Baha’i Temple: A place of prayer without preachers
Posted Saturday, June 28 2014 at 01:00
Peaceful environment. The temple boasts of a spacious compound with trees that create a unique fragrance of pure purity, adding onto the sense of peace one feels while in this place.
The Baha’i house of worship, or temple as many know it, is a site with many attractions. It has a rich history that dates back to 1957 when its construction first began and in 1961 when it was opened to the public. This makes it about 53 years old now. Unlike other numerous structures, this house of worship has stood the test of time, with minimal renovation work, apart from routine cleaning of the dome and roof tiles, according to James Shimenya, the temple assistant.
The only one of its kind in Uganda, the Baha’i temple is the faith’s mother temple in Africa. The facility sits on about 45 acres of land, at the summit of Kikaaya Hill, one and half kilometers off the Gayaza Road in Kanyanya. From that spot, you get a clear unobstructed view of Kisaasi and Ntinda suburbs in the northern valley, the distant Naguru Hill with its distinct masts, as well as Muyenga Tank Hill, in the east. On the south, the tree canopies obstruct the view of Kawempe and in much the same way as they do Kyebando in the western direction.
Few of the kind
There are only six other similar temples in the world, located in America, Samoa, India, Panama, Australia and West Germany. They all have dome shaped tops, though each has its own distinct architectural design.
The temple is about 124 feet high, with a circular green dome that is 44 feet in diameter. This dome is made of mosaic tiles which make it appear to be made of millions of small tiles that were fitted together with utmost decorative skill and precision to create an awesome picture. The tiles were imported from Italy, while the lower roof tiles are from Belgium. The reinforcing steel, window frames and fittings came from Britain, while the coloured glass is from West Germany. Only the pre-cast stone used for the walls was quarried in Uganda. This was because, according to the temple director, who only identifies himself simply as Kibrab, quality was a guarantee and perfection a necessity in the construction. The green of the mosaic and lower roof tiles was chosen to match with that of the grass in the compound, embracing a true feel of nature.
The nine-sided artefact symbolises oneness and unity, one of the Baha’i principles. This is because, according to Kibrab, in Arabic, each letter has a numerical value and the letters of the figure nine, form the word unity.
The temple has nine doors, corresponding to its nonagonal shape, and has a sitting capacity of 800 people. The inside of the temple is so spacious and the quietness and calm that envelope you as you enter into the house conjure an image of sacred ground. The wooden pews all face towards one direction, supposedly the front of the temple, which one cannot tell from the outside.
“There is no sign of an altar or pulpit as no rituals or preaching are conducted in this faith,” says Kibrab. The shelves at the front and behind the pews are stacked with books containing the divine quotations and information about the faith.
The coloured glass on the windows lets in a bright illumination of the sun in the different shades of blue and green, creating a fun experience with this optical nutrition, in accordance with the decorative pattern of arrangement of the glass that forms figures. There are also some Arabic inscriptions at particular points on the inside walls, which were unexplained by our temple guide. Unfortunately, no photography is allowed inside the temple by the administration.
Outside, it is surrounded by an expansive compound that is embroidered with numerous trees of different species like cyprus, pine, eucalyptus and jacaranda. These create a serene appearance that harmonises both the spiritual world and nature. They create a unique fragrance of pure purity, adding to the sense of peace one feels while in this place.
The temple cemetery is yet another attraction because of the neat organisation of the tombs, with one shaped in the map of Africa. “He was a Ugandan, but travelled to West Africa and other parts of Africa, introducing the faith of the Baha’is there,” Kibrab says of the person buried there, but refused to mention his name. Other tombs are of other extraordinary shapes and sizes too. There are round and square graves, supposedly of little children. The giant tomb in the centre is said to be of one of the very first Ugandan Baha’i converts and devotees, when the faith had just been introduced. Other tombs are shaped normally, though with marble epitaphs on each. The anonymity of the deceased is reserved as a sign of respect.
The green cover of the compound is maintained by a team that works tirelessly to keep the place spotless.
Most people come to take photographs, including wedding couples, while others simply meditate or read their books under the cool shades of the trees. The temple receives about 60 visitors daily and is a perfect location for those seeking a spiritual renewal, by reading some quotations from the Masriqu’l-Adkan, the holy Baha’i book, or from your own Bible or Koran.
Visiting the temple
How to get there
Transport fare. It costs one about Shs1,500 from the city centre to Kanyanya in a taxi, and an extra Shs1,000 on a boda boda to the temple’s main gate.
The visitors. The place is open to visitors from all walks of life, both local and international from 8am to 5pm daily, who are attracted by the prevailing peace and quiet.
The Bahá’í Faith
The Bahá’í Faith is a monotheistic religion emphasising the spiritual unity of all humankind. Three core principles establish a basis for Bahá’í teachings and doctrine: the unity of God, that there is only one God who is the source of all creation; the unity of religion, that all major religions have the same spiritual source and come from the same God; and the unity of humanity, that all humans have been created equal, and that diversity of race and culture are seen as worthy of appreciation and acceptance. According to their teachings, the human purpose is to learn to know and love God through such methods as prayer, reflection and being of service to humanity. It was founded by Bahá’u’lláh (pictured) in the 19th-century Persia, present day Iran.