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Bahá'í House of Worship at New Delhi

Date of Submission: 15/04/2014
Criteria: (i)(iv)(vi)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Perment Delegation of India to UNESCO
State, Province or Region:
New Delhi
Coordinates: N28.553492 E77.258826
Ref.: 5921

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The Baha’i House of Worship in New Delhi is the Mother Temple of Baha’i faith in the Indian subcontinent. It is an edifice eminently and elegantly distinctive in its design, and uniquely inspirational in its purpose: to represent the Oneness of God, the Oneness of all Religions, and the Oneness of Mankind, the guiding tenets of Baha’i faith.

Expressionist in style and spectacular in its architectural and structural and ingenuity, the House of Worship takes its inspiration from the exquisite lotus flower - a symbol of beauty, purity and divinity intimately associated with worship and a common strand running through the symbolism of many religions in India as well as their international sects and manifestations.

The nine-sided , House of Worship Composed from 45 petals of white exposed concrete “Shell Structure” soaring to a height of more than 34 meters and adorned with shimmering white marble external cladding, sits majestically on 27 acres of beautifully landscaped gardens, located in southern New Delhi. Designed by Iranian-Canadian architect Fariborz Sahba, the House of Worship (popularly called the Lotus Temple), consists of five sets of leaves or petals (3 external and 2 internal sets) each set consisting of 9 thin cast-in-place-jointless concrete shells.  The outermost set of nine petals, called the entrance leaves, opens outwards and forms the nine entrances all around the outer hall.  The next set of nine petals, or outer leaves, points inwards. The entrance and outer leaves together cover the outer hall.  The third set of nine petals, called the inner leaves, appears to be partly closed.  Only the tips open out, somewhat like a partly opened bud.  This portion, which rises above the rest, forms the main structure housing the 2 sets of nine petals each thin shell structures called interior dome which houses central prayer hall, which seats 1,300.

The external petals are clad with double-curved white Pentelikon marble, the same grade of marble that was used in the building of the Parthenon in Greece.

All around the Temple are walkways with beautiful curved balustrades, bridges and stairs that surround the nine pools representing the floating leaves of the lotus. The utilization of natural light within the prayer hall, along with the pools as a water feature, serve as the two fundamental elements that accentuate the majesty of the Temple, and lend an atmosphere of natural beauty and serenity.

An adjunct of the main building is its ancillary building which houses offices, conference hall and library.

The complex also includes an interesting museum complex which displays documents and information about the ideas behind the design as well as extra ordinary and unique Structural innovative techniques and primitive tools used for its construction. It also displays love and universal participation of thousands who made its construction possible.

This “Taj Mahal of the 20th century” as the House of Worship has become widely known, was inaugurated in 1986.  Welcoming more than 100 million visitors over the last 27 years, it is recognized as one of the most-visited monuments in the world. Under its dome, the thousands of daily visitors of diverse religious backgrounds and nationalities offer their silent prayers, side by side, to the one Creator of all humanity. In the midst of a bustling urban environment teeming with more than 18 million souls, it offers itself as a verdant haven of tranquility to those who enter its portals.

In the 27 years since its inauguration, the Baha’i House of Worship has been recognized as “one of the masterpieces of 20th-century”, and has won many international awards including the following:

  • First Honor award from the Interfaith Forum on Religious Art and Architecture, Affiliate of the American Institute of Architects, Washington, D.C. (1987)
  • Gold medal from the Institution of Structural Engineers of the United Kingdom (1987)
  • The Paul Waterbury Outdoor Lighting Design Award – Special Citation, from the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America (1988)
  • Recognition from the American Concrete Institute as “one of the finest concrete structures of the world “(1990)

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

The Baha’i House of Worship at New Delhi stands in testimony to the efforts of the Baha’is community of Indian subcontinent towards the promotion of communal harmony. An independent worldwide religion, the Baha’i Faith recognizes the unity of God, the unity of all religions, and the unity of mankind.  A true cross-section of humanity, adherents of the Baha’i Faith, who currently number about six million globally, come from virtually every nation, ethnic group, culture, profession and socio-economic class.

Multi-faith prayer services feature readings and chanting from the Holy Writings from all major world religions, in recognition of the universal spiritual essence of all Faiths. There are no clergy or rituals associated with the Baha’i Faith, and the Temple is reserved solely for silent prayer and meditation.

Against the pluralistic backdrop of India’s religious milieu and in a country of immense diversity, the Baha’i Temple incorporates one universal symbol of Lotus respected by most religions worldwide and is the only place of worship which gathers all the people under the one dome as a unique beacon of harmony, a place for worship and prayer without distinction of race, nationality, religion or caste. Even though the House of Worship is a modern architectural work of the 20th century, its roots go deep into the ancient culture and religious symbolism of Indian civilization.

More importantly, there are no similarly well known lotus shaped structures across the world. The Baha’i Temple is an exceptional building that beautifully combines the physical beauty of this form to religious and spiritual emancipation, including none of the other six Baha’i Houses of Worship across the world.

The Baha’i Temple has received many national and international awards and accolades for its unique design and symbolism. It has been declared a ‘Symbol of Communal Harmony’ in the international Incredible India campaign conducted by the Ministry of Tourism, Govt. of India. Among the more notable international honours, the House of Worship received the international GlobArt Academy Award (Vienna Austria) for “promoting the unity and harmony of people of all nations, religions and social strata, to an extent unsurpassed by any other architectural monument worldwide” in the year 2000 CE. It was also recognized as an ‘outstanding achievement of the time’ in the ‘Architecture’ section of the 1994 edition of Encyclopaedia Britannica.

The Bahá'í House of Worship provides opportunities for children, junior youth, youth and adults to participate in spiritual classes for their overall growth and development. It also houses institutions of higher learning for intellectual training of the youth in order to prepare them for meaningful participation in social discourses, and to be of service in their local communities.

Such efforts at contributing to society and promoting unity in diversity, serve to justify that the Baha’i House of Worship is of Outstanding Universal Value in the community.

Criterion (i): The ancient, multi-religious Indian symbol of the lotus has been used to create a monument of ethereal beauty that belies the complex geometry underlying its execution in concrete. Twentieth–century architecture is characterized by a high degree of technological prowess. The House of Worship provides one of the rare exceptions with its remarkable fusion of ancient concept, modern engineering skill, and architectural inspiration, making it the focus of attention amongst engineers and architects the world over. In the absence of sophisticated equipment, the extremely complex design called for the highest order of engineering ingenuity to be implemented by means of traditional workmanship.

From the design phase through construction, the process took nearly a decade. Much of the Temple was built using traditional building methods and tools and equipment.  Forty engineers and around 800 skilled and unskilled laborers from different parts of the country, including many women, who worked day and night, took part in the raising up of the complicated and perfect white exposed- concrete shell structure in the world.

The marble used to cover the petals was quarried from the Mount Pentelikon mines in Greece and thereafter sent to Italy, where each panel was cut to the required size and shape before being transported to the site at Delhi. Once on site, the 10,000 pieces of marble, each a slightly-different size, were assembled like a giant jigsaw puzzle.

Indeed, in 1990, the Bahá'í Temple has been recognized by the American Concrete Institute as “one of the finest concrete structures of the World”. In September 1991, John Bland, Head, School of Architecture, McGill University remarked that “The building must be among the most remarkable conceptions of our time. I cannot think of another like it – clearly symbolic, sculptural – yet impressively accommodating and heroically structural. Truly inspired in form, pattern and material, it is powerfully appealing”. Arthur Erickson, renowned Canadian architect wrote “One of the most remarkable achievements of our time, proving that the drive and vision of spirit can achieve miracles”.

Criterion (iv): The Baha’i House of Worship is an outstanding example of a religious congregation hall illustrative of the propagation of Baha’i faith, a world religion that is uniquely inspirational in its purpose and represents ‘Unity in Diversity’ in the times of many social conflicts across the world.

Though funded entirely from voluntary contributions within the Baha’i community, the House of Worship is considered as a gift offered to all humanity. The value of the Baha’i House of Worship does not lie solely in its beauty; the symmetry of the architecture is not sufficient to immortalize a building. The uniqueness of this building is the response that it evokes in the hearts of the people.

Built as a symbol of unity and dedicated to the worship and praise of the Creator of all religions, it provides a unifying link in a land of myriad religions. It brings divergent thoughts into harmony by virtue of its principle of oneness - oneness of God, religion and mankind. This perhaps, is the secret of its unabated and ever-increasing popularity.

Criterion (vi): The Baha’i House of Worship is directly associated with the Baha’i World Faith uniquely inspirational in its purpose: to represent the Oneness of God, the Oneness of all Religions, and the Oneness of Mankind, a truly universal aspiration.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

Being that the House of Worship is a modern piece of architecture, built just 27 years ago, it exists today in essentially its original, unchanged form. Hence, it is reasonable to believe that all aspects of Authenticity and Integrity of the Temple are intact.

It’s structure and specified building material follow relevant risk preparedness codes and standards, and are aimed to last at least 400 years withstanding earthquakes, tornadoes, wind pressure and storms. It is subject to regularly scheduled maintenance and has had no structural issues.

As both a wonder of its age and as an iconic representation of a symbol very close to the hearts of Indians, the Lotus Temple has been described, drawn, painted  and photographed in infinite detail throughout its existence. Original plans, drawings and documentation relating to its design and building are in existence and permit the original design to be compared in exacting detail with the Temple that can be seen today.

Comparison with other similar properties

The Baha’i House of Worship is comparable to the following World Heritage Sites:

Bahá’i Holy Places in Haifa and the Western Galilee, Israel

Inscribed for their profound spiritual meaning and the testimony they bear to the strong tradition of pilgrimage in the Baha’i faith, the inscribed property includes the two most holy places in the religion, the shrine of Baha’u’llah in Acre and the Shrine of Bab in Haifa, that are associated with the founders of the religion. The Baha’i House of Worship in New Delhi is a symbol of propagation of Baha’i faith in the Indian subcontinent and only one of 6 such houses worldwide. The building has distinct OUV in its architectural form as well.

The Sydney Opera House, Australia

The Sydney Opera House is also a remarkable architectural work of the 20th century CE that brought together creativity and innovation in both architectural form and structural design. It has had an enduring influence on architecture and marked a radically new approach to construction, with the Sydney Opera House comprising of three groups of interlocking vaulted shells. The Baha’i House of Worship in New Delhi has had a similar influence in architecture and is world renowned for innovation in its design and construction techniques. That it has a strong cultural symbolism only adds to its OUV.

Vis-à-vis its design, there are not many renowned structures that have been built in the form of a lotus though there are a few exceptions like the ArtScience Museum at Singapore, which is a city level recreational centre. Despite being modeled upon a lotus, it is referred to as ‘the Welcoming Hand of Singapore’ since it also resembles an open hand. There are no other examples of renown that can be compared to the Baha’i House of Worship at New Delhi.