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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 14 November 2018

Thousands of skilled craftsmen to help construct Abu Dhabi's Hindu stone temple 

The temple will be the first of its kind in the Middle East

The Abu Dhabi temple will be modelled on the Akshardham temple in New Delhi. EPA
The Abu Dhabi temple will be modelled on the Akshardham temple in New Delhi. EPA

Construction on the first traditional Hindu stone temple in the Middle East will begin by the end of the year, with up to 3,000 artisans and volunteers expected on the Abu Dhabi site at the height of the work.

Design crews are currently travelling across India to find inspiration for the diverse range of elements that they plan to incorporate into the structure. Sadhu Brahmaviharidas, chief spokesman of religious organisation BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha, told The National that after a chief architectural consultant is found for the project, development of the master plan will get under way.

Teams in India are currently testing the tensile strength of stone, looking for the perfect material that is both pliable enough for intricate hand carvings and durable enough to support the large structure.

A website will also be launched in two weeks to provide updates on the construction. The temple developers said it will allow people to learn more and contribute to the project.

While the temple complex is still in the early stages and therefore the final completion date is not yet known, a substantial portion of the project will be delivered by 2020.

Narendra Modi, prime minister of India, unveils a model of the Middle East's first traditional Hindu stone temple in Abu Dhabi. Courtesy: BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi unveils a model of the Middle East's first traditional Hindu stone temple in Abu Dhabi. BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha

Navdeep Suri, the Indian ambassador to the UAE, who met with the temple committee steering the project, said: “The plans for the temple are extraordinary and exceptionally ambitious. Based on our discussions, I can say that this will be a striking new addition to the attractions of the UAE, and indeed to the architecture and skyline.

“With the plans that are being developed, going forward it will become not only a place of worship and a community space, but a visitor attraction as well.”

Mr Brahmaviharidas, who is in Abu Dhabi to complete the legal registration process, said the mandir (temple) is as much a "piece of divine art as it is a building".

“As this project incorporates a traditional stone temple with intricate hand carvings and also includes a multi-purpose cultural complex, it requires meticulous planning, logistics and co-ordination – from stone quarrying, carving, shipping and fitting.

“A large portion of the mandir design has been completed in India. As for the cultural complex, design work for the master plan will soon get underway.

Plans for the temple were first announced during a visit by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi three years ago. The main shape and form of the temple, with its seven spires to reflect the seven emirates, and graceful arched domes and elaborate pillars, was revealed in February this year by Mr Modi during a visit to the UAE.

A foundation ceremony for the temple was also held.

The shrine will be located in the capital’s Al Rahba area on land granted to the project by Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces.

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The shrine has been hailed as an example of the UAE’s tolerance of different faiths. Indians in the UAE and overseas have acknowledged the generosity of the UAE and the Crown Prince for granting permission for the building of the region’s first traditional Hindu temple.

There are several churches, a gurdwara and two temples across the emirates.

International architectural consultants based in the UAE have expressed interest in participating in the project, which will include prayer halls, a visitor’s centre, thematic gardens and play areas for children.

“The mandir project is steadily progressing with the support and guidance of the government of UAE. We are in communication with the relevant local authorities regarding necessary permits and approvals,” said Mr Brahmaviharidas.

The charity Mandir Limited has been legally registered to build, manage and administer the project, and the Ministry of Community Development has given authorisation for it to raise funds and accept contributions towards the cause.

The next step in the process is to register as an approved charity, so they are eligible for VAT exemptions.

Other temples built by the organisation include the Swaminarayan temple in Neasden, London, and the Akshardham in New Delhi.