Delhiwale: In Birla Mandir’s beautiful courtyard, serenity is for all to savour
This temple routinely pops up in old photo albums of almost every middle-class Delhi family. Turn a page and you suddenly come across your mother as a naughty little girl posing with nana and nani in the gaping jaws of a lion.
Spread over seven acres, Shri Lakshmi Narayan temple, popularly called Birla Mandir, also has an idyllic garden perfect to spend a winter afternoon in.
While the temple’s presiding deity is Vishnu, Birla Mandir advocates monotheism and is open to all faiths. Built by the Birla family, it was inaugurated by Mahatma Gandhi in 1939 in the presence of Jugal Kishoreji Birla, whose statue stands in a hedged garden.
The chief prayer hall is airy, tranquil and beautiful. Pigeons tip-tap around the large chandelier. Nearby on the floor is a giant globe. Marble walls are etched with figures of gods and inscribed with shlokas.
Elephant heads are sculptured on the ceiling. The path of parikrama — the anti-clockwise circumambulation around the deity — passes through a mirror-lined gallery.
The latticework on the walls is a mix of the sun’s image and swastika symbol (don’t confuse it with the Nazi sign, which was laterally reversed). The temple’s backyard is landscaped with statues of gods and kings, holy men and animals. Artificial caves can be entered through the open jaws of a crocodile and a lion.
Sheshnag, the serpent god, stands in the centre of a pond. A stone pillar is carved with images of historical bravehearts Rani Lakshmi Bai and Maharana Pratap.
Some parts of the temple compound are more serene. Pigeons scamper around the tower, but quietly. Make sure to take a stroll in the beautiful courtyard of the temple’s dharamshala. Sacred books and marigold flowers are available in stalls outside.