday morning.

Reciting sacred Sanskrit verses, bowing their head in prayer and offering flowers, head priests of the BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha began the ceremony at 7.15am.

The approximately three-hour prayer service is a private ceremony at the temple in the capital’s Cultural District in the Abu Mureikha area off the highway linking Dubai to Abu Dhabi.

The blessings and Vedic prayers from ancient Indian religious texts will continue throughout the morning.

The temple was then inaugurated and dedicated by Mr Modi later in the day.

Construction on the much-anticipated religious site, featuring spectacular sculptures set in pink sandstone and white marble, has moved at a rapid pace in recent months.

This is a miracle, a lotus has blossomed in the desert
Mahant Swami Maharaj, spiritual guru of Baps Swaminarayan Sanstha

Soaring pinnacles and delicate marble arches are now clearly visible despite the scaffolding that covers the intricate carvings.

The covers will come off by the end of the month when sculptors will finish the interior work.

“On February 14 morning, there will be the murti pratishtha or invocation of the murtis (idols) and in the evening, we will have a public dedication ceremony in the presence of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi,” Pranav Desai, the temple project director told The National.

“It is truly overwhelming for us to see the final phase, the final stretch of work being completed.”

Mr Modi had launched the project in 2018 when he revealed the first model showing a monument with seven spires to reflect the Emirates.

Seven spires, seven emirates

Sculpting work began in 2020 and the temple’s striking shape, seven shikhars or spires and the carved pink stonework now rise up from the UAE desert landscape.

“This is a miracle. A lotus has blossomed in the desert,” said Mahant Swami Maharaj, the spiritual guru of Baps in a video released after recent prayers to commemorate the installation of the spires.

The spires represent the Emirates and each section tells the story of the life and teaching of deities worshipped by Hindus across India.

The etchings also relate teachings from other cultures as a mark of respect for all religions.

“The spires symbolically represent the seven emirates of the UAE as our way to say thank you to the leadership,” Mr Desai said.

“The seven spires will have deities from the north, south, east and west of India.

“There will also be 14 value tales from the Arabic region, Chinese, Aztec and from Mesopotamia that show how love is universal across all cultures.”

The temple can hold between 8,000 to 10,000 people and will be open to all faiths.

When visitors file in they will see two streams of water that symbolically represent the Ganga and Yamuna rivers in India.

A beam of light to represent the river Saraswati will be trained under the temple structure.

Visitors can ring a series of small copper and brass bells before they enter the temple.

“It will be beautiful as you walk along the flowing water and ring the bells,” Mr Desai said.

“It’s as if the temple is built on the confluence of three holy rivers – Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati.”

Visitors can take a flight of stairs or two elevators concealed inside two carved structures to reach the first level to pray before the deities.

Elaborate carvings bring to life age-old stories such as celebrations in the ancient town of Ayodhya to welcome home the Hindu God Rama.

When people walk on the outside of the first level, they will see the stories of each deity told in carvings.

“The entire Ayodhya nagri (town) is carved in a 3D format in a single stone structure and you can clearly see the different layers,” Mr Desai said.

“All the stories we have heard in our childhood, we will see these in the form of carvings when walking around the temple.”

Architectural wonder

More than 2,000 artisans in India’s Rajasthan and Gujrarat states have carved 402 white marble pillars over the past three years.

A single pillar can take four artisans at least a year to complete due to the level of detail.

No pillar is the same with stories from Indian scriptures and 1,000 statues representing deities and spiritual gurus moulded into columns and ceilings.

Exquisite sculptures capture peacocks, elephants, horses, camels, the phases of the moon and musicians beating the drum or playing the sitar.

One particularly elaborate pillar is decorated with carvings of more than 1,400 smaller pillars.

“This needed to be carved with such precision,” Mr Desai said.

“The artisans first do a pencil drawing on paper, then a pencil drawing on the stone that indicates the area they have to cut.

“And then with a chisel and hammer they carve out the entire stone.

“But this is not a computer that you can erase and correct it if you make a mistake.

“Even a small error means that despite months of effort, they had to redo the whole thing from scratch.”

Adhering to the practice of ancient shrines, the construction has not used iron or steel reinforcements.

More than 20,000 tonnes of stone and marble were shipped in more than 700 containers to Abu Dhabi over the past three years.

Each carving was marked with a specific number in India, placed in a wooden crate with the same marking and finally secured into place on the temple site marked with the same code.

The construction technique uses the compression method with granite at the bottom, layered with pink sandstone and marble pillars to add strength and keep the blocks in place.

Connecting cultures

The temple complex is bordered by buildings that house prayer halls, a community centre to host cultural events, a library, children’s park and an amphitheatre through which a stream cuts across.

A sand dune is being replicated inside the compound and people will enter this to reach the visitor’s centre to register and complete a security check.

“When they sit in the amphitheatre after completing darshan (worship), it will feel like sitting on the ghats of the Ganga river,” Mr Desai said referring to flight of steps that lead to rivers in India.

“On the other side, we have created a sand dune so there is a feeling that the temple is in the UAE.

“The temple connects two cultures, two countries that are already so close to bring them even closer together.”

Prayer ceremonies started at the temple from February 10 as part of a festival of harmony.

February 14 was selected for the landmark deity consecration ceremony as it falls on Vasanth Panchami, a day auspicious to Hindus that signifies the start of the spring season.

Across from the temple site, a makeshift tent is usually filled with a mixture of UAE residents, Hindu worshippers, Bollywood actors, politicians and government officers curious to see the progress made.

The traditional temple is being viewed as a symbol of harmony and an example of the tolerance of the UAE. A smaller temple opened last year in Dubai's Jebel Ali area that is home to churches and a Sikh gurdwara.

Strong faith

Prayers are conducted daily between 9am to 5pm when visitors can take part in a ceremony to bless bricks to be used in the construction.

We still get thousands of community members joining the prayers from all over the UAE,” Mr Desai said.

“I’m so happy this will represent not only the Hindu faith but also bring all cultures and people together.”

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

The temple is being built on more than 5.4 hectares of land given to the Indian community in 2015 by President Sheikh Mohamed when he was the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi.

Volunteers from across the world have been keen to contribute their time.

“I’m meeting so many people and explaining things to them. These are skills I could not have picked up in university,” said Harikrishna Patel, 21, from Tampa, Florida on a gap year from studying cyber security engineering.

“My favourite part is how anybody that walks in – whether a stranger or somebody we know – they all walk out with a smile.”

Updated: March 28, 2024, 12:01 PM