The Sydney Baha’i Temple, a beacon for the North Shore and the city of Sydney, is to celebrate its 50th anniversary from 18-25 September 2011.
This article is going to look at the Baha’i temple built at Ingleside on the Northern beaches of Sydney. I found it easier to relate to the architectural style and complete openness of the building when I understood a little of the Baha’i Faith. So I will look very briefly at the Baha’i Faith before considering the building and its resources for the local historian.
The Baha’i Faith is an independent world religion. It began in Persia (now Iran) in the middle of the nineteenth century. Baha’u’Ilah, its founder was born in 1817 to a noble family. He was not destined for a life of luxury however for during His lifetime he suffered exile, torture and imprisonment as a result of His teachings. He was exiled from Persia to various places within the Ottoman Empire and in 1868 was sent as a prisoner to the fortress of Akka in Palestine. He died in 1892 and in His will He appointed His eldest son, Abdu’I-Baha (1844-1921) to lead the Baha’i community and to interpret the Baha’i writings. Abdu’i-Baha in turn appointed His eldest grandson, Shoghi Effendi (1896-1957) as His successor, The Guardian of the Cause and the authorised interpreter of the Baha’i teachings. To-day the world-wide Baha’i community is administered by the Universal House of Justice. The seat of the Universal House of Justice is located on Mount Carmel in Haifa.
The central principles of the Baha’i Faith are the oneness of God, the oneness of religion and the oneness of humankind. They believe that humanity is one family created by God. The Baha’i community promotes the unity of humankind and the establishment of peace in the world.
The Baha’i Faith was brought to Australia by an American couple, Clara and Hyde Dunn in 1920. The first House of Worship in Australia was dedicated in 1961. The members of the Faith were at that time mostly white Anglo Saxons. As the years have progressed membership is quite different and now represents a very wide number of nationalities. It is interesting to note that those who come from Iran usually consider themselves Persians.
The Baha’i House of Worship dominates the horizon of the Northern Beaches region of Sydney and far beyond. It is located on a 2.83 hectare site fronting Mona Vale Road, Ingleside. The original site for the House of Worship had been at North Balgowlah. The land had been purchased in March 1954 but was resumed by the Department of Education and Warringah Shire Council. The present site was purchased in November 1955 for five thousand, five hundred pounds and construction commenced in April 1957.
The basic design for the building prepared by C.M. Remey called for a brick construction. The restricted availability of suitable material made the estimated cost prohibitive. Plans were then modified and full use made of the latest technology of the time which was cement casting on steel reinforcing. J. Grogan was the Sydney architect who supervised construction.
After the foundations had been laid steel pylons were emplaced to support the walls and the ring beam also cast from cement supported the dome. The concrete walls carry a sparkling white quartz aggregate put in a horizontal mould over a layer of powder. White concrete was then poured over the quartz.
The dome is white cement and fine quart aggregate cast in situ, fibreglass moulds were used for the prefabrication. The construction of the dome culminated in the historic placement by helicopter of the aluminium lantern on the apex of the dome.
The House of Worship has nine sides. Nine is the largest single number and symbolises comprehensiveness, oneness and unity. The motif repeated in the balustrades and metal-frame doors and surrounds is the nine pointed star which is sometimes used as a symbol of the Baha’i Faith.
The House of Worship is open daily throughout the year between 9am and 5pm and is open to people of all religions, races and nations. In the apex of the dome overlooking the auditorium is the symbol of the Greatest Name, an invocation to God in Arabic script which can be translated as O Glory of the All-Glorious.
On 17 November 1961 the Australian Baha’i House of Worship was dedicated. The ceremony was attended by Baha’is from all around the world.
The seats in the centre of the auditorium face towards Israel, the Holy Land for Baha’is. The auditorium is a place for individual prayer and meditation. It is possible to seat 600 worshipers. Devotional services take place every Sunday. The service is for prayer, meditation and the reading of selections from the sacred scriptures of the Baha’i Faith and the other great Faiths of the world. The auditorium is open and has a minimum of furnishings. When I visited the Temple to research this document the wooden seats (made in pairs) were arranged in staggered rows with two aisles for convenience. Carpet runners marked the aisles. The lectern, centred and facing the seats, was the focus point. Potted ferns were the main floral decoration.
Around the inside perimeter of the Temple were several Persian rugs and on two of them stood handsome silver containers about 40-50 cm high. There were also several small tables with books and albums of beautiful, peaceful photographs, each with a verse. There are no stained glass windows or memorials within the building, only the symbol of the Greatest Name overlooking the auditorium. No sermons or lectures are held in the auditorium, and there are no clergy or rituals in the Baha’i Faith. The only music in the Temple is that of an unaccompanied choir and soloists.
There is no baptism ceremony therefore there is no font. The names of children are just recorded as children of members of the Faith. At the age of fifteen children decide whether they want to become members of the Faith. If they do they become card-carrying Youth members.
Baha’i marriages are not celebrated in the House of Worship. Baha’i law requires that parental consent must be given in writing by all living parents. The period of time elapsing between engagement and marriage should not exceed ninety five days. This requirement is binding if both parties are Persian. It only requires a couple to say Verily we will abide by the Law of God to be married according to the Baha’i Faith. This is then followed by a civil ceremony according to the laws of the land. The marriage can take place in the grounds of the House of Worship but definitely not in it.
The grounds of the Temple are a wild flower sanctuary. In planning the development of the environs an attempt has been made to maintain as much of the character of the native Australian bush as possible. To this end many varieties of native trees and shrubs have been planted.
A Baha’i must be buried, not cremated, and such burial must be not more than one hour’s travel from the place of death. On 24 July 1990 I witnessed a hearse drive into the grounds of the Temple. The grounds were being used as a meeting place before proceeding to the Baha’i section of the Mona Vale Cemetery. This was the first time that a funeral cortege had been at the Temple. It would have been appropriate for the relatives and friends to offer prayers in the House of Worship but no funeral services are ever held in the auditorium. The Temple must always be available for prayer and worship.
Any researcher seeking access to the archives being held at the complex are required to write for permission to access the collection. It contains valuable information and letters pertaining to the Baha’i Faith and given to the archives by members of the Faith. Included in the collection is much of value to the local historian such as full information about the acquisition of the land and the building plans and specifications; the membership records of children, youth members and adult members of the Faith and details of community activities.
The Baha’is played a prominent role in the International Year of Peace. A conference on Peace and a banner project were two activities which I took part in. These two activities are documented in the local studies collection at Mona Vale Library. The banners were made by people of all ages and were members of many religions and races. The ribbon of banners was an exciting project which linked many parts of the world and culminated in the banners being tied together and strung from the House of Worship in Ingleside to the sea at Mona Vale. The banners made a ribbon to
…carry the peace message from Ingleside, along Mona Vale Road,
to the seas to other parts of the world.