Mizoram is a state where churches thrive. Though Christianity is only around a hundred years old here, introduced mainly by American missionaries, you come across a church wherever you turn. The tall steeple of one stands imposingly on a hilltop; a more modest structure will meet you at the street corner. There are as many branches of Christianity here as there are churches: from Episcopal and Evangelist to Roman Catholic, Methodist and Presbyterian. You can never tire of peeking into a church, for there is always something different here from the previous one you had walked into.
It is a bit strange then, that the latest attraction in Aizawl is yet another church. But then, the Temple of Solomon isn’t just a church. The imposing marble building, set on top of a hillock around ten kilometres from the city centre, is a fantasy land that has attracted throngs of local people ever since it opened last September. (There aren’t many outsiders, what with restricted tourism.) The church itself stands tall and elegant, its façade decorated with several Stars of David, cherubs and angels. The cavernous hall can easily seat around 3,000 during a service.
The grounds around the main building, however, are the magnets. It is carnival time any time of the year here, what with a series of giant arches festooned with flowers of a myriad colours welcoming the visitor. There is a pony trap where young lovers happily click selfies. A grey stone cottage, straight out of a fairy tale, draws little children just like Hansel and Gretel once were. No evil witches lurk around, though. There is only the gurgle of happy laughter as children see yet another attraction—an artificial snowmaking machine that adds the final touch to a postcard-pretty winter landscape, complete with a snowman.
The laughter blends with the gurgle of a little brook, on both sides of which are rushes and flowers. Giant ladybugs painted on flat stones ensure that the fairy-tale charm persists. Care for some tea? Turn around and behold the giant tea service, complete with jam-filled cookies, all made of terracotta, though. A Mad Hatter’s tea party, it certainly is—the tea cup is filled with mud and there is a flowering plant growing out of it. The flower is plastic. As is every other flower, leaf blade and tree in the complex. It is a little unsettling to see such artifice in a land of natural beauty, where the orchids and lilies would any day outshine the plastic.
“Our aim wasn’t to showcase the natural beauty of the land, but the labour of love of the congregation which has done up the place,” says Robert Lalremruata, treasurer of the Central Youth Evangelical Front. A civil engineer trained in Bengaluru, he works with the city municipal council but comes to the Temple as a volunteer. Each spot was assigned to a different group, and they have been in healthy competition. One particularly eye-catching installation is a mural done up with flattened stones collected from river beds. The stones have been painted into owls, butterflies and even the autumnal leaves of a tree.
The temple is run by the Kohhran Thianghlim, or Holy Church, a nondenominational Christian sect founded by a man called L.B. Sailo, who works at the state animal husbandry and veterinary department. The congregation believes that Mizoram is the spiritual Jerusalem chosen by God and the spiritual capital for its members, as practised during the reign of King David.
The original Temple of Solomon, also called the First Temple, was built on Mount Zion, or Temple Mount, in ancient Jerusalem during the reign of King Solomon. It was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon.
A plaque in the church says that Sailo was told in a dream to build the temple in Aizawl and he began scouting for land and funds. The foundation was laid in 1996. It has taken two decades for this edifice to come up. “It’s all with the contribution of the followers,” says Lalremruata. “It is the only Temple of Solomon in the world. We want as many people as possible to visit this place. Thus we have so many attractions.” This sure is a novel way to bring in people to the fold.
Piety apart, the temple forms the perfect destination for a day outing for Mizo families. There is a restaurant right outside the complex where families happily snack after the tour of the wonderland.