Only eight Houses of Worship have been built around the world, with a ninth soon to be constructed in Chile. Bahá'í communities own many properties where Houses of Worship remain to be constructed as the Bahá'í community grows and develops further. The Houses of Worship are open to the public, and are exclusively reserved for worship, where sermons are prohibited and only scriptural readings may be read. Most Bahá'í meetings occur in local Bahá'í centres, individuals' homes, or rented facilities.
Bahá'í literature describes that a House of Worship should be built in each city and town, and emphasizes that its doors be open to all regardless of religion, or any other distinction. The Bahá'í laws emphasize that the spirit of the House of Worship be that it is a gathering place where people of all religions may worship God without denominational restrictions. The Bahá'í laws also stipulate that only the holy scriptures of the Bahá'í Faith and other religions can be read or chanted inside in any language; while readings and prayers can be set to music by choirs, no musical instruments can be played inside. Furthermore no sermons can be delivered, and there can be no ritualistic ceremonies practiced.
All Bahá'í temples share certain architectural elements, some of which are specified by Bahá'í scripture. `Abdu'l-Bahá stipulated that an essential architectural character of a House of Worship be that it requires to have a nine-sided circular shape. While all current Bahá'í Houses of Worship have a dome, they are not regarded as an essential part of their architecture. Bahá'í scripture also states that no pictures, statues or images be displayed within the House of Worship and no pulpits or altars be incorporated as an architectural feature (readers may stand behind simple portable lecture stands). To date all the Houses of Worship built or planned have a single, undivided room under their dome. Furthermore, in all seven, the seats in the auditorium face the Shrine of Bahá'u'lláh in `Akká, Israel. While each of the Houses of Worship are unique, the designs, through the selection of materials, landscaping and architecture, reflect the indigenous cultural, social and environmental elements of their location, to a greater or lesser degree.
Bahá'í literature also stipulates that the Houses of Worship be surrounded by a complex of humanitarian, educational, and charitable institutions such as schools, hospitals, homes for the elderly, universities, hostels, and other social and humanitarian institutions to serve the areas in which they are located. Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Bahá'í Faith, stated that the functions of the House of Worship would be complementary to those of the Bahá'í centre, and that it would be desirable if both these buildings would be on the same site. He also describes the future interaction between the Mashriqu'l-Adhkár (worship) and its dependencies (service) as "capable of removing the ills that have so long and so grievously afflicted humanity.
The seven existing Houses of Worship were built as the Bahá'í community could support their construction through voluntary contributions. There are no collections during services and only Bahá'ís are permitted to contribute to the Bahá'í funds, including funds for the construction and maintenance of the House of Worship. The Houses of Worship are administered and maintained by the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of the country in which they are located. The Shrine of the Báb and other buildings at the Bahá'í World Centre are not Houses of Worship, although tourists often mistakenly refer to the Shrine as a Bahá'í temple.
The first Bahá'í House of Worship was constructed in the city of `Ishqábád, then ruled by Russia and now the capital of Turkmenistan. The design of the first Bahá'í House of Worship was started in 1902, and was completed in 1908. The design was prepared by Ostad Ali-Akbar Banna, and the construction was supervised by Vakílu'd-Dawlih, who was later named as one of the nineteen Apostles of Bahá'u'lláh.
`Ishqábád is located in the desert plain of western Turkmenistan near the foothills of the Alborz Mountains. Under the protection and freedom given by the Russian authorities, the number of Bahá'ís there rose to over 1,000 and for the first time anywhere in the world a true Bahá'í community was established, with its own schools, medical facilities, cemetery, etc. Eventually the Bahá'ís in `Ishqábád decided to build the institution of the spiritual and social heart of the Bahá'í community: the Mashriqu'l-Adhkár.
The House of Worship itself was surrounded by gardens. At the four corners of the garden were four buildings: a school, a hostel where travelling Bahá'ís were entertained, a small hospital, and a building for groundskeepers. The Bahá'ís lived as much as possible in proximity to the House of Worship. It was the centre of the community materially, as well as spiritually. The House of Worship in `Ishqábád has been the only house of worship thus far to have the humanitarian subsidiaries associated with the institution built along side it.
After serving the community for two decades, the House of Worship was expropriated by the Soviet authorities in 1928 and leased back to the Bahá'ís. This lasted until 1938, when it was fully secularized by the communist government and turned into an art gallery. A 1948 earthquake seriously damaged the building and rendered it unsafe; the heavy rains of the following years weakened the structure, and it was demolished in 1963 and the site converted into a public park. See also Bahá'í Faith in Turkmenistan.
The cornerstone for the Bahá'í House of Worship in Wilmette, Illinois was laid in 1912 by `Abdu'l-Bahá during his only visit to the United States and Canada. Construction began in 1921 was completed in 1953, with a delay of several years during the Great Depression and World War II. The Wilmette House of Worship is the largest and the oldest surviving Bahá'í House of Worship. Known by Baha'is as the "Mother Temple of the West" and formally as the "Bahá'í House of Worship for the North American Continent", it stands in north suburban Cook County, on the shores of Lake Michigan, at . The cladding is made out of white portland cement concrete with both clear and white quartz aggregate. It has received numerous design awards, and it is a prominent Chicago-area landmark. In 1978, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
The height of the auditorium is 138 feet (42 m), and the diameter of the dome is 90 feet (27.5 m). The auditorium seats 1,192 visitors. Like some other Bahá'í temples, it has a gallery balcony from which choirs or soloists may perform. No instrumental music is allowed during services in the auditorium, although all kinds of music may be performed in the meeting room below. In general, no videography, photography, or any other activity inconsistent with quiet meditation is allowed in the auditorium. The building is open to visitors every day of the year. Currently, devotional services are held at 9:15 a.m., 12:30 p.m. and 5.15 p.m. daily. A Visitor's Center, located underneath the main auditorium, includes restrooms, offices, a bookstore, library and research room, a viewing room for films, and a Foundation Hall, which is used for large meetings and holy day celebrations. The large, underground area also contains offices not regularly open to the general public including a media center, studios, and the Baha'i Archives, which can be visited by appointment.
The principal architect was Louis Bourgeois, but the interior cladding was designed by Alfred Shaw of Shaw, Metz, and Dolio. Engineering plans were prepared by Allen McDaniel of The Research Service of Washington, D.C. The general contractor was George A. Fuller, Co. Both the pioneering exterior and interior cladding were fabricated and constructed by John James Earley and the Earley Studio.
The Bahá'í House of Worship is a place of worship for all people. The only decorative art inside and out involves shapes and designs made by intersecting lines. There are no images of people or places. The building itself is decorated inside and out with verses from the Baha'i Writings, all of them by Bahá'u'lláh. As there are nine entrances to the building, there are nine verses above the doors and nine inside the buildings above the alcoves.
The verses outside are engraved into the stone, in large legible letters. Above the doors are small engraved versions of the "Greatest Name", one of several Bahá'í symbols and an elaborate decorative design that includes the letters ABHA, representing the prayer "Alláh u Abhá" (God is Most Glorious)in Arabic. It is the numerical value of these four letters in the words abha and baha (for Bahá'u'lláh) that add up to total nine, one of reasons Bahá'í House of Worships are nine-sided.
The most decorative element on the outside of the building is the tracery on the nine towers. These are intertwined with the generally recognized symbols of many world religions, including the Cross, star and crescent, the Star of David, and the original swastika design, an ancient symbol having arms bent at right angles, used for thousands of years as a representative symbol of world religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. The only decorative symbol inside the auditorium is a large, lighted version of the Greatest Name in the exact center of the inside of the dome.
For many years the Bahá'í House of Worship was associated with a "home for the aged", operated by the U.S. Bahá'í community. The Bahá'í Home has since closed, although the building remains in use for a local Baha'i School and regional training center.
The Mother Temple of Africa is situated on Kikaya Hill on the outskirts of Kampala, Uganda. It was designed by Charles Mason Remey. Its foundation stone was laid in January 1958, and it was dedicated on 13 January 1961.
The building is more than 130 feet (39 m) high, and over 100 meters in diameter at the base. The dome, composed of lace-like tiles, rises over 124 feet (37 m) high and is 44 feet (13 m) in diameter. The foundation goes 10 feet (3 m) underground to protect it from earthquakes common in this part of the world.
The green dome is made of fixed mosaic tiles from Italy, and the lower roof tiles are from Belgium. The walls of the temple are of precast stone quarried in Uganda. The colored glass in the wall panels was brought from Germany. The timber used for making the doors and benches was from Uganda. The fifty acre property includes the House of Worship, extensive gardens, a guest house, and an administrative center. See Bahá'í Faith in Uganda.
The surrounding gardens contain native plants including waratahs, several grevillea including the unique caleyi, the native pea, wattle and woody pear, plus three species of eucalypts. Other buildings located on the site include a visitor's centre, bookshop, picnic area, hostel, caretaker's cottage, and the administrative offices of the Australian Baha'i community.
The property is set high in a natural bushland setting of 380,000 square metres (38 hectares) in Ingleside, a northern suburb overlooking the Pacific Ocean. This Temple serves as the Mother Temple of Australia.
In 2005 - 2006, this temple was threatened by nearby bush fires which approached – but never reached the temple grounds. See also Bahá'í Faith in Australia.
The Mother Temple of Europe is located at the foot of the Taunus Mountains of Germany, in the village of Langenhain, in the Frankfurt suburb of Hofheim, Hesse. The design was made by Teuto Rocholl. It was completed in 1964 and is constructed of steel, aluminum, and glass. Five hundred and forty diamond-shaped windows give the dome an optical lightness and permit the sunlight to play in it. The outstanding characteristic acoustics of this setting are created by the reverberation within the dome and the resonance of its myriad window ledges. Choirs here sometimes sing while standing around the circumference of the temple floor, with the audience in the center.
Currently there are plans to construct a home for the aged as the first dependency of this House of Worship.
The Bahá'í temple in Panama City, Panama, completed 1972, designed by Peter Tillotson. It serves as the mother temple of Latin America. It is perched on a high cliff, "Cerro Sonsonate" ("Singing Hill"), overlooking the city, and is constructed of local stone laid in a pattern reminiscent of Native American fabric designs.
The dome is covered with thousands of small oval tiles, and the entrance gates of the temple are constructed in a unique three-dimensional design each consisting of an equilateral triangle of three vertical posts with multiple rows of bars stretching between them at various angles, each row of which gradually changes from vertical to horizontal. See also Bahá'í Faith in Panama.
The Bahá'í temple in Delhi, India was completed in 1986 and serves as the Mother Temple of the Indian subcontinent. It has won numerous architectural awards and been featured in hundreds of newspaper and magazine articles. The architect was an Iranian, who now lives in Canada, named Fariborz Sahba.
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 shining white marble, the temple at times seems to float above its 26 acre (105,000 m²; 10.5 ha) nine surrounding ponds. The site is in the village of Bahapur, in the National Capital Territory of Delhi. The major part of the funds needed to buy this land was donated by Ardishír Rustampúr from Hyderabad, who gave his entire life savings for this purpose in 1953.
Since its inauguration to public worship in December 1986, the Bahá'í House of Worship in New Delhi has, as of late 2002, attracted more than 50 million visitors, making it one of the most visited buildings in the world. Its numbers of visitors during those years surpassed those of the Eiffel Tower and the Taj Mahal. On Hindu holy days, it has drawn as many as 150,000 people; it welcomes four million visitors each year (about 13,000 every day or 9 every minute).
This House of Worship is generally referred to as the "Lotus Temple" by Bahá'ís and non-Bahá'ís alike. In India, during the Hindu festival Durga Puja, several times a replica of the Lotus Temple has been made as a pandal, a temporary structure set up to venerate the goddess Durga. In Sikkim a permanent replica is of the Hindu Legship Mandir, dedicated to Shiva. See also Bahá'í Faith in India.
In late 2002, the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of Chile and the Universal House of Justice announced a competition for the design of the mother temple of South America, to be built outside Santiago. The selection chosen was designed by Siamak Hariri of Toronto, Canada.
Its sides will be composed of translucent panels of alabaster and cast glass. The interior structure will be a lattice structure of steel supporting the inside of the upper dome. Construction has been delayed over finding a suitable location. The final location will be defined and announced by the Universal House of Justice. See also Bahá'í Faith in Chile.
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