As the sun rose over Battambang, Cambodia yesterday, the melodies of prayer filled the morning air, in a spirit of reverence, exultation, and thanksgiving. This Southeast Asian country, witness to so much war and so much pain, is about to build a new Baha’i House of Worship, which will welcome everyone.
The dawn prayers began the event for the unveiling of the design of the first local Baha’i House of Worship for the people of this region of Cambodia, which has in recent years witnessed the emergence of a vibrant community life centered on worship of God and service to humanity. The events of the day included dignitaries as well as inhabitants of the surrounding communities, numbering over 300 people. Some had walked, while others made their way using various forms of transport to arrive on time for the early morning program.
Sochet Vitou Tang, the architect of the project, was deeply moved by the occasion as he addressed the audience. “It is an especial pleasure to stand here on the sacred land which will host the local Baha’i House of Worship for Battambang, in the Kingdom of Cambodia,” he said. Mr. Tang described the purpose of the project as being to create a place of tranquility where the mind and soul could find rest and solace, a place where the spiritual and material dimensions of life would be harmonized.
He further explained that the House of Worship would become a center where people of all persuasions could “come to learn about life, about the environment, and the world beyond; a place where we come to build a unified world.”
The Baha’i writings say:
Although to outward seeming the [House of Worship] is a material structure, yet it hath a spiritual effect. It forgeth bonds of unity from heart to heart; it is a collective centre for men’s souls. Every city in which, during the days of the Manifestation, a temple was raised up, hath created security and constancy and peace, for such buildings were given over to the perpetual glorification of God, and only in the remembrance of God can the heart find rest. Gracious God! The edifice of the House of Worship hath a powerful influence on every phase of life. Experience hath, in the east, clearly shown this to be a fact. Even if, in some small village, a house was designated… it produced a marked effect; how much greater would be the impact of one especially raised up. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, pp. 95-96.
After the prayers, to gasps of joy and excitement, the model for the temple was unveiled by the architect and local village chiefs. Simultaneously, banners showing features of the design were unfurled around the marquee where the participants gathered. The highly charged moment was greeted with thunderous applause and those present—including many youth and children—came forward to examine the model with eager eyes.
The youth then offered a moving song they had composed expressing the meaning of the House of Worship in their lives.
In the evening, the Baha’is held a reception for local and regional authorities, attended by the governor of the Battambang region, Mr Chan Sophal, as well as the Chairman of the Battambang Provincial Council.
In his remarks, Governor Sophal commented that “the Baha’i community has been greatly contributing to the spiritual and material development of the country.”
What he found particularly striking, he said, is “that the Baha’i House of Worship to be built is not only for the Baha’is but for all of humanity.” And he was attracted by “the concept that the Baha’i House of Worship is not only a place for prayer and worship, but also a place that inspires service to the community.”
An overarching theme throughout the day was the role of prayer in humanity’s individual and collective life, highlighted by the opening gathering at dawn, and how it must be wedded to service to humanity for the realization of its full effect.
The Cambodian Baha’is and their fellow Cambodians have drawn inspiration from a recent message of the Universal House of Justice regarding Houses of Worship, explaining that “the creation of a new pattern of how society can be” is seen in “the endeavours of community building.”
“Taken in its entirety,” the message continues, “the pattern fosters capacity for service. Essential to that pattern is the devotional meeting—a communal aspect of the godly life.”
Battambang–the second local Baha’i House of Worship whose design has been unveiled–will be one among five local Baha’i Houses of Worship due to be built in the coming years.