Seeing the Birla Temple on a bright day can be quite surreal. The spires silhouetted against the sky remind me of vimanas, the celestial flying cities of Indian mythology. You can almost believe the temple floated down from the clouds, and landed lightly...and that it will take off again.
And then you look at the cars on the road. And the people standing in queues. And your imagination gets grounded with a bump!
So - anyway - why do I like the Birla Temple? Well, for starters, it's hard to dislike something that says 'Everyone is welcome' on its gate. None of Hinduism's upper-caste nonsense here! Anyone can come in, listen to the calming sound of prayer, see the deities, and admire the architecture.
It's a funny sort of architecture, in my view. Red and white and creamy yellow? Where did that come from? If you explore the temple a little, you'll also discover kitschy statues of elephants and monkeys and snakes and goddesses on lotuses.
I can't help thinking wistfully of the stone masterpieces of Orissa. Can you see the stunning architectural style that forms the original inspiration behind the Birla Temple? I guess then, you can also see why the Birla Temple makes me wince a little, every time I pass by.
But I shouldn't be wincing. Birla is a modern temple, for modern times! In the first place, it is clean, much cleaner than most temples I've seen. The cleanliness would have pleased Gandhi, who inaugurated the temple.
As for architecture, the Birla Temple does have a sort of beauty of its own, mainly because its blends Orissan temple style with the Mughal style. Its peculiar fascination with red-and-white is definitely Mughal. And perhaps you've already noticed the semi-Mughal arches at the entrance and on some windows.
Oh, and there's another interesting thing about the temple: although it is dedicated to Vishnu (one of the central gods in the Hindu Trinity), it also has a large Buddhist shrine.
What? You didn't know the Buddha was a Hindu god?
Here's a popular folk toy representation of the ten incarnations of Vishnu, starting with the fish-incarnation on the left. See the orange guy on the right? Surely half a billion people can't be wrong? :)