Hindu Temple, Dubai
The Hindu Temple (referred to locally as Shiva and Krishna Mandir) is a place of worship for Hindus in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE). The temple caters to the large Hindu community in the United Arab Emirates and is currently the only Hindu temple in the UAE.
The temple is only a prayer hall with two altars or shrines ("Sannidhis") on two sides, one for Shiva and one for Krishna. A third altar has been set up for Shirdi Sai Baba also. There are no images or idols in the temple because Islamic law forbids the existence of "graven images." Only large paintings / posters in frames have been permitted and these have been placed in the altars to serve as the focus of prayer and devotions.
The temple is run in conjunction with the Indian consulate in Dubai. Daily worship is performed here for the framed paintings / posters. The temple also performs wedding ceremonies between Hindus. However, Hindu marriages cannot be registered in the United Arab Emirates.
In 1958, Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed al Maktoum permitted a Hindu temple (actually only a prayer hall) to be built on the first floor on top of a warren of old-fashioned shops in Bur Dubai. This shopping center is known as the "Bur Dubai Old Souk" and is located west of the Dubai Creek in the area known as Bur Dubai.
This temple, which was permitted to be built in 1958, well before oil wealth came to Dubai, remains to this day the only Hindu temple in the UAE, despite the humongous Building Boom which Dubai has witnessed in the intervening years, and despite the fact that millions of labourers from India have contributed their sweat and toil towards building the glittering skyscrapers of Dubai. The temple ministers to millions of those toiling Hindus working in the UAE, but the structure is extremely small and cramped. It comprises nothing but a single medium-sized prayer room located on the first floor of a shopping center (not even a modern mall) in the old city area of Dubai. There used to be a large department store here, built on the first floor above a set of old-fashioned shops, but the store was shut down, and the area was given for building a temple. Even today, we find the remains of the department store in the shape of several spiral staircases dotting the prayer hall in awkward places and taking us to lofts (department-store mezzanines) which are used for storage, just like in department stores.
The high handed and intolerant stance taken against the building of a new temple, despite pleas over the past five decades by the Dubai civic and royal authorities, has been criticised severely by Indians. In 2017, a visitor to the temple pointed out, "It is often said that there are "two temples" in this "temple complex," but this is a grossly misleading statement, because the "two temples" are nothing but two altars ("sannidhis") standing on two sides of the same prayer hall. There is also an altar with a framed poster of Shirdi Sai Baba on one side. Formerly, the same cramped room used to also house a Sikh Gurudwara, which was located on top of the Shiva Sannidhi, at a mezzanine level, and which was accessed by a spiral staircase."
The Gurudwara has now moved to new premises near Jebel Ali because the ruler of Dubai accepted the plea that the Sikh religion revered a book and not idols, and therefore can be permitted to have a decent place of worship in Dubai. This passes for great liberality by Arab standards.
The approach to the temple is through one of the alleys in the shopping center. Underneath the temple hall, there is a warren of small old-fashioned shops. This is the shopping mall, and there is nothing on the outside of the temple or the mall to indicate that there is a temple anywhere nearby. There is no gopuram, no shikhara, not even an identifiable gateway. The approach to the temple is through an alley within the warren of shops. The alley is only six feet wide; it is so narrow that if a man stretches out his two hands, he can touch the old walls or shops on either side of the alley. The alley has shops on both sides, and one or two of these shops sell the material required for worship. There is of course no question of driving any vehicle through the alley; approach is only on foot. While walking between the small shops, we find a fleet of stairs leading to a door at the level of the upper floor. This is the outer door of the temple. Once inside, we find that we need to walk around two outer walls to reach the prayer hall; this has been done to ensure that no sounds of chanting or prayer is audible outside. We also find that there is not a single bell or conch shell anywhere, and there are a great many signs warning us to "keep silent" and "make no noise."
In late 2016, during the visit by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the UAE, the situation was compared in social media to the ringing out of Azaan from loudspeakers of countless mosques five time a day, across every city, town and village in India. Popular singer Sonu Nigam pointed this out on Twitter and gave rise a controversy saying that the Azaan should not be blared from loudspeakers at 5 am in the morning when people are asleep. However, Indian netizens pointed out that not even the sound of human voices should be heard emanating from the only temple permitted to exist in Dubai.
Plans for a temple in Abu Dhabi
Plans are afoot to build another temple in the UAE, this time in Abu Dhabi. These plans have been there for many years now, and very little progress has been made. As far back as in July 2013, a Muslim businessman donated five acres of land adjoining a mosque for setting up a Swaminarayan temple just outside the city of Abu Dhabi, off the highway going towards Dubai. In August 2015, UAE rulers announced permission for building a Hindu temple based on those plans. The announcement was made during the visit of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the UAE.
According to reports, the temple will be permitted to contain only paintings of Hindu gods but no idols because idols ("graven images") are forbidden in Islam. A non-Muslim place of worship, if built within a Muslim state, needs to be in compliance with Muslim beliefs and not their own beliefs.
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