There is this iconic and hugely popular scene in the Hindi movie Deewar in which a particular exchange of dialogue between the protagonists Shashi Kapoor and Amitabh Bachchan has gone down in history. When Amitabh Bachchan intones in his deep and sonorous voice “Mere paas building hai, property hai, gaadi hai, bungla hai, bank balance hai…, tumhaare paas kya hai?”, Shashi Kapoor replies calmly but proudly, “Mere paas Maa hai”.
I am a huge fan of this classic scene and I am sometimes reminded of it when I travel back home to India from the UAE where I live. This beautiful desert country has been my home for close to 20 odd years now and it has given me so much – a lovely home, beautiful friends, financial stability, peace, security and much more. However, I must confess when someone back in my home land would ask me, “What? No temple in the Gulf?”, then I have no suitable come back because apart from two small vilIas in Dubai which did its best to serve as our temple till now, we Indians had no exclusive place of worship at all. Then, in all honesty I confess to having that Amitabh-in-Deewar wala feeling! And I do believe I speak for thousands of Indians who have felt the same.
But not anymore! The scene is set to change with the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir coming up in Abu Dhabi. In a couple of years from now, as you travel down the long highway between Dubai and Abu Dhabi, you will see the graceful towers of the temple rising like a mirage from the midst of the hot, harsh and unrelenting sands of the UAE. And this is nothing short of a miracle!
Did we ever in our wildest dreams dare to imagine having our own place of worship in this land?
Paulo Coelho, the Brazilian novelist said, “When you really desire something from the heart and soul, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”
The temple is an answer to the deep yet furtive desire of millions of Indians who have prayed with all our heart and soul for a place here that we could thoroughly call our own.
In 1997, Pramukh Swami Maharaj of BAPS (the Swaminarayan Sanstha) on a visit to Abu Dhabi, knelt down in the middle of the desert, scooped up some sand and stated aloud and of his own accord “May a temple be built in Abu Dhabi”. Since then, the entire universe has been working behind the scenes to bring his prayer and the desire of thousands of Indians to fruition. And that moment came in 2015 when the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, His Highness Sheikh Mohammad bin Zayed al Nahyan generously gifted a 5 acre plot of land and permission for a Hindu Mandir in the city.
It was my extreme good fortune to be among a select few who got the opportunity recently to witness the temple and history in the making! Amidst the harsh sands of the desert this holy monument promises to be an oasis of peace, harmony, learning, devotion and togetherness.
The concept is grand and so are the plans for the land to be put to the best use as a place for devotees to pray, to come together and celebrate festivals and traditions, as a learning centre or simply as a warm and welcoming place for people living far away from their homeland.
It was a fascinating experience for us to see first hand the temple complex coming up from scratch and listen to the grand future plans for its final outcome.
I couldn’t help feeling emotional as we were explained the significance of the design of the temple complex. A graceful and beautiful coming together of the best of Indian and Arabic art and architecture, this temple is surely a loud and definite message to the world that inclusiveness is the way forward for peace and harmony between different cultures.
It was truly an overwhelming moment when we learnt how the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi HH Sheikh Mohmmad bin Zayed al Nahyan’s generous gift to the Indians, grew from a token 5 acre plot of land in the initial stages to a whopping 13.7 acres; all thanks to the benevolent leaders of this nation. The mandir will have 7 tall towers to symbolize the 7 emirates of the UAE, with each housing idols representing different nooks and corners of India and the entire structure will be hand carved by Indian artisans depicting scenes from epics and puranas.
Upon completion, the first traditional Hindu temple in the Middle East promises to be a lighthouse in the desert, a guiding light leading seekers to an oasis of peace, harmony, spirituality, human values, grace and beauty!
When we returned home after our guided tour of the temple site, I had this warm feeling of love and gratitude towards the peace-loving and tolerant people and leaders of the UAE, because now I can stand tall and proudly declare, that here in the Gulf, my second home, among other things “Mere paas Mandir bhi hai!”