Earlier this month, I visited India and the United Arab Emirates back to back. This gave me the opportunity to visit two phenomenal places of worship within a week’s time. The first was New Delhi’s Akshardam Temple, the largest Hindu temple complex in the world, which is absolutely stunning with its fine marble work and delicate carvings.
The temple is the creation of 3,000 devoted volunteers who assisted 7,000 skilled artisans. Each dome, pillar, and virtually every other surface of the main monument is covered with exquisite carvings of wildlife and flora indigenous to India, scenes of celebration with dancers and musicians, and of course, images of Hindu deities. This massive structure is constructed entirely from pink sandstone from Rajasthan and Carrara marble, with no support from steel or concrete. Architectural styles from across India were incorporated for a stunning effect.
It’s a must to walk the full way around the monument to take in the Elephant Plinth, a bas-relief honoring the integral role elephants play in India’s history, folklore, and in the Hindu religion. There are nearly 150 life-sized images of elephants (imagine the massive scale) in their roles as workers, warriors, temple attendants, and in the case of Ganesha, as a god.
Equally impressive is the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates.
It’s among the ten largest mosques in the world, and can hold up to 40,000 at prayer time. With its graceful white domes and four towering minarets, some liken the design of the mosque to a fantastical Taj Mahal. And indeed the design is primarily Mughal, like the Taj, but with Moorish elements, as can be seen in the horseshoe shape of the archways:
The finest artisans available were recruited to work with the only finest raw materials to realize this astounding structure. Marble, stone, semi-precious stones, crystals, and ceramics were imported from around the world. It took more than 3,000 workers to complete the mosque. The grandeur and attention to detail is apparent as you approach the main entrance. The courtyard is framed by 1,048 paired columns decorated and crowned with a gold-plated palm tree capital. The effect is akin to walking through a gilded palm orchard.
The mosque boasts no fewer than three Guinness Book of World Records entries. Particularly amazing is the vastness of the largest carpet in the world, a beautiful hand-made Persian carpet, which was crafted by 1200 Iranian women hand-tying over two billion knots!
Other superlatives are the largest chandelier in existence (featuring millions of Swarovski crystals) and the largest mosque dome of its kind in the world at 246 feet high and 105.6 feet in diameter. What is especially remarkable about these two edifices is that ten years ago, neither of them existed! Despite appearances, both are recent products of the 21st century, employing modern technology for the design and planning, but adhering to techniques dating back thousands of years to lovingly handcraft the buildings to near-perfection. As someone who prefers her buildings at least half a millennium old, I find very little to admire in the glass and steel of most contemporary buildings. Seeing these two works of architectural wonder has renewed by faith in the artistic capacity of humankind!
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