The UAE's first traditional Hindu temple is set to welcome worshippers from 2022, with parts of the landmark site to open next year.
The first phase of construction in Abu Dhabi - including community centres, halls and exhibition spaces in the sprawling complex - is due to completed in 2020, according to a senior priest overseeing the project.
Work on the hand-crafted marble and sandstone shrine will be completed by 2022.
Swami Brahmavihari, the priest handling international relations for Baps Swaminarayan Sanstha, the organisation building the temple, said worshippers will have the opportunity to see construction of the temple with their own eyes.
He said an observation area will be set up to allow visitors to see the historic site take shape.
“Visitors will be able to come and see through glass the entire process of stone construction being done,” he said.
He didn't disclose what form the observation area would take.
“The buildings to be made out of concrete will be done as fast as possible. The mandir, the main temple, is made out of pink sandstone from Rajasthan. The stone has to be hand-carved by craftsmen. Beautiful filigree designs and stories are being carved and that will take two-and-a-half to three years by the time it is carved and set up.”
The foundation stone for the temple was laid in the Abu Mureikha area of Abu Dhabi on Saturday as priests chanted Sanskrit-language hymns to mark the start of construction.
Priests from India are in the UAE this week for daily prayer ceremonies presided over by Mahant Swami Maharaj, the spiritual leader of Baps, a body responsible for building 1,200 shrines across the world including the US, UK and Australia.
The Mahant on Monday led a service for more than 2,000 people in Dubai’s Jumeirah Park area where he spoke of inner spirituality and the importance of a life of service to others.
He also asked devotees to pray for the victims and families of hundreds of people who were killed in the horrific terror attack in Sri Lanka.
More than 290 people were killed on Sunday in a series of blasts that targeted churches and luxury hotels in Colombo.
“Innocents have died and it is saddening. It could have happened anywhere in the world. Let us pray for their souls and for peace,” the Mahant told worshippers who gathered in the UAE from across the world for the prayer sessions.
Devotees meditated and made offerings of flowers during the two-hour daily programmes that will end on Friday.
Later, Swami Brahmavihari dwelt on the significance of 11 hectares of land for the shrine granted by Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces.
The temple would strengthen ties of people from the subcontinent with the UAE, home to about 3.3 million Indians.
“The relationship was always been strong and deep,” he said.
“The creation of the temple, the sharing of ideas will further cement the bonds.”
Swami Brahmavihari said the Abu Dhabi temple would not be as big as shrines the organisation has built previously, such as the Akshardham temples in New Delhi.
But the UAE’s first classical stone temple would be unique due to the variation of sculptures retelling ancient stories from Indian scriptures.
Craftsmen in India have begun etching samples of the motifs that will decorate the outer sloping sandstone spires and the marble columns within the shrine. The pieces will later be assembled in the UAE.
“We are trying to bring together all the forms of art from the north, south, east and west of India and amalgamate that into this temple,” he said.
“It is going to be both iconic and historic because it will be the first traditional Hindu temple here completely carved by almost 2,000 craftsmen and then the temple will be pieced together like a giant jigsaw puzzle in the UAE.”
He reiterated the gratitude to UAE’s rulers for permitting the temple to be built in the country.
“People can bring friends and family to this temple to understand ideas of peace, harmony, faith and that’s what the temple is about,” he said.
“We believe the more people meet each other, the more they communicate and understand, then more easily will they find peace. Through spiritual discourses, serving together, spending time together, people can elevate their spiritual being and find peace within.
“This will in turn bring peace to the entire community, city, country and region irrespective of age, gender, religion and nationality.”
The community centres in the temple will encourage visitors to engage in discussion and teach values to the younger generation.
The first exhibition to open the temple complex next year will be titled, ‘Beautiful borderless world,’ to mark the completion of the first phase of construction.