Bahá’í Houses of Worship
As gathering places for prayer and meditation, Bahá’í Houses of Worship are buildings that most closely approximate the place of the church, the temple or the mosque in other religions. Yet they are also something more.
As envisioned by Bahá’u’lláh, local Houses of Worship will someday be the focal point for a community’s spiritual life–and an expression of its humanitarian concern.
So far, seven Houses of Worship have been built–at least one on each continent, a token of the Faith’s global progress. At the present stage of the Faith’s development, Bahá’ís have focused on creating and developing the social and spiritual institutions of community life rather than on the construction of physical buildings in every community. Yet those Houses of Worship which have been constructed stand as beacons calling the world to a new mode of religious worship and life.
Each temple has its own distinctive design, and yet conforms to a set of architectural requirements that give a unifying theme. All Bahá’í Houses of Worship must have nine sides and a central dome.
The first House of Worship was built in Russia, in the city of Ashkhabad in Central Asia. Completed around 1908, the Ashkhabad House of Worship served the Bahá’í community of that region until 1938, when the site was appropriated by the Soviet Government. The building was demolished in 1962 after being damaged by an earthquake.
The Ashkhabad House of Worship was in many ways ahead of its time. In addition to serving as a spiritual center for the thriving Bahá’í community in that region, it gave practical expression to the community’s humanitarian ideas. Attached to it were a number of subsidiaries, including a hospital, a school, and a hostel for travelers.
The first House of Worship in the West was completed in 1953, in Wilmette, Illinois, U.S.A., on the shores of Lake Michigan, just north of Chicago. Its filigree dome and extraordinary ornamentation combine features drawn from the architectural styles of both East and West, and it has attracted millions of visitors over the years. Other Bahá’í Houses of Worship were subsequently built in Kampala, Uganda; near Sydney, Australia; outside Frankfurt, Germany; overlooking Panama City, Panama; and in Apia, Western Samoa.
The newest House of Worship was completed in 1986 in New Delhi, India. Since that time the structure has won numerous architectural awards and been featured in hundreds of newspaper and magazine articles. Inspired by the lotus flower, its design is composed of 27 free-standing marble-clad petals–arranged in clusters of three to form nine sides. Nine doors open onto a central hall, capable of holding up to 2,500 people. Slightly more than 40 meters tall, its surface luminous, the temple at times seems to float above its 26-acre site on the outskirts of the Indian capital. In a few short years the New Delhi temple has become one of the world’s major attractions, drawing more than two and a half million visitors a year. On Hindu holy days, it has drawn as many as 100,000–so revered is the Bahá’í temple by India’s people, whatever their religious background.
Indeed, all Houses of Worship are open to people of every religion. There are no sermons, rituals or clergy.
Around the world, more than 120 sites have so far been set aside for future Houses of Worship. Ultimately, every local Bahá’í community will have its own House of Worship. Like the first one in Ashkhabad, each will become the focus of community life, as well as a center for social, scientific, educational, and humanitarian services.