All about Hindu temple in Abu Dhabi that Modi is set to inaugurate
Land for the temple was granted in 2015 during Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to UAE. Photo: BAPS website

All about Hindu temple in Abu Dhabi that Modi is set to inaugurate

It's the first stone temple in the Middle East; know why it is a landmark step in India-UAE ties, and all about its role in BJP’s electoral prospects

‘Hindus’ revelling in the euphoria of the Ayodhya Ram temple inauguration will be in for another treat when Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurates the BAPS Swaminarayan temple in Abu Dhabi, the first Hindu temple in Abu Dhabi, on February 14.

Breaking the news on Thursday (January 11), UAE’s envoy to India Abdulnasser Alshaali called it a “monumental day” to “celebrate tolerance and acceptance,” stressing that the initiative would further strengthen India-UAE ties.

Alshaali said last month, Swami Ishwarcharandas and Swami Brahmaviharidas extended the invitation on behalf of the Bochasanwasi Shri Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha (BAPS) Hindu Mandir, and the same has been accepted by Prime Minister Modi.

To mark the occasion, a grand diaspora gathering titled ‘Ahlan Modi’ (which translates to ‘Hello Modi’) has been scheduled to be held at the Sheikh Zayed Sports City Stadium in Abu Dhabi on February 13.

Here’s all you need to know about the temple, its significance in India-UAE diplomatic ties and why it will help the Modi government ahead of the Lok Sabha polls.

First stone temple in the Middle East

The temple, located at Abu Mureikhah, will be the first traditional Hindu stone temple in the Middle East.

Special provisions were made to ensure that the temple encompasses the grandeur of Hindu temple architecture.

The temple will have seven shikhars or pinnacles/peaks, symbolically representing the Emirates. Each of these pinnacles will be engraved with stories and teachings from Hindu scriptures.

“The spires (shikhars) symbolically represent the seven emirates of the UAE as our way to say thank you to the leadership,” Pranav Desai, the temple’s project director told The National.

“There will also be 14 value tales from the Arabic region, Chinese, Aztec and from Mesopotamia that show how love is universal across all cultures,” Desai added.

Indian sculptors

Spread on a sprawling 55,000 square metres of land, the temple has been hand-carved by Indian sculptors.

Tonnes of pink sandstone have been flown from India’s Rajasthan for the construction of the temple while stones from North India have been used to help it withstand the high temperature of the middle-eastern country.

Over 2,000 artisans from Rajasthan and Gujarat were employed to carve 402 white marble pillars for the temple. Each of the pillars contain carvings with tales from Hindu scriptures. The pillars have also been embellished with sculptures of animals, birds, musicians and the Moon.

The temple complex will have prayer halls, a visitor’s centre, and exhibition halls, learning areas, sports areas for children, thematic gardens, water features, a food court, and a book and souvenir shop.

The temple can accommodate 8,000-10,000 people and is open to people of all faiths.

How the temple came into being?

Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces had gifted the land for the temple in August 2015 during Prime Minister Modi’s visit to the country.

The ‘sheela poojan’ for the temple was done on February 11, 2018 following the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between India and on February 10, 2018. While representatives of BAPS had accompanied Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the MoU signing, the entire royal family and over 250 local leaders were present at the occasion.

As part of its tolerance programme, the UAE government granted another 14 acres of land for the temple in January 2019. The foundation stone for the temple was laid on April 20 the same year in an event that was attended by thousands of Indians in UAE.

What is BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha?

On its website, BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha defines itself as “a spiritual, volunteer-defined fellowship dedicated to improving society through individual growth by fostering the Hindu values of faith, service and global harmony.”

The sanstha or cult, headed by Mahant Swami Maharaj is a denomination of the Swaminarayan branch of Hinduism which worships its founder Sahajanand Swami or Swaminarayan, believed to be an incarnation of Lord Krishna.

The BAP has a global network of Swaminarayan temples and centres spread across five continents. It has 44 ‘shikharabaddha’ temples (traditional temple made with stones and having a pinnacle) and 1,200 other temples across India, North America, United Kingdom and Europe, Africa, and Asia Pacific. While it has centres in the Middle East, the Abu Dhabi temple is the first in the region.

What kind of work is BAPS involved in?

Besides organising satsangs, religious programmes, discourses and Hindu festivals, the organisation is involved in humanitarian activities and conducts workshops and seminars to inculcate social values and empower youth and women.

Also serving as a centre of culture, many BAPS temples abroad also hold classes in Gujarati to facilitate scriptural study as well as dance and music classes. With an eye on the overall development of youth, several centres also organise college preparatory classes, leadership training seminars and skill development workshops besides hosting sports tournaments.

Why is the Abu Dhabi temple significant for India-UAE ties?

Considering that the Gulf nation has the largest Indian diaspore population – almost 3.5 million, surpassing than US’ 2.7 million and Saudi Arabia’s 2.5 million – the temple is a key milestone in India-UAE diplomatic ties.

It is also part of UAE’s tolerance programme under which the government aims to promote tolerance among young people and prevent them from fanaticism and extremism as well as “integrate international efforts to promote tolerance and highlight the leading role of UAE in this area”.

While Modi’s 2015 visit to the Gulf nation came 34 years after Indira Gandhi stepped on UAE soil, the gift of land by crown prince Sheikh Mohammed to the Indian community for the temple marked a significant step in uniting people of two different countries and faiths.

During the signing of the MoU in 2018, Modi had called it a “holy place where humanity and harmony will unite.”

Boost to India-UAE ties

The temple is expected to give an added impetus to India-UAE trade ties. The two nations solidified their collaboration by signing four Memoranda of Understanding (MoUs) at the ‘Two Nations, One Vision’ summit organised on the sidelines of the Vibrant Gujarat Global Summit 2024.

These agreements were finalised during talks between Modi and UAE President Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, aimed at strengthening bilateral ties.

The countries have discussed technology, aerospace, and space-related issues during the talks.

Three of these MoUs are between Dubai's Ministry of Investment and the Government of India, and the fourth one is between DP World and the Government of Gujarat to develop sustainable ports in the state.

"The first three MoUs are in healthcare, renewable energy to develop 60 gigawatts of projects, and the fourth is in terms of allocating land for the food parks project as part of the I2U2," the UAE ambassador said. "There will always be tangible outcomes when it comes to the relationship between the UAE and India. It's not a matter of how or what is going to happen," the ambassador emphasised.

He further stated that defence is a "natural area of cooperation" between the two countries.

"India is growing as a player in the defence sector. The UAE is always looking at multiple suppliers for equipment. And so this is also a natural area of cooperation and a natural partnership between the two countries," the ambassador underlined.

The UAE is the fourth largest investor in India, while it is the third largest trading partner.

Why Modi matters?

The construction of a grand temple in an Islamic country would not only cement Modi’s image as a ‘saviour’ of Hindu culture among diaspora Indians, but also pay him electoral dividends at home just ahead of the Lok Sabha polls. The timing couldn’t have been better, with the Abu Dhabi temple inauguration coming close on the heels of the Ayodhya temple consecration.

During his recent meeting with a delegation of representatives from BAPS led by Swami Ishwarcharandas and Swami Brahmaviharidas, Modi said the temple “will reflect the ideal of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam – an ideal spiritual space, not merely rooted in beliefs and traditions, but a confluence of diverse cultures and civilizations. The essence of spiritual harmony, symbolising the path forward.”

Stating that the Abu Dhabi temple inauguration could be the show-stopping event just before the elections are announced, Congress leader Shashi Tharoor said that it is an indication that the BJP has strayed away from its initial promise of “acche din” and now plans to win elections exclusively on the Hindutva plank.

“The message is clear. In 2009, Mr Modi was sold to the Indian electorate as the avatar of economic development, the CEO of Gujarat Inc., who would bring development to all Indians. In 2019, with that narrative collapsing in the wake of the disastrous demonetisation, the Pulwama terrorist attack gave Mr Modi the opportunity to convert the general election into a national security election. In 2024, it is clear the BJP will now revert to its core message and offer Narendra Modi to the nation as a Hindu Hriday Samrat.”

“All of this begs the question: what happened to achhe din? What happened to 2 crore jobs a year? What happened to economic growth that would benefit the lower rungs of the socio-economic ladder? What happened to putting disposable income into the pockets and bank accounts of every Indian? These questions will have to be debated in an election that is shaping up to be Hindutva versus popular welfare,” Tharoor said.

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