Hundreds of sandstone carvings sculpted by artisans in India have reached the site of Abu Dhabi’s first traditional stone Hindu temple.
Engraved with flower and nature motifs, the pillars are the first of thousands of carvings bound for the UAE.
The shrine will be the largest in the country when it is completed in 2023.
Rows of crates containing the stone panels have been laid out near the ground-level structure of the building that is taking shape in the Abu Mureikha area, off Sheikh Zayed Road between Abu Dhabi and Dubai.
The arrival was revealed in a video posted to YouTube by the Baps Swaminarayan Sanstha, the organisation responsible for building the shrine.
The temple group said more than 40 containers carrying 750 tonnes of carved and semi-carved pink sandstone arrived at the site.
Swami Brahmavihari, head of international relations for Baps, told The National that "many hundreds more" were expected over the next three years.
"The mandir [temple] will begin taking shape on top of the five-metre plinth which has been completed last month," he said.
Tourists and visitors to the Dubai Expo in October may be permitted to go to the construction site and view it from a deck.
Arrangements and approvals are being worked out by the temple group.
"In the coming months, visitors to the Expo will be able to see the ground floor of the temple being assembled," the priest said.
Large photographs across the site show where the friezes, from sculptures of deities to carvings of trees and plants, will be erected.
Indian and UAE officials recently participated in a ceremony to mark the first carvings reaching the site.
Pavan Kapoor, India’s ambassador to the UAE, said it was a proud project for both countries.
He spoke of the amazing craftsmanship and “progress that has been made despite times of Covid-19".
“This is a national project and we are very, very proud to be supporting it,” he said.
“It is a project not just for the UAE but for the government of India and it is contributing to the bilateral relationship.”
Dr Aman Puri, India’s consul general in Dubai, described the construction work as a milestone in the relations between the two nations.
“I would like to take the opportunity to say what is happening here in the UAE is an example for the entire world,” he said.
“UAE stands tall as a symbol of tolerance inspiring the entire world.”
Land for the temple was given to the Indian community by Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces.
Workers at the site are completing the base of the temple that when finished will have seven spires as a symbol of each emirate.
Two underground tunnels have been built as workers ready the structure. The building will have no steel reinforcements reflecting architecture of ancient religious shrines in India.
The stonework, sculpted by more than 2,000 artisans in India, will be assembled and fitted on site like a jigsaw puzzle as each floor of the temple takes shape.
Michael Magill, managing director of RSP, the construction company handling the project, said it was an emotional moment.
“Today is a very historic moment,” he said.
“It’s really an emotional moment to actually see the space and the sheer scale of the temple itself, and to also see the beautiful intricate carvings of the stone that has come all the way from India.
"It just shows you the start of what is going be achieved over the next two or three years which we are all very excited to see come to life.”
The plans show a flight of stairs on entry with waterfalls on each side, columns decorated with deities from Hindu scriptures, intricate carvings of dancers, musicians and engravings of peacocks, camels and horses.
The temple, built by the Baps group, will welcome people of all faiths.
The area will have trees and green spaces and include a majlis, library, community centre and an amphitheatre bordered with a water feature.
Swami Brahmavihari, from Baps Swaminarayan Sanstha, said the shrine aimed to bring the world together. He said the temple would generate harmony “not just between two countries, two cultures, two communities and two religions, bringing the whole world together.”
The organisation is responsible for building 1,200 shrines around the world including in the US, UK and Australia.