Dakshin Delhi Kalibari Temple
A Modern Hindu Temple completed in 1988 that reinterprets the traditional Hindu temple form in exposed reinforced cement
The Hindu temple, unlike structures in other religions, has not seen significant evolution in the past century or so. An opportunity to explore the form of the temple came in the year 1986 in the design commission of a temple for the Bengali community in South Delhi. The architects had been initially asked to replicate the Dakshineshwar temple on the banks of the Ganges in Kolkata. To this request, we responded, "give us the Ganges and we will give you Dakshineshwar". The challenge of reinventing the traditional temple form was taken up in the explorations of the form of the shikhara in reinforced concrete conoid shells. The temple as it stands today has surprisingly desirable acoustics, light and cross ventilation. Due to constraints of funding the copper roofing planned for the temple was never executed. The peripheral residential quarters too had been abandoned due to constraints of funding. The centric plan necessitated the creation of a temple within the temple to house the deity. The centre of the space however belongs to the devotee whose restless search for the almighty returns him finally to his inner self.
The design of a modern Kali temple is particularly challenging as there has been a radical change in the physical relationship of spaces traditionally assigned for the devotees (sabha mandapa) and the Deity (garba griha). The new liturgy has thrown open the walls of the garba griha to the worshipper. The amalgamation of the sabha mandapa and garba griha leads to a situation which may be described as the creation of a’temple within a temple’. This is exactly what is attempted at the Dakshin Delhi Kalibari. The bronze clad garba griha, designed in traditional architectural style using the ‘bengal roof’, harbours like a jewel in its setting within the sabha mandapa. The super-structure of the temple employs the conoid, whose form and shape help recall the curved forms of traditional Kalibaris. Its geometry not only gives the form a light, soaring feeling, but is manipulated to provide soft, indirect light and natural ventilation to the main congregational area which will house about 300 devotees.
The shikhara, which has traditionally been the symbolic expression of the Deity, is further enhanced by divorcing it of its function as a roof and treating it more like a crown to the temple. A copper kalash (pinnacle), designed to hover delicately above it, further accentuates the shikhara, which itself is sculpted to give it a sense of lightness and transparency. Chandrakant Bhatt and his wife Manimala, collaborated on the bronze cladding design for the garba griha and the design of the kalash.
Difficulty in casting the conoids and shikhara demanded an experienced contractor, and it was with great expectations that the committee awaited the architect contractor deputed by the Chairman to undertake the job. Although he invoked the blessings of Ma Kali, a series of problems haunted him and he left. Another established contractor appeared and disappeared as quickly as the first. The site foreman for the guest house, who was observing this drama from the wings, then stepped forward and undertook to complete the work although he had very little experience but great sincerity was difficult to ignore, time a constraint, and his financial requirements suited the donation-dependent budget. Indeed finance was so severe a constraint, that the Kalibari Association in-house staff were pressed into service to keep track of construction activities and of the building materials consumed at site.