Flowering divinity

Last Updated 24 July 2010, 12:02 IST

The Lotus is always considered as an evocative symbol of beauty, purity and divinity and is a highly revered flower.  Many Indian deities are pictured sitting upon a lotus or holding a lotus flower. Rising up pure and unsullied from the depths of the  pond, the flower represents the manifestation of purity. It  also symbolises spiritual enlightenment. It is said that the  lotus in Eastern culture has a similar symbolism to the rose in Christianity. The lotus flower, apart from being the national flower of India, also has very close associations with other major religions of  the world  namely Buddhism, Zoroastrianism and Islam. 

In this context, it is interesting to consider that there are many temples of different faiths all over the world shaped like the  white lotus.

The most famous of these lotus temples is  Lotus Temple or Bahai temple  of the Bahai community in Delhi. Covering an expanse of 26 acres of land, it rises to a  height of  of more than 40 metres ( 130 feet).  It was  built between 1980 and 1986 at a  cost of Rs 10 million and was opened to public worship in December 1986.

The shrine is set among pools and gardens, which gives the impression of a floating half-open lotus flower surrounded by its outspread leaves. 27 giant  lotus petals of white marble spring out from nine pools and walkways of the temple.

These walkways represent the nine unifying spiritual paths of the Bahai faith. Exquisitely manicured lawns surround the building. There is a simple, but outstanding 34.27 m high central hall in the temple where people sit and meditate. Petal alcoves of the temple are inscribed with stimulating quotes of the Bahai sacred scriptures. Though the temple belongs to the Bahai sect, it is open to people of each and every faith.

Recognised as one of the masterpieces of 20th century architecture and winner of many prestigious International awards, this shrine was designed by Fariburz Sabha, a Canadian citizen  and a  Bahai of Iranian descendants to reflect the multiculturalism and ancient traditions of India.  More than 700 labourers and 40 engineers were employed in its  construction. 

This year in Kerala on September 12,  we will see the unveiling of another exquisite lotus temple, known as Parnasala. The structural marvel is located 21 km away from the state capital Thiruvananthapuram, at Santhigiri Ashram, a well known spiritual centre which has hosted VVIPs including  former President Abdul Kalam and Sonia Gandhi.

This lotus shaped structure, which has been under construction for almost 10 years now is the Parnasala or the final resting place of the ashram's founder Karunakara Guru who passed away in May 1999.The lotus motif has been used throughout the Parnasala, and serves the dual purpose of a spiritual abode and a functional monument. The imposing structure, rising to a height of 91 ft, is fast nearing completion.

The lotus shaped superstructure with a radius of 84 ft has 21 lotus petals. The current structure of Parnasala, stands at a height of 91 ft, radius of 84 ft, 64 ft inner diameter and 21 petals. The structure contains 12 upward facing petals of 41 ft  and nine downward facing petals of 31 ft  each.  Constructed in pristine white marble brought from Rajasthan and a special black granite mined in Karnataka, the Parnasala is a visual wonder.

Almost 100,000 sq ft of marble, transported from Makrana in Rajasthan, was painstakingly cut into even-sized tiles by workers at the Ashram before being cemented onto the RCC petals.

The entire edifice is supported on 21 carved pillars. The Baalalayam or the elevated platform meant for conducting ceremonies is noteworthy for beautiful and intricate wood carving. On the first floor of the Parnasala, in 12 rooms, the articles used by the Guru will be preserved. 

At the heart of the structure is the Sarakoodam, a 27 ft-high teak wooden enclosure in the shape of a lotus bud with a marble cask inside. Atop the cask, 11 steps lead to a pedestal where a life-size gold sculpture of the Guru will be installed.

According to Sreekumaran Nair, the structural consultant for the project, the shaping of the lotus petals took immense effort and skill as the curves had to be executed perfectly and evenly. The construction of each petal took almost six months and the fixing of the marble tiles claimed another three years. 

Outside the Parnasala,  eventually colourful floodlights will reflect different colours on the white lotus superstructure during night time. 

The project is estimated to cost Rs 30 crore. Landscaping, library, lecture hall and other infrastructure will cost another Rs 20 crore.

Outside India, the most noteworthy lotus temple is the one at Virginia, USA. The Light Of Truth Universal Shrine (LOTUS) at Virginia USA is a unique temple dedicated to interfaith understanding and the light within all faiths and owes its existence to the idea that  interfaith understanding is the  core of world peace.

To this end, the LOTUS (Light Of Truth Universal Shrine) was constructed and inaugurated in 1986 and the doors of the LOTUS are open to welcome people of all faiths. The shrine celebrates lotus as a   universal motif in all faiths. And just  as the lotus opens its petals to  the light always, the visitors also feel attuned to their inner divinity in the temple.

 The LOTUS,  with its the 700-acre site which was financed by contributions and tithes, is a mini-Taj Mahal, complete with reflecting pool and gold-leaf dome.

Its interior features a central altar from which a tube of neon light rises to the roof and then divides into a dozen smaller tubes of light, that run down the sides of the wall to a dozen smaller altars spaced around the circular room.

The display symbolises a central source of light, truth and wisdom. The long reflecting pond in front of   LOTUS duly mirrors the cotton candy coloured mosaic tiles on the gigantic architectural flower petals. The petals are closed against a large dome from whose top rises e a gold cupola.

Museum-quality displays are located in the lower chamber of the shrine, with sacred and beautiful  artifacts and scriptures from the world's major and lesser-known religions.  
Nearly 10 altars represent various religions or ethnic groups -- Hinduism, Shintoism, Taoism, Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Sikhism, Native American thought groups and more.

Another lotus temple  outside India  now in the construction stage is the Sri Venkateswara Lotus Temple of  Fairfax, built in 18 acres of land. The temple has eight petals suspended in the pond. The eight petals embody the Ashtakshari mantram.  
Situated in various corners of the world, these lotus temples are a great tribute to universality of all faiths and  the spiritual attributes  of the  lotus.

(Published 24 July 2010, 12:02 IST)

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