'India Perspective' magazine is a monthly published for the Ministry
of External Affairs, New Delhi, by Nirupama Rao, Joint Secretary, External
Publicity Division. It is published in 10 languages (English, French,
Spanish, Arabic, Urdu, Hindi, Portuguese, Russian, Bahasa Indonesia
and German) and has a large circulation. It features articles on Indian
culture, history, traditions and current events.
In the March 2002 issue, the High
Commissioner for India in Kenya, H.E. Raju K. Bhatia has written an
article on the Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Nairobi. It is published
here in full.
with a Message
Text: Rajiv Bhatia
Photographs: L.J. Bharadia
in the world it went, the Indian diaspora carried with it a slice of
India - its cuisine and customs, culture and spirituality. An ongoing
process, this enables people of Indian origin to remain connected with
the land of their ancestors. In East Africa, where the pioneers among
Indian settlers arrived over one hundred years ago, a new thirst for
linkage with India is clearly noticeable. One of its best manifestations
is the BAPS Swaminarayan Temple at the Forest Road in Nairobi.
Inaugurated in August 1999,
it is a temple with a difference. The uniqueness stems from the temple's
innovative mix of religious and spiritual aspects with social, cultural
and educational dimensions - all rooted in the soil of India and presented
to the world under the inspiration of an outstanding sage of the modern
times, His Divine Holiness Pramukh Swami Maharaj.
Kenya has some beautiful Indian temples - the Jain temple in Mombasa,
the SSD temple in Nairobi and the Lakshminarayan temple in Kisumu. The
Swaminarayan temple complex is one of the newest and largest temples
in Kenya and in much of Africa.
temple is situated in the largely Indian-inhabited section of Nairobi.
Its architecture is an attraction by itself. As a national daily put
it, "The Mandir is an architectural gem". And the temple construction
has an interesting tale behind it. Those in charge of the project decided
quite early that the temple be built in the traditional architectural
style of ancient India, complete with shikhars (pinnacles), sthambhas
(pillars) and ghummats (domes). A team from Kenya visited some of the
famous temples and monuments in Rajasthan, Kerala and elsewhere in India
before the temple design was finalised.
For the ground-breaking ceremony, consecrated water from a variety of
sources, the Ganga, Narmada, Sabarmati, Gomati, Ghela, Nile, Lake Victoria
and the Indian Ocean - was used. The planners also took pains to collect
and lay in the foundation, coins in current circulation from 151 countries
around the world. For generations to come this will be a reminder of
the cosmopolitan views of the builders, who form a living link between
the people of India and the people of East Africa.
The temple is a veritable Indo-Kenyan/African enterprise. Its yellow
sandstone, mined in Jaisalmer (Rajasthan), was transported 400 kilometres
away to a village called Pindwada. There, 150 skilled sculptors and
others worked on it to cut and design it, an art that dates back to
centuries. Stone pieces and carvings were thereafter shipped to Mombasa
and then taken by road to Nairobi, to be assembled like a giant jigsaw
On the other hand, wood used in the construction originated in East
Africa. At least 15 container-loads of wood - Elgon Teak, Mvuli, Mahogony
and White Oak - were shipped to India. Craftsmen in 32 different locations
in Gujarat, Maharashtra and Rajasthan worked to sculpt the wood. The
carvings were then taken back and assembled and fitted as per the overall
design. The entire main dome of the temple, the pillars under the main
dome and the walls of the dome are all crafted in wood. The temple's
interior is thus a statement of India's superb craftsmanship. Admirers
of the temple have aptly depicted it as "a wonder in wood."
Another part of the temple complex is the Haveli. It comprises a prayer
hall, kitchen, dining hall, concourse, assembly hall, administrative
offices, gymnasium, dispensary, youth hall and a centre of social services.
The main assembly hall, equipped with a modern public address system,
is increasingly being put to use for the benefit of the larger community.
It has been the venue of major social and cultural events organized
in collaboration with the High Commission of India in Nairobi. Perhaps
the most memorable of them all was the classical music recital by Pandit
Jasraj on March 31, 2001. Over one thousand persons attended it, setting
a record of its own.
Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the temple complex is 'The Exhibition
- Glorious India' laid out over an area of 6000 sq. ft, just below the
temple. The Exhibition is a paean to the glories and achievements of
ancient India. It presents the diversities of the people, historical
monuments, flora and fauna of our land. It emphasises the relevance
of our religious teachings and philosophy to the problems of modern
age - conflict, environmental degradation, AIDS and intolerance - to
name but a few.
The exhibition has been designed and presented in a highly innovative
and attractive style. It has used a variety of media - panels, translites,
photographs, dioramas, fibreglass figures, wood carvings, paper-craft,
glass and mirror work. There are at least five distinct sections: Understanding
Hinduism; India's Contributions: Human Values; Living Culture - Swaminarayan
Sampraday; and Global Values and Global Crises. Each section is packed
with information and visual images fascinate the viewer even as they
compel him to pause and reflect.
visitors to the exhibition, who had never been to India, told this author
of their desire to see India "now that", as one of them put
it, "I have got the preview!" Others who knew India felt that
the exhibition added to their knowledge as well as their pride (if they
were Indians) or their amazement (if they were foreigners). A famous
cardiologist, on a visit from Mumbai, confessed publicly to have been
mesmerised by the display on the Ayurveda and the ancient Indians' knowledge
Designers of the exhibition have been remarkably successful in compiling
comments on India by well-known scholars and others through history.
To quote only one of them - Mark Twain: "In religion and culture,
India is the only millionaire! There is only one India, the land of
dreams and romance, the land all men desire to see, and having seen
once, would not give that glimpse for the shows of all the rest of the
Writing this essay, I cannot help but ponder over the essence of this
extraordinary temple - the mandir with a message. Perhaps it was reflected
in the following lines of age-old wisdom, displayed prominently in the
Take away missiles, man
Take away guns, man shall fight
Take away knives, man shall fight
Take away sticks, man shall fight
with his hands
Take away his hands, man shall fight
with his head
So long as there is a desire to kill
We shall never know peace!
"Hurt no one through
Thought, Word and Deed"