First presidential visit to Lotus Temple
NEW DELHI — The President of India, Abdul Kalam, visited the Baha'i House of Worship in New Delhi on 18 March 2003, the first official visit there by an Indian Head of State since the Temple was opened in December 1986.
Dr. Kalam was joined by Deputy Prime Minister Lal Krishna Advani and Mrs. Advani, and Defence Minister George Fernandes.
The visitors come from three major religious communities in India. Dr Kalam is a Muslim, Mr. and Mrs. Advani are Hindus, and Mr. Fernandes is a Christian.
Upon Dr. Kalam's arrival, two children, dressed in gold-braided Sherwani coats, presented him with bouquets.
After a brief meeting with representatives of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of India and the Continental Board of Counsellors, Dr. Kalam circumambulated the House of Worship as a sign of reverence before entering.
Known in India as the Lotus Temple, it is one of the most visited buildings in the world, with an average of three and a half million visitors each year.
Among many other prominent visitors to the Temple have been the prime ministers of Norway and Sri Lanka, the president of Iceland, the vice-president of Uruguay, and the Dalai Lama.
The Temple has won numerous architectural and engineering awards. It is designed in the shape of a lotus flower, which is beloved in India as a symbol of purity and tenderness -- and of God's Messengers.
It is one of seven Baha'i Houses of Worship in the world. The others are in Australia, Germany, Panama, Uganda, the United States and Western Samoa.
Each temple has its own distinctive design, incorporating common elements such as a dome and nine entrances, which are symbolic both of the great religions through which humans have gained knowledge of God and of the diversity of the human race and its essential oneness.(For more information on the Lotus Temple see http://www.bahaiworldnews.org/story/89).
Upon entering the Temple, Dr. Kalam met choir members. With Mr. and Mrs. Advani and Mr. Fernandes, he listened to a program of prayers and chants.
At the completion of the program, Dr. Kalam continued his tour of the Temple, which he described as looking "fantastic".
Dr. Kalam carefully read some of the writings of Baha'u'llah placed inside each of the alcoves of the Temple.
During his visit Dr. Kalam observed: "Religion has two parts. One is faith; the other is logic and reason. It is important that these two inseparable parts stay together so that religion can help people to have peace of mind. If there is peace of mind, then there will be peace in the family and in the nation."
In a visit to the nearby Baha'i public information center, Dr. Kalam showed interest in a display about the Indore-based Barli Development Institute for Rural Women, which focuses on giving poor young women literacy training as well as practical knowledge of health and conservation issues. (For more information see:
He referred to a quotation of 'Abdu'l-Baha regarding the importance of education of girls, and then said: "The education of girls would result in the education of the entire family and is most important in producing good human beings."
Dr. Kalam was also given information about the current discourse on science, religion and development being promoted by the Baha'i community. Activities have included a colloquium organized by the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of India and the Institute for Studies in Global Prosperity, a research organization that works in association with the Baha'i International Community. (http://www.bahaiworldnews.org/story/73)
After the President departed, Deputy Prime Minister Advani and Mrs. Advani continued their visit in the public information center.
Mr. Advani had attended the 1986 dedication of the House of Worship. He said religion was a powerful ennobling force in society and that it was very important to teach the values of life to children.
Defence Minister Fernandes, having agreed to sing in the choir two days later on the Baha'i festival of Naw-Ruz (New Year), practised singing a Christian hymn "Abide with Me". (In Baha'i Houses of Worship, prayers and hymns from all divinely revealed scriptures are welcomed).
Mr. Fernandes discussed the relationship of the Baha'i Faith with other religions and was informed that Baha'is believe that the fundamental teachings of all major religions are the same and that they come from the same source.
On March 20, Mr. Fernandes performed with the choir as arranged. Among the guests were former Indian Prime Minister I. K. Gujral, India's Attorney-General, Soli Sorabjee, and members of the diplomatic corps.
(Report compiled with the assistance of Mrs. Zena Sorabjee, Professor Anil Sarwal, Dr. A.K. Merchant, Mrs. Farida Vahedi and Ms. Naznene Rowhani).