The Roots :
It was Shashti – the first day of Durga Pujo. There is something about autumn (Sharad or Sharat Ritu in Hindi/Bangla) in which season we Bengalis have our Durga Puja for four days at a stretch starting with Shashti (the Sixth Day), Saptami ( the Seventh Day), Ashtami (the Eighth Day), Navami (the Ninth Day) and of course the fifth day i.e. Dashami (the tenth Day) when the majestic idol of Maa Durga with all of her four children (two daughters, Lakshmi and Saraswati and two sons, Kartik and Ganesh) are immersed in the waters. The Bengalis worship Devi Durga as the Eternal Mother, the Eternal Bahu or daughter-in-law and the Eternal Consort or Wife (of Lord Shiva). However, amongst these three Roops or versions of Durga, it is the Matri Roop , i.e. the Eternal Mother, the most revered. In quintessence, Durga is the Mother of countless mortal children who are constantly looking up to her for her divine love and guidance – Devi Praseeda (O Divine Lady! Be pleased with us, the incorrigible sinners that we are!) is a plea that is intrinsically woven into the prayers that the Bengalis chant on these four to five days. Of course, the Aabaahan or the Welcome during the Mahalaya, preceeding the main Puja, wherein her devotees plead with her to come down on planet Earth from her celestial abode, amidst her mortal children in all her splendour and glory, depicts her as Shakti, the Eternal Warrior or Mahishasuramardini, the valiant destroyer of all Evil and the harbinger of the Ultimate Good, has a different Mythological lore to boot.
However, this time there was no pandal hopping, as is customary, for the true Bongs to do these four/five days of Poojo, offer Pushpanjanli (pay obeisance with flowers) and feast around in general. As I said, in this season, due to the Pooja or not, a kind of detachment creeps into the system. You feel wistful and not exactly lethargic but definitely apathetic to work. So, pandal hopping or no hopping, sitting and working in office was not at all on my daily planner. On the 7th of last month (i.e. September 2016), I decided to spend the day differently and left early to reach a place quite near to my office which I had been planning to visit for a long, long time. In fact, I had seen photographs of this place in the evenings when it is all lit up and heard so much about it that my curiosity was piqued to no end. But as they say those who stay in the nearhood never get an opportunity or make it to visit the places of historic/religious significance there. It is only when you take on the role of a tourist that you really cross over the thresholds of your homestead and venture out to far-off places to whet the appetite of the traveller in you. Such is human nature!
So, coming back to site visiting. It took around thirty five minutes to reach there. It has extensive grounds including a paid parking lot on the opposite side but on that day no one actually charged us for the same. As I crossed the road to enter the premise I was instantly disappointed. It was not what I had expected. Not at all! Here was I standing in front of the Bahai Temple at Nehru Place near Kalkaji Metro Station (exact landmark!!) which is famous for its lotus-shaped architecture, being the only place of worship for the Bahais in Delhi, also well-known for its prayer hall where complete silence is supposed to reside but the throng of crowd that was moving in and out of the entrance gate made it quite clear that solitude was not what I would find here.
One has to walk for almost fifteen to twenty minutes before reaching the main prayer hall. The grounds have been maintained meticulously and the greenery that abounds is soothing to the eyes. Commonly known as the Lotus Temple, it is surrounded by nine artificial lakes, which keeps the place cool and hydrated. However, the lakes require a little more maintenance and cleaning. At one point, much before entering the hall, the visitors have to take off their shoes and put them in a plastic bag handed over by the Temple administrators and carry along inside the hall which idea did not appeal to my Hindu Sanskaar at all. Why carry the shoes inside a place of worship?
Visitors are not allowed to take shots inside the prayer hall. Therefore, no pics. But let me describe the interiors for you. Rows and rows of stone benches positioned around a podium kind of structure wherefrom perhaps the priest recites the sermons when it is prayer time. Though mikes are installed on the podium, the accoustics of the hall is such that even whispers can make the place noisy. As such, mike seems unnecessary. The hall has a dome-like structure rising from the grounds in the shape of the petals of a lotus which is just about to open or opening up. The ceiling of the hall therefore tapers upwards and the workmanship has more geometrical precision than aesthetic beauty. Austerity abounds in every nook and cranny of the temple which gives a glimpse of what Bahai Faith must be all about. There is a kind of scientific temper about the place and it is quite obvious that with a lot of systematic and rational thinking the Faith has evolved. I suppose this aura of austerity must be taking on pulsating vibes when multitude join in prayer inside the hall.
It was late noon when I reached there and the sun shone brightly inside (the surrounding wall of the Prayer Hall is of glass and wood). Though the crowd was generally obedient and followed instructions of the boys who doubled as guide-cum-security-personnel, yet given the reverberating accoustics of the place even shuffling feet had disturbing effect. After coming out of the hall, one is allowed to wear one’s footwear and deposit the empty plastic bags to one of the caretakers stationed outside. (The administrators appeared to be quite possessive about the plastic bags and a few of the junta quite absent-minded about the same which resulted in loud reminders/hollering to the tourists to return the bags before leaving :)) . Even with the kind of crowd around, the tour was orderly. I saw that no one was allowed to loiter in the sprawling lawns around the temple which actually helps in keeping the gardens spic and span.
A Little of History :
A little about the Bahai Order.
The word Bahai is derived from the Arabic word Baha which means splendour or glory. The Bahais believe in Unity of God, Unity of Humanity and Unity of Religion. They believe that there is One God who is the source of all Creation. Thus, according to them, all major Religions have the same spritual source. All humans, though diverse in several ways, are born equal. The crux of Bahai Faith is to learn to know and love God through prayer, reflection and service to humanity. They do not believe in idol worship.
The Bahai Faith was founded by Baha u ullah in 19th-century Persia. He was exiled for his teachings from Persia to the Ottoman Empire and died still a prisoner. After his death, his son, Abdul Baha, spread the religion to Europe and America. The Faith supposed to have consolidated in Iran under acute persecution. The Bahai community is spread out all over the world – more than 5 million in more than 200 countries. The Bahai Faith said to have its origin in Indian Religions as well as Christian beliefs. According to them, the evolution of humanity is founded on global peace, justice and unity which is the need of the hour too.
The Bahai Faith in India can be traced back to the Babis in 1844. Professor Pritam Singh is believed to have been the first member of the Sikh Community in India to accept the Bahai Faith, According to Mahatma Gandhi, “Bahai Faith is a solace to humankind.”
The Lotus Temple was compelted in 1986 and is the Mother Temple of Bahai House of Worship in the Indian Subcontinent. It has won numerous awards for its architectural precision and grandeur and is the most visited site in India surpassing even the Taj Mahal.
My Feelings :
Given the genesis and evolution briefed above, it is not surprising, therefore, that the rational thinkers around the world, irrespective of creed, caste, community and religion, have found the core tenets of the Bahai Faith appealing to reason and intellect. It is the very idea of praying in silence that had attracted me to this grand site in the first place. However, it is my personal opinion that a centre of worship should be maintained as one, i.e., as a place of solitude and introspection and not for sightseeing. I was quite taken aback to see the congregation amassed there which, no doubt, speaks of the popularity of the place. However, the same crowd had a ruinous effect on the atmosphere of the Temple where many solitude-seekers like me might have visited to reflect in quietude and feel the Divine presence in absolute silence.
I walk with the crowd
in search of silence