Modern Temples and Other
Sacred Sites
of India
in Delhi, Jaipur, and Varanasi


The following photographs are of the Lakshmi Narayan Mandir
(better known as the Birla Temple, from its builder's name)
in New Delhi.  Built in 1938, this impressive site is the
largest Hindu temple built in India since the twelfth century CE.
Despite what you may read in travel books, non-Hindus
are welcome in many if not most modern Hindu temples
(though their shoes and other leather goods are not).


    (viewed from the back)

Ganesha, the Remover of Obstacles (god of good fortune)
greets the visitor just inside the entrance and to the left.  The
first prayers are directed to him, in order to make subsequent
prayers to the other deities more effectual.

Ganesha's father, Lord Shiva, has a shrine inside this temple,
as does one of Shiva's consorts, Durga, who is often seen
riding a tiger (as here) or a lion.


But this temple is dedicated to Lakshmi, consort of Vishnu,
so not surprisingly one sees more shrines to her and to one
or another of Vishnu's avatars (incarnations) -- such as
Krishna, pictured with the flute.


Extremely popular in modern Hindu piety is Hanuman,
the general of the monkey army who aids King Rama (another of
Vishnu's avatars) in the ancient epic, the Ramayana, and is
later promoted to the status of deity.

Hindus regard Siddhartha Gautama (aka "the Buddha") as the ninth
avatar of Vishnu, so it is not surprising to find an image of him
in this temple.  There are also images of Nanak Dev, founder of
Sikhism, and of some of his more important guru successors.
Again Hindus regard Sikhism as merely a sect of their own
faith rather than as a separate religion.

The following images are of two other modern sacred
sites in Delhi.  The first two are of the memorialized
cremation site of Mahatma Gandhi (the serene ambience
of which is not unlike that at the Peace Park in

The Hindi words inscribed here are Hai Ram, "Oh God,"
reportedly Gandhi's last words after being shot by
his assassin.

Another modern sacred site in Delhi is the Baha'i
Lotus Temple.  Its twenty-seven "petals," which
grace its nine sides, are made of white Italian marble.

Visitors are welcomed at the entrance and invited inside,
but cautioned to keep silent out of respect for the place.
As at all Baha'i temples, donations are neither solicited
nor accepted from non-members of the faith.


Over 10,000 people visit this site daily, including many
Hindus who know little or nothing about Baha'i, but merely
appreciate the architectural splendor and perhaps the
serenity of this place.  The following photo shows a
typical day, with the colorful crowd of visitors (as seen
from the level of the temple and looking back
toward the entrance).

Another impressive sacred site in Delhi is of this
rather new fifty-foot standing Shiva, located on a
busy city street.



A six-hour drive to the west of Delhi is Jaipur,
the so-called "Pink City," in the state of Rajasthan.
Not far from the Hotel Taj Rambagh is a modern
temple dedicated to the goddess Lakshmi,
consort of Vishnu.  The following images capture
its awesome affect at night.


Inside, the images of Vishnu and Lakshmi
dominate the central holy of holies,
with the sacred Sanskrit syllable OM
as their backdrop.  Vishnu holds his
usual symbols: discus, mace, conch
shell, and lotus.  Lakshmi holds only
the lotus, while giving the mudra
(hand gesture) for reassurance
with her right hand.

As is the case with all Hindu temples,
this is an eclectic place in that it does not
exclude images of other deities.  The following
photos actually shows the holy couple,
Vishnu and Lakshmi, shunted to one side
to make room for Lord Ganesha, who is the
son of Shiva.  To the right is an image of Sai Baba,
a great teacher of the oneness of God and the unity
of all religions, who died in 1918.  Since then,
he himself has become an object of religious
devotion.  As one shopkeeper in Agra said of him, in
response to a question about the saint's picture
above the cash register, "He is our god."

Outside the temple, in a little cupola, a
seated Lord Shiva greets visitors, holding his
usual trident and drum, sporting a symbolic
serpent, and raising a hand in a
mudra of reassurance.


Speaking of Shiva. . .

His special city is


On the campus of Benares Hindu University in the
city of Varanasi (Benares) sits a modern temple
dedicated to Lord Shiva, where his many symbols
are prevalent.

Outside, visitors are greeted by a standing Lord Shiva.
(The swastikas above him are ancient Indian symbols
of spirituality and have nothing to do with Nazism.)
Above an entrance to the inner sanctum is a Shiva
Nataraja, that is, Shiva as "Lord of the Royal Dance."


The inner sanctum itself is dominated by the lingam,
the phallic-symbol of Shiva that indicates that he is
a lord of life as well as of death.  The attending priest
receives the worshippers, who come to pay darshan,
literally, a "viewing."   The brass container above
bathes the lingam with a mixture of milk and
Ganges River water.

In one side chamber there is another image of Shiva
and one of his son, Ganesha, and in another, an
ornate lingam.  The flowers and other gifts
are left by devotees.

Outside the temple reclines Nandi, the sacred bull
associated with Shiva and a deity in his own right.



Delhi Briefly Revisited

Though hardly sacred sites, many if not most hotels
in India sport gods and goddesses in their lobbies.
Pictured below is Dr. Laughlin's wife, Randy, posing
next to an eight-foot-tall Shiva Nataraja in the lobby
of the magnificent Taj Palace Hotel in Delhi.
The second photo details Lord Shiva's face.


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