Places of Worship
Symbolism is also significant in the design of the Bahá’í Houses of Worship. Each one has nine sides, with nine gardens, nine paths, and nine doors. Among other meanings, this carries the symbolism that all paths ultimately lead to truth. Each is built to have three tiers, symbolising the world of humanity at the ground level, the world of the Manifestation of God in the vertical section, and the world of God in the topmost tier, which usually carries the invocation, “Ya Bahá u’l-Abhá”! This is referred to as the Greatest Name, and translates as “O Thou Glory of the Most Glorious!” The inaccessibility of this level of the building speaks for itself.
Worship can in principle take place anywhere, but in practice the vast majority of Bahá’í devotional meetings take place either in a private home or in a Bahá’í Centre. In the future, each town or village will have its own Mashriqu’l-Azhkar, or House of Worship. Mashriqu’l-Azhkar literally means “Dawning Place of the Remembrance of God”. The House of Worship should not be considered complete until it has a number of dependencies built round it – such as a care home, a clinic, a library or a hostel.
The House of Worship has nine sides, nine gardens and nine doors, and all the world’s Scriptures are to be read there. The building is open to people of all races and of all religions or none. The first to be built was at Ishqabad (Ashkabad) in what is now Turkmenistan. It was confiscated by the Soviet authorities, and later suffered earthquake damage. There is one Mashriqu’l-Azhkar in each continent at present, with a further one being constructed in Chile. The architecture of some of these buildings is very striking, particularly that of the Chile temple and the one in India. Known locally as the “lotus mandir”, the House of Worship in New Delhi is built on the design of a giant lotus flower, and is reputed to have now become the most visited building in the world. Each of these Houses of Worship has three tiers, representing the world of God (topmost), the world of man (lowest), and the world of the Manifestations of God, connecting man to God.