What’s a giant statue of Mormonism’s Joseph Smith doing in India?

Latter-day Saint founder joins the likes of Jesus, Moses and Aristotle in the World Peace Dome.

(The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Apostle D. Todd Christofferson, center left, stands with his wife, Katherine, and World Peace University officials in front of the 15-foot-high bronze statue of the Prophet Joseph Smith at its unveiling at the World Peace Dome in Pune, India, on Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2022.

It all started with a cup of coffee — or, to be clear, an absence of coffee.

A few years ago, Vishwanath Karad, Hindu founder of the MIT World Peace University in India, was invited to speak at Brigham Young University, the Provo school owned and operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

At a reception for Karad staged by BYU President Kevin Worthen, the Indian traveler was feeling tired, so he asked for some coffee. His hosts politely informed him about the faith’s health code, the Word of Wisdom, which prohibits “hot drinks,” defined as coffee and tea.

When he heard the explanation, Karad embarked on “a deeper exploration of what the church was all about,” said Brian Grim, founder and president of the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation.

That culminated in Karad “deciding to install a statue of the [church’s] founding prophet, Joseph Smith, under the [World Peace Dome],” Grim wrote on the website, “along with [dozens of ] other statues of religious leaders (from multiple faiths) as well as statues of philosophers and scientists already commemorated beneath the dome.”

(The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Apostle D. Todd Christofferson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and his wife, Katherine, attend an unveiling ceremony for a bronze statue of Church founder Joseph Smith World Peace University in Pune, India, Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2022.

The 15-foot bronze statue was unveiled this week in Pune under the 263-foot-high dome at the MIT World Peace University, as dozens of Latter-day Saints and thousands of others looked on.

“I am gratified that you would honor us as members of [the church],” Latter-day Saint apostle D. Todd Christofferson told the crowd, “as you honor the Prophet Joseph Smith with his statue in this majestic hall built to promote world peace.”

Christofferson was thankful, a church news release reported, for their “generosity and kindness.”

Friendship is “one of the grand fundamental principles of [our faith and doctrine],” Christofferson quoted Smith as saying. “[Friendship will] revolutionize and civilize the world and cause wars and contentions to cease and men to become friends and brothers. Even the wolf and the lamb shall dwell together.”

Indeed, friendship was at the root of how a little-known American-born faith would attract the attention of a prominent international peace advocate.

Karad had a university classmate named Ashok Joshi, a renowned entrepreneur and award-winning Indian scientist who moved to the Beehive State decades ago, Grim reported. Though he did not join the Utah-based faith, he had many Latter-day Saint friends.

At Joshi’s invitation, Karad visited Salt Lake City in 2015 and delivered the keynote address at the Parliament of World Religions held that year in Utah’s capital.

(The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) The World Peace Dome at World Peace University in Pune, India, Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2022.

At Tuesday’s event, Karad said that he saw in the LDS Church something “so similar, so matching with what Indian culture stands for. These were the people who showed me a glimpse of what India would like to convey and proceed and promote. … A very unique event is taking place today,” he said in the release. “What good fortune, friends.”

The 55 statues at the World Peace Dome — including likenesses of Moses, Peter and Aristotle — represent those “who think always [of] the soul and the mind,” Karad said. “The absolute right path can be shown only through education. What type of education? It has to be a universal, value-based education system.”

Mormonism’s founder also believed in education, declaring that “‘In knowledge there is power’ — power to fulfill our divine destiny as children of God,” BYU’s Worthen said at the ceremony. “My wish on this occasion is that those who enter this dome and this university feel a measure of that power as they experience this sacred space.”

One thing should be clear, though, Christofferson said: Latter-day Saints worship Jesus Christ, whose image also is depicted in a statue under the dome.

(The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) A bronze statue of Jesus Christ on display at the World Peace Dome at World Peace University in Pune, India, Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2022.

“We readily acknowledge [Joseph Smith’s] continuing influence for good in the world, the revelations that he brought forth, his example of service and sacrifice and his devotion to and witness of the living God,” the apostle said. “The greatest aspect of the mission of the Prophet Joseph Smith was to bear testimony of Jesus Christ — that he lives.”

The World Peace Dome is more than 500 miles from Bengaluru, where the church is building its first temple in the world’s second most populous country with 1.4 billion people. When completed, the 40,000-square-foot building will serve close to 15,000 Latter-day Saints in the globe’s largest Hindu nation.