Devotees from around the world joined priests in a grand ceremony on Saturday for the foundation stone-laying ceremony for the first Hindu temple in the UAE capital.
The ceremony was conducted in the presence of Mahant Swami Maharaj, president of BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha, a religious and social organisation that will build and manage the temple.
Seated in a large, white tent in Abu Dhabi, about 2,500 people from the region, as well as the US, UK and Africa, repeated verses in the Sanskrit language recited by priests.
The prayers were said for peace, harmony and to sanctify sandstones from India that will form the base of the temple, due to be constructed by next year, The National reported.
As part of the rituals, the priests poured a mixture of water, yoghurt, honey and ghee over a small, gold-plated deity in the centre of the tent.
All the stones were transported from the Indian state of Rajasthan.
“The stone ceremony is a community event that symbolises the spiritual harmony that exists within the UAE,” said Swami Brahmavihari, a senior Hindu priest handling international relations for Baps Swaminarayan Sanstha, the organization building the temple.
Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak, Minister of Tolerance, along with other ministers, diplomats and priests showered flower petals, sprinkled water brought from three rivers in India and placed symbolic stone blocks where the temple's base will be laid.
Once the ceremonies were complete, between 10.50am and 10.55am the foundation stone was laid by priests and BAPS Hindu Mandir committee head and community leader B.R. Shetty. There were some 50 priests who had come from India and were part of the ceremonies.
Temple volunteers said that there was a special orientation conducted where devotees were told details of the ceremony.
The temple will be a cultural complex with an art gallery, halls, library and gym, the report stated, adding that it is not clear when the temple would be completed.
The temple with seven towers representing the seven emirates in the UAE will come up on a 14-acre piece of land at Abu Mureikhah, close to the Abu Dhabi-Dubai highway.
The stones for the temple will be carved by temple artisans in India, and will be assembled in the UAE.
The plan to build the temple in the UAE's capital was approved by the Abu Dhabi government, during Prime Minister Narendra Modi's first visit to the country in 2015.
There are more than 40 churches in the UAE, a Sikh gurdwara and two small Hindu shrines tucked inside buildings in Bur Dubai.
Similar to 1,200 temples built by Baps across the world, the shrine will reflect nature with trees, flowers, peacocks and elephants carved into the panels and Hindu deities and saints within the structure.
The 10.9-hectare site of the temple was a gift from Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces.
(With inputs from agencies)