ON A HOT SUNDAY MORNING, tourists wait in queue for 30 minutes to get inside the Bahá’í House of Worship in Kalkaji, better known by its unofficial name, the Lotus Temple. Once inside, many spend less than 30 seconds before exiting. The tourists, who include burqa-clad women and sadhus in saffron, don’t seem to be in need of a multi-faith prayer hall, especially one whose interior is so disappointingly unremarkable compared to its facade. The multi-faith service, held thrice a day, is itself sparsely attended.
Among the volunteers, even the Indians speak in foreign accents as they try and ensure an orderly entry and exit. Gathering 100 or so visitors at a time, they explain that this is a temple, and that once inside they should pray in silence. But tourists find it hard to suspend their holiday gaiety. They come to the Lotus temple not for god but to marvel at its architecture. In a country with no dearth of historical monuments, one that is turning 25 this December gets more visitors than the Taj Mahal. And thanks to the Kalkaji Metro station that opened last October, the number of visitors at the Lotus Temple is likely to touch six million this year, as compared to the Taj’s four.
The monument’s 25th anniversary will be commemorated on its lawns on 13 and 14 November, and its Iranian Bahá’í architect, Fariborz Sahba, who lives in Canada, is likely to be in attendance. Sahba worked on the project for 10 years and won numerous awards for its expressionist architecture.