Today's agenda covers mostly old Delhi. But the first place on the agenda is the Lakshmi Narayan Temple, or Birla Mandir. I believe
Birla Mandir translates as Birla's Palace. The temple was built in the 1930s by India industrialist B.D. Birla. I believe he was primarily into cement. And if you've been to north India, you know how much cement they use. Anyway, he talked Gandhi into opening the place, and acceded to Gandhi's requirement that the temple be open to Indians of all castes, including the untouchables. Even today, India subjects the untouchable castes to much discrimination and prejudice. In the 1930s, the soon to be country had barely started on the road to tolerance.
The temple is dedicated primarily to Lakshmi and Narayan. But there are also shrines to many other gods as well. I particularly remember Ganesh, the god of luck and Hanuman, the monkey god who triumphed over worldly distractions represented by females in his shrine. There was also a painting dedicated to a Sikh guru, which I found a bit odd. According to the guide, it's all just a different view of the same god-hood, so it's okay to venerate gods of other religions. While an admirable view, it doesn't mesh completely with what I know of Hinduism. Originally Hinduism was a heterodox religion, meaning that it did not forbid other religious beliefs or gods. But given the Hindu conflicts with Islam, Sikhism and other religions, I thought it had veered in practice from that origin. So the presence of non-Hindu figures in the temple surprised me.
The temple has a waiting area for foreigners, where I left my shoes. No photography allowed inside either. The guide explained each of the shrines to me and noted a bit about a few of the gods represented. Vishnu is the preserver. Shiva the destroyer. Brahma is the creator. All other gods are incarnations of these three. Lakshmi, the dedicatee, is the goddess of wealth. At each shrine, my guide stopped to pray for a bit. At some she made donations. She invited me to participate, but I've always felt that non-believers should remain as observers only, when even that is allowed. I noted that there doesn't seem to be the tradition of silent prayer or reverence that pervades most religions with which I am familiar. Kids ran around in and among the various participants. Adults would pause their prayers to take cell phone calls. Folks would stop and chat with people they knew.