The Baha'i House of Worship in New Delhi, India - photo by permission of Baha'i Media
This stunningly beautiful building – people call it the “Lotus Temple” – is the Baha’i House of Worship in New Delhi, India. I cannot leave 2011 without a mention of this iconic temple – and the creative process of the award-winning architect who designed it.
The temple was in the news in November when more than 5,000 visitors from 60 countries gathered on its grounds to celebrate the 25th anniversary of its opening. Open to people from all religions and walks of life – as are all Baha’i Houses of Worship – the Lotus Temple has welcomed an estimated 70 million visitors, which makes it one of the most visited buildings in the world.
The lotus, architect Fariborn Sabha would explain, represents the Manifestation of God and is a symbol of purity and tenderness. What I find especially interesting is the architect’s own words about how he came to this unique design. It reflects very nicely the creative paradigm I discuss in this blog. I am struck particularly by how his process exemplifies the paradigm triad: Pay Attention – Create Connection – Walk a Path of Service.
When he began the project, Fariborz Sabha had no idea he would design a building to resemble a lotus flower. What he did know was that he wanted to create connection 1) with the cultural heritage of India and 2) with a central Baha’i principle – unity of religions. His goal was to design something new but familiar – something that would be “loved by the people of different religions.” With this in mind he set about traveling throughout India, visiting hundreds of temples, and all the while praying for guidance.
Mr. Sabha tells the story of how his travel plans changed unexpectedly, bringing him into contact with a Baha’i man who first suggested the design. Sabha did not embrace the idea at once but gradually, as he tells it. With his attention now subtly tuned, he saw lotus flowers depicting the throne of gods in India’s cave art. At a pond filled with magnificent blooms, he saw for himself how the beautiful lotus emerges from common mud. And finally as he researched the art, culture, and religions of India Sabha learned how deeply-rooted the lotus, this evocative emblem of purity, is in the minds and hearts of the Indian people.
Of course, translating the lotus flower into a building was a supremely challenging task, and its amazing accomplishment won more than one award. You can read the architect’s own inspirational words about the building’s 27 petals, the skylight effect of the whole superstructure, the use of water, the environmentally-friendly design for cooling without air conditioning.
Farizorz Sabha was already an accomplished architect, having long before put in his “10,000 hours.” But coming to this new creative project, he had paid attention, found a true connection, and gone on to design a House of Worship that would connect deeply with people of India and beyond.
You will also see the Lotus Temple in One Common Faith, an insightful 11' video set in richly-diverse India. You might be surprised at what these leaders of different religions say about our one human family and the oneness of religious truth.
It’s a nourishing perspective to bring into a New Year.