First Hindu Mandir Cultural Complex in UAE
23 April 2019
A once in a millennium historical moment, the foundation stone laying ceremony of the first Hindu Mandir Cultural Complex in the Middle East took place at the Bochasanwasi Shri Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha (BAPS) Hindu Mandir site in Abu Dhabi on 20 April, in the presence of thousands from the Indian community and officials from India and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The foundation stone laying ceremony or ‘Shilanyas Vidhi’ is a sacred Hindu ritual where the first foundation stones are sanctified and fixed in the ground as the base of the Mandir.
BAPS, along with Mandir Limited, had selected RSP Architects Planners & Engineers (RSP) as the lead consultant and designer, through an international architectural design competition. One of the most established architectural practices in Singapore and the region, RSP was selected due to its visionary approach to creating a Hindu spiritual oasis in the UAE centred around a traditional crafted temple.
A significant symbol of global peace and harmony, the BAPS Hindu Mandir aims to facilitate interfaith dialogue, pluralism and universal human values, and serve the 3.3 million Indians residing in the UAE and millions of international tourists annually visiting the UAE. Constructed on a 13.5-acre land in Abu Dhabi that is located in close proximity to two major highways in the UAE, the Mandir will be highly accessible to visitors from all over the UAE.
The traditional stone Mandir will feature a multifaceted, multifunctional cultural and spiritual centre. As the largest place in the UAE for people of all faiths to come and experience the Hindu culture, the BAPS Hindu Mandir complex will serve as centre of art, culture and values, and house facilities such as a visitors’ centre, convention halls, a 1,500-seat dining hall, learning facilities and sports areas to meet the needs of the UAE community.
Michael Magill, Managing Director of RSP’s Dubai office said, “RSP is truly honoured and inspired to serve the UAE community and for a greater good through this project which seeks to globally inspire harmony in humanity for generations to come. As a global design firm, we leveraged on the design expertise of our multicultural team to develop a visionary design concept that carried the values which BAPS wanted to have for this monumental project.”
Architecture & Construction
The magnificent BAPS Hindu Mandir will be a unique architectural feat, built according to ancient Hindu Sanskrit scriptures of architecture. It will be a marvel of seven spires representing the seven emirates in the UAE, and five ornate domes. Entirely sculpted from stone, the exterior of the Mandir will be made of pink sandstone from Rajasthan, India and the interior from white marble. Every corner and crevice will be intricately hand-carved by hundreds of artisans in India. Thousands of such stone pieces will be shipped to the UAE and assembled on site like a giant 3D jigsaw puzzle.
With its location on the edges of the Abu Dhabi city, the Mandir is isolated from the hustle and bustle of metropolitan life, and will be a tranquil and spiritual retreat. RSP’s design concept for the Mandir takes inspiration from its location and seeks to establish a tranquil oasis in the desert. An oasis is a safe haven and retreat which provides travellers with food, water and shelter in the harsh conditions of the dessert. This concept of a green retreat is brought into the center of the site. From the dunes of the desert rise the monolithic stone blocks. These stone masses root the scheme to the Earth and blur the lines between architecture and nature. The monumental volumes enclose the center to create a protected environment from the external world.
A stepwell is created in the center of the plot in the heart of which sits the Mandir. This ancient Indian method of deriving water also become a catalyst to social cohesion in the past. The step wells provided a sanctuary and became a successful example of a public space that provided water and shelter to the Indian people in the harsh arid climate. The design of the Mandir implements this ancient architectural gesture and turns it into the central node and entrance for the Mandir.