Sunday, December 23, 2007

The EME Temple in Baroda

Image courtesy a French blogger who's been traveling in India for a few months, it seems.

In 1965 the Electrical & Mechanical Engineering Corps of the Indian Army, under the direction of a retired Brigadier-General, built a unique structure in the Army Cantonment near Baroda: a temple incorporating elements from all the major religions of the world.

The EME Temple is a popular tourist destination, and is set in a quiet shady grove of five banyan trees (panchavati, the idyllic setting for an ashram). The structure itself is unique, dominated by an aluminum geodesic dome, and a tall spire. The gateways (in the shape of an Asoka leaf) represent Jainism; the dome, Islam; the spire, Christianity [a church steeple]; the pagoda like structure atop the spire, Buddhism; Sikhism is not at all. The structure itself is a Hindu temple, dedicated to Shiv, in the aspect of Dakshinamurthy, the south-facing god, who imparts knowledge and wisdom (of the Transcendent, the Ultimate) to the seeker. Surrounding the temple are shrines to a variety of Hindu deities: Durga, Krishna and Ganesha, as well as an artificial cave, a replica of the cave at Amarnath, with an ice-covered lingam. In the gardens are dozens of beautiful temple sculptures, ranging in age from the 8th to the 12th centuries, in various states of preservation, from around the country.

Photography isn't permitted (it is on Army grounds after all. Besides, Indians love prohibiting photography at the slightest provocation.), so I don't recall details from the plaque. The aim is to promote religious harmony and understanding. While this is immensely laudatory, the approach is uniquely Hindu: absorb various cosmetic elements of other religious traditions into a structure that is, and remains, Hindu. The philosophy: that every religion is simply a path, an expression or manifestation of the ineffable Divine, and essentially the same, is not just modern post-Christian secular, but also Hindu (there are significant differences between the two perspectives, of course). The core of revealed religion -- of a transcendent Deity who reveals himself to human beings out of love, rather than the Deity who is glimpsed at the end of a long and arduous mystical or philosophical search by man -- is completely missing.

Besides, I'm not entirely sure that a Muslim would be content in having Islam reduced to a dome, in a structure with an idol at the center; and as a Christian, the preeminent symbol of Christianity is the Cross, in all its scandalous particularity, not a church steeple which is entirely incidental.

In attempting to promote social harmony between the followers of the world's religions, the temple (or rather, its builders; incidentally, the retired Brigadier who designed this was a Christian!) assumes that the only way to combat religious violence is to ignore the differences between the world's religions, and, more than this, to subsume all these differences under one banner, that of Hinduism.

With all due respect, I disagree.

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