To get to know a country and its people, you have to know what they believe in. How they worship.
India is the birthplace of Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism. Religion has been a major part of the country’s culture. And it still is.
In Delhi, no less than 8 different religions have their place of worship. This list contains the best, most famous and/or most impressive place of worship for each of those religions in Delhi.
Welcome to a religious tour of Delhi!
1. Gurudwara Bangla Sahib - Sikhism
A Gurudwara is a place of worship for people following Sikhism - the Sikh people. The Bangla Sahib is the largest and most well-known Sikh temple in Delhi.
This particular Sikh temple is dedicated to Guru Har Krishan. He was the eighth of the ten Sikh Gurus (spiritual head of the Sikhs). He became the youngest Sikh guru in Sikhism at the age of 5, succeeding his father. Sadly, he passed away after contracting smallpox at the age of 8.
More than a decade after his death, a small shrine was built on the exact location where he had lived and died. Later this became the great Bangla Sahib that is there today.
Rules for visiting a Sikh Temple
There are some specific rules to follow, but once you do, you will be treated to free lunch! No way - tell me more!
Let me break it down for you:
Bring something to cover your head - both man and women. If you forgot to bring a scarf - like me - then no worries. Right opposite the entrance you’ll find a religious book store, where they also sell head scarves for only 40 rupees. Bargain!
Next, you make your way to the shoe storages. In an incredibly organised and respectful manner, a Sikh volunteer will take your shoes, put them in a locker and hand you the token. Don’t put your shoes in your backpack and try to sneak them inside - it’s against the rules and they are very concerned about you doing this.
Walk through either one of the two water basins at the base of the steps leading to the temple. Your feet need to be clean before entering the temple.
You are allowed to take a picture right at the entrance of the temple. Once inside, no more photography. Selfies are definitely not allowed!
But once you’ve passed through all of that - and admired the shrine - you are ready to receive langar. A staggering 25,000 people eat this free meal here on a daily basis. On weekends, their numbers grow to a whopping 40,000. Pretty incredible!
The entire temple complex is run by Sikh volunteers. From receiving and storing the shoes, to the floor sweepers, cooks and people handing out the langar.
People from any religion are welcome to visit and join the langar. It’s a great community feel and the food is delicious. In general, most devotees are happy to chat to you and tell you more about their temple and religion.
How to get here?
Located conveniently close to Connaught Place you can reach it by taking the Orange Line to Shivaji Stadium Metro Station. It’s a short walk from there. You can visit 24/7, every day of the year - which is fantastic!
2. Jama Masjid - Islam
The Masjid-i Jahan-Numa, better known as Jama Masjid, ranks amongst the largest mosques of India. Being a landmark in New Delhi, it’s a very popular tourist attraction.
This piece of architectural extravaganza was built in 1644 by Mughal emperor Shah Jahn. It has two 40-metre high minarets, four towers and three gates. The huge tiled courtyard can host more than 25,000 people.
Don’t expect to venture far inside the mosque and admire the domes from inside. The ‘inside’ of the mosque only consists of a gallery type area with a special place reserved for devotees.
Entrance is free, but foreigners are charged 300 rupees ‘photography fee’. And it doesn’t matter whether you are carrying a camera or not.
I was disappointed that there wasn’t a large prayer hall to admire. For me, the best part about the Jama Masjid was that I could sample some of Delhi’s finest foods. Right opposite the entrance - tucked away in the alley are some of Delhi’s best restaurants!
How to get here?
Probably the easiest accessible temple out of all of them - you can reach the Jama Masjid through the metro station Jama Masjid (makes sense) which is a 2-minute walk from the entrance to the mosque.
3. The Laxmi Narayan Temple - Hinduism
This huge Hindu temple was built in 1938 and is dedicated to Lord Vishnu and the goddess Laxmi. It was Mahatma Gandhi who actually inaugurated the temple. As a condition to do so, Gandhi made sure that people from all castes (and religions) were allowed to enter. Especially people from the lowest cast, the untouchables.
The temple is ‘decorated’ on the outside with an abundance of swastika’s. Now if symbology wasn’t your mayor in college - don’t think this has anything to do with nazism. The swastika has been a symbol of Hindu religion for over 8000 years. In Hinduism it symbolises the sun, properity and good luck. The symbol is in fact also part of Jainism and Buddhism.
Let’s just say the nazis came last.
The temple is dotted with ‘om’ symbols as well. “Om” is mostly associated with Buddhism, but in Hinduism it represents Atman (soul, the self within) and Brahman (truth, divine, the ultimate reality). It is one of the most important spiritual symbols within Hinduism.
Facing the temple, there are two entrances. The left entrance leads to the inside of the temple. You are required to take off your shoes, and leave your camera/phone in a locker. It is not allowed to take photographs inside the temple.
Taking the right entrance will lead you to the backside of the temple. You don’t have to take your shoes off here, and you may bring your camera. The passage leads to a quiet back garden, with smaller temples dotting the place. Some are places of active worship, others are not open to visit.
In an attempt to create mountains and cascading waterfalls, there is an actual artificial landscape. Complete with fake rocks. They even placed a statue of a rhinoceros there.
The water reservoirs were empty when I visited, and this part of the temple made it to my top list of random things I have ever seen. Well done, Laxmi temple!
How to get here?
The temple is located west of Connaught Place in Delhi. The closest metro station is the Shivaji Stadium Station on the Orange line (the airport line). From there it’s a 1.7 km rickshaw ride to the temple. The temple is open all days, from 7am - 12 am and from 2 pm - 9 pm.
4. Lotus Temple - Bahá'í House of Worship
India has more than 1.4 billion people - of which 80% are Hindu and some 14% are muslim. The Bahá’í are therefore on a ‘small’ community with less than 5 million devotees.
I’ve got to admit, I’d never heard of a Bahá’í House of Worship before. Or even heard of this religion at all.
Apparently, the Bahá’í faith is a relatively new world religion with the sole mission to unite all races and people worldwide. Followers of this religion believe in Baha ullah, who they see as the Promised One of all ages.
But the best part of this religion is that it welcomes people from each and every race and religion. You are invited to pray and meditate inside the temple for as long as you want. There are even teachings held by people from different religions - reading for you from the bible, or chanting religious mantra’s.
The acoustics in the place are horrific though and the echo makes it pretty much impossible to hear anything they’re saying.
The temple itself is very impressive and is obviously inspired by the lotus - symbol of purity. The nine pools that surround the temple play an important role in the natural cooling system that is in place. It works amazingly, because it was remarkably cool inside the temple.
I saw a christian nun, a buddhist monk and a hindu sadhu in the brief period of time I spend there. This mix of people from all religions was brilliant - a truly uniting place.
How to get here?
The Lotus Temple is relatively far from Central Delhi - take the violet or magenta metro line to Kalkaji Mandir Metro Station. From here it’s a 5-minute walk to the entrance of the temple. Entrance is free - you have to take your shoes off before entering the temple, but photography is allowed.
5. World Peace Pagoda - Buddhism
The Vishwa Shanti Stupa, or World Peace Pagoda was built in 2007. It is dedicated to the people of India and across the world and promotes peace and non-violence.
More than 80 Peace Pagodas have been built all around the world since World War II. Japanese Buddhist monk Nichidatsu Fujii got inspired to construct peace pagodas after meeting with Mahatma Gandhi in 1931.
The Peace Pagoda in Delhi is built with white marble and has a golden pinnacle. To stay with the Japanese theme - a Japanese garden was set up around the stupa. They even built a fake-volcano! Awesome.
You have to take your shoes off before walking a circle around the stupa. Photography is allowed.
How to get here?
The peace pagoda is not easily reachable by metro unfortunately. The closest metro station is Jangpura station, from where you can grab a rickshaw to visit the stupa. It’s only a short hop across the bridge to the Akshardham Temple, so it’s wise to combine visiting the two. The Peace pagoda is open from 7 am - 7 pm, every day.
6. Shri Digambar Jain Lal Mandir - Jainism
Jainism was founded in ancient India and is a non-theistic religion. Followers (“Jains”) believe that karma is like a fluid that attaches itself to people. Liberation can only be reached once the soul gets rid of all its karma. Jainism is therefore very focused on ethical conduct and personal purity.
Jain temples vary in design all over India, but in Delhi the Jain temples are of the Shikar-bandhi type: built with domes.
The Shri Digambar Jain Lal Mandir is the oldest and most striking Jain temple in Delhi for the use of bright red sandstone blocks. The white pillar in front of the temple is the Manastambha -a "column of honor" which causes someone entering the temple to shed their pride.
I have to say that this temple was perhaps the least visitor-friendly of all temples of this post. Besides the restricted timeframe to enter the temples grounds, it is not allowed to bring anything inside the temple (no camera, bag, phone, water bottle, leather items etc). As there were no lockers and I had valuables with me, I could not enter the temple unfortunately.
How to get here?
From metro station Chandi Chowk (orange line) it’s a 1.0 km walk or rickshaw ride. It’s right opposite the Red Fort, so a visit to the temple can be easily combined with roaming around the Red Fort. The temple is closed between 12:00 and 18:00, so make sure you get there before 12:00 or between 18:00 and 21:30 or you’ll be looking at a closed gate.