Construction began this week on a historic first temple in India for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The groundbreaking ceremony on Wednesday came 32 months after President Russell M. Nelson announced the Bengaluru India Temple, surprising those watching the church’s April 2018 general conference.

The announcement was an unexpected one even to President Nelson, who had become the church’s prophet three months earlier and was announcing the first seven temples of his administration.

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“Our plans were to announce six new temples at conference time,” he told church members in Bengaluru three weeks later as he ministered to the Latter-day Saints there as part of a multicountry ministry visit. “The Lord told me on the eve of conference: ‘Announce a temple in India.’”

The church has 14,500 members in India, where 46 congregations are gathered in four stakes. Members now save money for months and years, often requiring help from the church’s temple patron assistance fund, and seek difficult-to-obtain visas to travel to other nations to perform temple ordinances such as marriage sealings and endowments.

The closest temple is the Hong Kong China Temple, which has been closed for renovations since June 2019. Members have also traveled to temples as far away as the Philippines or Taiwan.

“With the beginning of the construction and the future dedication of the ‘House of the Lord,’ this will become a hinge point for India and India will not be the same anymore,” said Elder Robert K. William, the Area Seventy who presided over the groundbreaking. “Much of the effort to make this happen lies upon our shoulders and the shoulders of our rising generation.”

The church operates 168 temples around the world and has more than 30 under construction. Temples are reserved for the most sacred ordinances in the church, which has thousands of meetinghouses for Sunday worship services.

Since 1998, Latter-day Saint membership has grown 625% in India, which is expected to overhaul China as the world’s most-populous nation in about 2026, according to estimates.

The official rendering of the exterior of the Bengaluru India Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Ground was broken to mark the start of construction on Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2020. | The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, who came to Bengaluru with President Nelson on the 2018 ministry trip, said: “You can’t imagine what is going to happen in India. Your loftiest dreams … will be painfully shortsighted.”

The Bengaluru temple is a major landmark for the church. Prior to President Nelson’s announcement, 48.5% of the world’s population lived in a country with a Latter-day Saint temple. Afterward, nearly 68% of the world’s population lived in a country where a temple was operating, under construction or announced.

“We want to bring temples closer to the expanding membership of the church,” President Nelson said in 2018.

The groundbreaking was attended by a small group of local leaders. Some men wore suits and some women wore dresses. Others wore traditional Indian clothing. All wore face coverings to follow local health guidelines during the pandemic.

The temple will be a place of refuge for Latter-day Saints, Bengaluru India Stake President NithyaKumar Sunderraj said.

“Today marks history for the Saints in India as we break the ground and prepare the soil for the construction of the holy temple in Bengaluru,” he added.

Elder William previously has said the temple is a dream come true for members in the country.

“Now they do not have to travel to a foreign country with visa and other issues taunting them. They will now see their own children getting married in their own temple,” he said in 2018.

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The excitement was evident after the announcement in 2018.

“I’m shouting for joy filled with gratitude and tears running on my cheeks,” said Vanjpu Kumar, a member of the high council for the Rajahmundy India Stake, when the announcement came. “It’s our true happiness.”

The church released a rendering in January of what will be a 38,670-square-foot temple. It will sit on a 1.62-acre lot with a two-level meetinghouse, administrative offices, a distribution center and a patron housing facility.

“As the construction of our beautiful and sacred temple progresses,” Sister Anne Williams said at the groundbreaking, “simultaneously we can work toward working on our responsibilities as members of the church to let God prevail in all our hearts, prepare our family, friends and neighbors to receive the blessings of the temple, devote some time to do our family history work so that the blessings of this temple can also reach those who have passed away.”

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