Baháʼí Faith in India

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The Baháʼí House of Worship in Delhi, commonly referred to as the Lotus Temple, has won numerous architectural awards.

The Baháʼí Faith is an independent world religion that originated in 19th century Iran, with an emphasis on the spiritual unity of mankind.[1][2] Although it came from Islamic roots, its teachings on the unity of religion and its acknowledgement of Krishna as a divine Manifestation of God have created a bridge between religious traditions that is accepting of Hinduism.[3]

During the lifetime of its founder, Baháʼu'lláh, several Baháʼís settled in Mumbai, and the community in India remained relatively small but active for its first 100 years, with its own publishing company, teaching projects, national institutions, and material translated into several Indian languages.[4][5] Baháʼís in India were mostly urban and of an Islamic or Zoroastrian background until teaching efforts in the 1960s gained numerous enrollments in rural areas, initially in the state of Madhya Pradesh.[6][7] By the mid-1990s the Baháʼí community of India claimed a membership of 2 million,[8] the highest of any country, though the active participation was only about 5% in 2001,[9] the lowest of any region, and rural Baháʼís are counted as Hindus on the census,[10][11] which only registered 4,572 Baháʼís in 2011.[12]

New Delhi's Lotus Temple is a Baháʼí House of Worship that opened in 1986 and has become a major tourist attraction that draws over 2.5 million visitors a year and over 100,000 visitors a day,[13] making it one of the most visited attraction in the world.[1] In 2021, construction began on a local House of Worship in Bihar Sharif.[14]

The Indian Baháʼí community is overseen by a national Spiritual Assembly, a nine-member body elected annually at a convention of delegates. There are also elected regional and local councils that run teaching and consolidation at the state and local levels, and four appointed Baháʼí Continental Counsellors have jurisdiction over India.[15]

Baháʼí community life in India is similar to that of Baháʼís elsewhere in the world. Communal study of Baháʼí scripture is done in classes designed for children, youth, or adults. Prayer meetings, along with celebrations of Baháʼí Feasts and Holy Days, the observance of the fast and other social behavior, are all practiced to varying degrees. Baháʼí teachers in India generally approach Baháʼí practices gradually and do not require converts to abandon traditional patterns of behavior, though no distinctions based on caste are recognized.[16]

Baháʼís in India have developed a number of educational institutions, some organized by the national Baháʼí organization, and others run by individual Baháʼís, known as "Baháʼí-inspired".[17] For example, the New Era High School is an example of the former, and the Barli Development Institute for Rural Women is an example of the latter.[18] Other educational institutions in India are designed to teach the Baháʼí Faith directly, such as Indore Teaching Institute, which was established in 1962 during mass-teaching to help consolidate and train new Baháʼís in remote villages.[17]

History[edit]

Bábí period[edit]

The roots of the Baháʼí Faith in India go back to the time of the Báb in 1844.[19] Four Babís are known from India in this earliest period.[20] The first was Sa'id Hindi, one of the Letters of the Living. When the Báb planned to go to Hajj, he instructed Sa’id Hindi to go to the Indian subcontinent and preach the message to the people of India.[21] The second was only known as Qahru'llah. Two other very early Bábís were Sa'in Hindi and Sayyid Basir Hindi. Additionally, four other Indians are listed among the 318 Bábís who fought at the Battle of Fort Tabarsi.[4] There is little evidence of any contact from these early Indian Bábís back to their homeland.

Early Baháʼí period (1863-1892)[edit]

During Baháʼu'lláh's lifetime, as founder of the religion, he encouraged some of his followers to move to India,[22] which Hájí Sayyid Mírzá and Sayyid Muhammad did. Hájí Sayyid Mahmúd also traded in Mumbai.

These individuals were very successful as general merchants and commission agents but it wasn't until the 1870s that the religion spread beyond the small network of mostly Iranian expatriates in Mumbai and northern India.[23][24] A Baháʼí teacher was asked for and Jamál Effendi, also known as Sulayman Khan, was sent approximately in 1875. He became the leading figure of teaching efforts across the subcontinent, lasting over a decade, that brought in hundreds of new Baha'is, changing the community to a more diverse and widespread group.[24][4] Jamál Effendi was trained as a Sufi mystic and dressed accordingly, giving him prestige among Indian Muslims.[24] He eventually settled in Burma and established a community of Baháʼís there.[23]

Around 1882 Mírzá Ibrahím, a relative of the Báb, helped establish the world's first Baháʼí printing and publishing company in Mumbai, the Násirí Press.[4] The Book of Certitude and The Secret of Divine Civilization were both published in 1882 using lithography.[25][4]

Later colonial era (1892-1948)[edit]

ʻAbdu'l-Bahá, after being appointed to lead the faith in 1892, desired to visit India after his visit to America and Europe, but couldn't due to poor health. He sent further emissaries in his stead – both Persian and American.[25]

Professor Pritam Singh is believed to be the first member of the Sikh community in India to accept the Baháʼí Faith, and the first to publish a Baháʼí weekly magazine in India. He learned of the religion from Mirzá Mahmud soon after his graduation from the University of Calcutta in 1904.[19] By 1908 the Baháʼí pioneers and representatives of ʻAbdu'l-Bahá, then head of the religion, had produced functioning communities in Mumbai, Calcutta, Aligarh and Lahore.[25] Narayenrao Rangnath Shethji is believed to be the first convert from Hindu background. Better known as Vakil, he was born in a well-known Hindu family in Nawsari. He became a Baháʼí in 1909. He learnt about the Bahá'í Faith from Mirzá Mahram.[19] Representatives of the Indian Zoroastrian community had been sent to Persia to help their coreligionists. There they came into contact with the religion and supported its activities. Later, several Iranian Zoroastrian converts to the religion traveled to Mumbai (notably Mulla Bahram Akhtar-Khavari) and actively promulgated their new religion among local Zoroastrians.[25]

Nationally coordinated activities reached a peak with the December 1920 with the first all-India Baháʼí convention, held in Mumbai for three days. Representatives from India's major religious communities were present as well as Baha'i delegates from throughout the country. The resolutions arrived at included the collection of funds to build a Baha'i temple, the establishment of a Baha'i school and the growth of teaching and translation work[25]—goals reached before the end of the century (see below).

Mayor of Mumbai, Nagindas Master attended a Baha'i programme in 1944.

Following the passing of ʻAbdu'l-Bahá, Shoghi Effendi was appointed head of the religion and he soon set about the formation of the first round of National Spiritual Assemblies in the world in 1923 and India's was in that first wave.[26] In 1930 notable Baháʼí and world traveler Martha Root made an extensive trip through India.[27] The first Baháʼí summer school was able to be held in Simla in 1938 and in 1941 three new local communities with functioning Local Spiritual Assemblies had been established: Hyderabad, Kota and Bangalore. These activities reached a peak with occasional awareness of the social leaders in India like Mahatma Gandhi.[28] In 1944, Indian Baháʼí community consisted of twenty-nine Local Spiritual Assemblies.[25]

By the end of World War II, there were around 2,000 Baháʼís in South Asia.[29]

Through the first half of the twentieth century, the Baháʼís continue to grow with a focus away from the large cities. The Baháʼí Faith had the notable achievement of the conversion of Kishan Lal Malviya, a scheduled caste leader from Shajapur (a district northeast of Ujjain), and of Dayaram Malviya, another scheduled caste leader, setting the stage for a rural dynamic of growth called "mass teaching." Shirin Fozdar also rose to prominence and served as a member of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baháʼís of India from 1936 to 1951. Her main area of work from 1925 to 1950 was in a large community of Untouchables or Harijans in Ahmedabad.[30]

Mass-teaching (1960-1992)[edit]

Baháʼís in South Asia were predominantly urban and of an Islamic or Zoroastrian background until the 1960s.[7] In 1961, there were 850 Baháʼís in India, mostly urban.[citation needed] Various social and religious forces encouraged a broader outreach and a time of intensive missionary work, or mass teaching.[25] The Baháʼí teachings were adapted for presentation to a clearly Hindu context familiar to the people of the countryside, using principles and language familiar to them:[25]

  • the presentation of Baháʼu'lláh as the Kalki Avatar who according to the Vishnu Purana will appear at the end of the Kali Yuga for the purpose of reestablishing an era of righteousness
  • emphasizing the figures of Buddha and Krishna as past Manifestations of God or Avatars
  • references to Hindu scriptures such as the Bhagavad Gita
  • the substitution of Sanskrit-based terminology for Arabic and Persian where possible (i.e., Bhagavan Baha for Baháʼu'lláh), and the incorporation in both song (bhajan)[31] and literature of Hindu holy places, hero-figures and poetic images
  • Hindi translations of Baháʼí scriptures and prayers that appeared during this period which are so heavily Sanskritized as to make it difficult to recognize their non-Hindu antecedents

Together with the teaching of the unity of humanity these approaches attracted many of the lower castes.[32] Also, in contrast to the case of the Neo-Buddhist movement, no effort was made to denounce Hinduism.[25] In short order most of a tiny village of some 200 people converted to the Baháʼí Faith en masse.[25] The following year hundreds of people adopted the religion thanks to an open air conference where speeches could be heard. In two more years almost as many people converted as had been Baháʼís through regions of Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat.[citation needed]

During this period of growth, six conferences held in October 1967 around the world presented a viewing of a copy of the photograph of Baháʼu'lláh as part of the commemoration of the centenary of Baháʼu'lláh's writing of the Suriy-i-Mulúk (Tablet to the Kings). After a meeting in Edirne (Adrianople), Turkey, the Hands of the Cause travelled to the conferences, "each bearing the precious trust of a photograph of the Blessed Beauty [Baháʼu'lláh], which it will be the privilege of those attending the Conferences to view." Hand of the Cause Abul-Qasim Faizi conveyed this photograph to the Conference for Asia in India.[33][better source needed]

Modern India (1992-present)[edit]

1992 was the 100th anniversary of Baha'u'llah's death, and was commemorated by the second Baháʼí World Congress in New York. The event was attended by about 30,000 Baháʼís, the largest ever gathering of Baháʼís up to that time.[34] The event was broadcast live to eight notable centers of Baháʼís around the world, one of which was New Delhi.[34]

Statistics[edit]

In 1961 there were 850 Baháʼís in India.[citation needed] In 1963, 65,000 people, mainly from scheduled castes and rural areas of Gwalior, declared themselves Baháʼís.[25] By 2000, Baháʼís in India claimed a Baháʼí population of between 1.7 million and over 2 million,[citation needed] which would make India's Baháʼí community the largest in the world. According to 2005 data from the Association of Religion Data Archives, there were about 1,880,700 Baháʼís, and 1,898,000 in 2010, though official government censuses recorded 5,574 Baháʼís in 1991,[11] 11,324 in 2001,[35] and 4,572 Baháʼís in 2011.[12] In a 1997 research paper, William Garlington noted that the official Baháʼí figure of 2 million adherents was based on the number of people who had at some point declared themselves Baháʼís, not the number of active participants in the Baháʼí community.[25]

Warburg's research[edit]

Margit Warburg is a Danish sociologist who studied the Baháʼí faith for 25 years.[36] She believes that the World Christian Encyclopedia is not a reliable source of data on Baháʼí membership, and she produced her own analysis of Baháʼís in regions of the world, with a focus on India, based on the number of localities, Local Spiritual Assemblies, fund contributions, and other activity data.[37] She estimated that in 2001 there were reliably 100,000 active Baháʼís in India, representing 5% of the 1.9 million enrolled, noting that, "The number of adherents who are active participants in their local Baha'i communities, of course, will always be smaller than the number of registered Baha'is." By contrast, she found that worldwide the activity rate was 18%, and in some western countries as high as 91%.[37]

Lotus Temple[edit]

The Baháʼí House of Worship in Delhi.

The Lotus Temple, located in Delhi, is a Baháʼí House of Worship that was dedicated in December 1986.[38] Notable for its flowerlike shape, it has become a prominent attraction in the city. Like all Baháʼí Houses of Worship, the Lotus Temple is open to all, regardless of religion or any other qualification. The building is composed of 27 free-standing marble-clad "petals" arranged in clusters of three to form nine sides, with nine doors opening onto a central hall with a height of slightly over 34.27 metres and a capacity of 2,500 people. The Lotus Temple has won numerous architectural awards and has been featured in many newspaper and magazine articles. In 2001, CNN reporter Manpreet Brar referred to it as the most visited building in the world.[39]

Plans for Bihar Sharif House of Worship[edit]

In 2012, the Universal House of Justice announced the locations of the first local Baháʼí Houses of Worship that would be built. One of the specified locations was in Bihar Sharif, Bihar, India.[40] In April 2020, the design for the Bihar Sharif House of Worship was unveiled.[41] In February 2021, a groundbreaking ceremony for the temple was held.[14]

Educational institutions[edit]

Rabbani Baháʼí School, in Gwalior, operated from 1977 to 2016.

The Baháʼís in India run several educational programs that are open to people of any religious background.[42] Many are in rural areas that focus on the vocational development of women, teaching marketable skills such as sewing and agriculture, as well as advancement in academics, hygiene, consultation, and spiritual qualities.[43][42] Some of the educational institutions integrate the Baháʼí teachings and the functioning of Baháʼí communities. The programs in India usually follow the model of training villagers in a way that they can return to their village and teach others.[42]

Some examples are:

  • The New Era High School in Panchgani, is a private internationalist Baháʼí school, drawing students from all over the world and is under the supervision of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baháʼís of India. It was founded in August 1945, and was one of the first Baháʼí education projects in India.[citation needed]
  • The Barli Development Institute for Rural Women in Indore, is a Baháʼí-inspired educational project, independent of the Baháʼí organization of India. It offers training in agriculture, literacy, health, and nutrition for rural women,[18] and serves as a base for outreach/non-residential training centers. It was founded in 1985 under the suggestion of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baháʼís of India,[44] and in 1992 it won a Global 500 Environmental Action Award.[42] The institute was recently profiled as part of a documentary on the religion.[45]
  • The City Montessori School in Lucknow, is the largest private school in the world, with 20 branches offering K-12 education. It was started by a Baháʼí couple and integrates Baháʼí principles such as academic excellence, globalism, and interfaith harmony.[46][47]
  • The Baháʼí Academy is an institution based in Panchgani, in the state of Maharashtra.[48]
  • The Rabbani Baháʼí School in Gwalior was built in 1977.[49] The school was closed down by the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of India in 2016.[50]

Notable events[edit]

ʻAbdu'l-Bahá's rescue[edit]

ʻAbdu'l-Bahá was sentenced to death by the Ottoman authorities for activities that were believed to be seditious. A British Military Intelligence Officer, Major Wellesley Tudor Pole, passed this information to the London office. Lord Balfour immediately took steps to ensure the safety and rescue of ʻAbdu'l-Bahá. All Indian Cavalry Brigade, under British imperial control, was tasked to execute the mission. The Indian soldiers consisting of the Jodhpur Lancers and the Mysore Lancers were able to rescue ʻAbdu'l-Bahá with relatively few casualties.[51]

Reference by the Supreme Court[edit]

In 1994, the situation of the Babri Mosque was commented on by Members of the India Supreme Court highlighting the approach of the Baháʼís on multi-faith issues, quoting the statement Communal Harmony of the National Spiritual Assembly of India,[52] which had been distributed to ministers, bureaucrats, district county workers, the superintendent of police, NGOs, and faith communities, in most of the official languages of India.[53]

Baháʼí house in Chandigarh.

Lotus Temple arrests[edit]

In 2006, some former employees of the Lotus Temple made a complaint to the police that the trustees of the temple had been involved in various crimes including spying, religious conversion and producing false passports. The trial judge directed the police to arrest nine specific trustees, but the High Court later stayed the arrests.[54][55]

Letters protesting persecution in Iran[edit]

The governments of India and Iran generally maintain good relations. In 2001, the government of India voted against the United Nations resolution Situation of Human Rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran raised in response to the persecution of Baháʼís in Iran,[56] and it has voted against many such resolutions since that time.[citation needed] Despite this, many officials and prominent citizens of India have expressed serious concerns about the persecution of Baháʼís.

In June 2008 several leading jurists of India's legal system, journalists, and civil rights activist signed an open letter urging Iran to abide by international human rights conventions and calling for the immediate release of Baháʼís detained in the country. Signatories included: former Chief Justice of India Justice Jagdish Sharan Verma, former Supreme Court judge Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer, former Chief Justice of Delhi High Court Justice Rajinder Sachar, former Attorney General Soli Sorabjee, member, Law commission, Tahir Mahmood, former chairperson, National Commission for Women, Dr. Mohini Giri, editorial director, Hindustan Times, Vir Sanghvi, senior columnist Kuldip Nayar, president, World Council for Arya Samaj, Swami Agnivesh, among others.[57]

A similar open letter was published in February 2009, and signed by more than 30 prominent Indians, including Justice Iyer, actor Aamir Khan, Maulana Khalid Rasheed, Swami Agnivesh, and many more. Calls for the release of imprisoned Baha'is have continued since that time, with many prominent Indians expressing their concern.[58][59]

Cemetery vandalized[edit]

The Baháʼís of Jaipur registered a complaint (technically a First Information Report) with police that their community burial ground had been attacked by a mob of about 40-50 Hindu people "led by a sarpanch", or head of the local gram panchayat, on Friday October 31, 2015 about 11:30 AM in Shri Ram Ki Nangal village.[60] The Hindu newspaper claimed the Sarpanch was Nathu Jangid, head of the village government, member of the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party based on witness statement.[61] The security guard was injured and the guard's room and prayer house were damaged. The FIR was registered by the local assembly treasurer for the Baháʼís.[62] In a public meeting representatives of the Baháʼís stated that they believe this is the first such incident in the history of the religion in the country, named the sarpanch, and recalled that it had been theirs since 2002. The Baháʼís made no comment on the political statement then because "it is in our religion to be apolitical."[60] Indian newspaper The Wire published pictures of the site and damage and a claim by Sarpanch Jangid that the land had been illegally sold to the Baháʼís.[62] The People's Union for Civil Liberties of India has taken an interest in the case.[62]

Notable Indian Baháʼís[edit]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b Hartz 2009, p. 8.
  2. ^ World Christian Encyclopedia 2001, p. 8.
  3. ^ Garlington 2006, p. 251.
  4. ^ a b c d e Momen 2000.
  5. ^ Garlington 2006, pp. 248–9.
  6. ^ Garlington 2006, p. 249.
  7. ^ a b Momen 2008, p. 157.
  8. ^ Garlington 2006, p. 250.
  9. ^ Warburg 2006, pp. 225–6.
  10. ^ World Christian Encyclopedia 2001, p. 2:653.
  11. ^ a b Vijayanunni 1991.
  12. ^ a b Census 2011.
  13. ^ Garlington 2006, p. 254.
  14. ^ a b Bahá’í World News Service 2021.
  15. ^ Garlington 2006, p. 256-7.
  16. ^ Garlington 2006, p. 253,254-5.
  17. ^ a b Garlington 2006, p. 255.
  18. ^ a b Hartz 2009, p. 120.
  19. ^ a b c National Baha'i Centre 2021.
  20. ^ Manuchehri 2001.
  21. ^ Fareed 2015.
  22. ^ Momen & Smith 1993.
  23. ^ a b Hartz 2009, p. 70.
  24. ^ a b c Warburg 2006, p. 188.
  25. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Garlington 1997.
  26. ^ Hands of the Cause 1963.
  27. ^ Root 1930.
  28. ^ Gandhimohan 2000.
  29. ^ Warburg 2006, p. 189.
  30. ^ Sarwal 1989.
  31. ^ Garlington 1998.
  32. ^ Nolley & Garlington 1997.
  33. ^ Universal House of Justice (1976). Wellspring of Guidance, Messages 1963-1968. Wilmette, Illinois: National Spiritual Assembly of the Baháʼís of the United States. pp. 109–112. ISBN 0-87743-032-2.
  34. ^ a b Hartz 2009, p. 114.
  35. ^ Census 2001.
  36. ^ Warburg 2006, p. 24.
  37. ^ a b Warburg 2006, pp. 217–22.
  38. ^ Baháʼí News 1987.
  39. ^ Brar 2001.
  40. ^ Baháʼí World News Service 2012.
  41. ^ Bahá’í World News Service 2020.
  42. ^ a b c d Momen 2008, p. 159-60.
  43. ^ Hartz 2009, p. 123.
  44. ^ Baháʼí International Community 2003.
  45. ^ Odess-Gillett 2009.
  46. ^ Hartz 2009, p. 61.
  47. ^ Baháʼí World News Service 2002.
  48. ^ Baháʼí News 2006.
  49. ^ India9 2014.
  50. ^ "पूर्व छात्र रब्बानी स्कूल शुरू करने सभा को लिखेंगे पत्र". Dainik Bhaskar (in Hindi). 2017-11-13. Retrieved 2021-12-01.
  51. ^ Pillay 2020.
  52. ^ One Country 1995.
  53. ^ Bodakowski & Marshall 2011.
  54. ^ "HC stays arrest of Lotus temple trustees". webindia123.com. 18 August 2006. Retrieved September 22, 2017.
  55. ^ "High Court stays arrest of Lotus temple trustees". The Hindu.com. March 22, 2016 [August 19, 2006]. Retrieved September 22, 2017.
  56. ^ Baháʼí International Community 2008.
  57. ^ The Tribune 2008.
  58. ^ The Hindu 2010.
  59. ^ NSA India 2011.
  60. ^ a b Khan 2015.
  61. ^ Pupadhyay 2015.
  62. ^ a b c Mishra 2015.

References[edit]

Books[edit]

  • Adamson, Hugh C. (2009). The A to Z of the Baháʼí Faith. The A to Z Guide Series, No. 70. Plymouth, UK: Scarecrow Press. ISBN 978-0-8108-6853-3.
  • Barrett, David B., ed. (1982). "Global Adherents of all religions". World Christian Encyclopedia: A comparative survey of churches and religions in the modern world (1st ed.). Nairobi: Oxford University Press.
  • Barrett, David B.; Kurian, George T.; Johnson, Todd M. (2001). "Countries". World Christian Encyclopedia: A comparative survey of churches and religions in the modern world (2nd ed.). New York: Oxford University Press.

News media[edit]

Journals[edit]

Other[edit]

  • National Baha'i Centre (2021). "Bahá'í Faith in India". The Official Website of the Bahá’ís of India. New Delhi. Retrieved 2021-11-30.

External links[edit]