Hindu temple a shrine to tolerance

NEW DELHI, India (AP) — India’s Muslim president, Sikh prime minister and Hindu nationalist opposition leader have joined together to open one of the biggest Hindu temples of modern times, a $45 million pink sandstone shrine to religious tolerance.

The Swaminarayan sect that built the temple — the length of a soccer field and the height of a 12-story building — runs another temple in Gujarat state, which was attacked by suspected Muslim militants in 2002, leaving 32 dead. Religious riots in the same state left more that 1,000 dead earlier that year.

President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and opposition leader L.K. Advani of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party joined in pushing open the door of the main hall of the Swaminarayan Akshardham Temple in New Delhi Sunday.

The presence of the three leaders reflects the country’s entrenched communal diversity, which has been tested often by religious riots.

More than 7,000 sculptors built the colonnaded temple over five years. It sits on 234 pillars topped by nine domes and is bedecked by more than 20,000 statues of gods and goddesses, encompassing the gamut of the Hindu pantheon.

The presiding deity of the temple is Swaminarayan, a social reformer and founder of the sect who was born in 1781 and renounced home at age 11 to become an ascetic.

As an adult, he campaigned against the religious superstitions and caste discriminations that dog the Hindu society. The sect today has more than 1.2 million members, who contributed to the temple’s construction.

“Ours is a country of unity in diversity. This is the ideal preached by Swaminarayan,” Singh said in his speech.

He said India’s independence leader Mohandas K. Gandhi was inspired by Swaminarayan’s ideals when he began his fight against untouchability, referring to the discrimination practised by upper caste Hindus against lower castes and outcasts who were considered unclean.

“Religious tolerance has been our basis of culture. I hope today this message will spread from here to different parts of the world,” Singh said.

Besides prayer sections, the temple — sitting on a plot on the banks of the Yamuna River — has exhibition halls reviewing 10,000 years of Indian heritage through sculptures accompanied by a multimedia show.

The temple also has an Imax theater featuring a documentary about India’s cultural spirituality as revealed through a child ascetic.

The Akshardham “is much more than just a temple,” the Times of India daily newspaper said.

It is “a celebration of the past, embracement of the present and frame of the future,” it said.

The Indian landscape is solid with sprawling old stone temple complexes dating back hundreds of years, but few big temples of Akshardham’s scale have been built in modern times.

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(Listed if other than Religion News Blog, or if not shown above)
AP, via CNN, USA
Nov. 7, 2005

Religion News Blog posted this on Monday November 7, 2005.
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