Devotees from around the world joined priests in a mahapuja - or grand prayer - on Saturday as part of shilanyas vidhi, which is the foundation stone-laying ceremony for the first Hindu temple in the UAE.
Seated in a large, white tent in Abu Dhabi, about 2,500 people from the region, as well as the US, UK and Africa, repeated verses in the Sanskrit language recited by priests.
The prayers were said for peace, harmony and to sanctify sandstones from India that will form the base of the temple, due to be constructed by next year.
As part of the rituals, the priests poured a mixture of water, yoghurt, honey and ghee over a small, gold-plated deity in the centre of the tent.
Each devotee was seated in front of a puja thali, or prayer tray, that contained an image of Hindu deities, a piece of the foundation stone, rose petals, marigold flowers, vermillion powder, a sacred thread, rice and water.
The ingredients are considered favourable and part of Hindu prayers.
Each stone that was blessed would be part of the temple foundation.
Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak, Minister of Tolerance, along with other ministers, diplomats and priests showered flower petals, sprinkled water brought from three rivers in India and placed symbolic stone blocks where the temple's base will be laid.
"The shilanyas is a Vedic ritual where the foundation stones of the mandir [temple] are being sanctified and blessed," said Nilesh Mehta, a volunteer at the ceremony.
“The stones will be put into the ground and on top of that the entire mandir will be created, so it’s a wonderful occasion.”
After a two-hour prayer service, the main shila, or foundation stone, which was hand-carved with symbols of nature, was placed in the ground and cemented to mark the start of the temple's construction.
The ceremony was conducted in the presence of Mahant Swami Maharaj, president of BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha, a religious and social organisation that will build and manage the temple.