Sunday, 27 June 2010

Rajasthan - The London Connection

One of the reasons I live in London is because it is so multicultural and you can experience the whole world, just by walking down the street, or listening to a myriad of languages on the bus.  This is why I've decided to introduce a new feature to my blog called 'the London connection'.  With all of the places and cultures I'm learning about, I reckon there must be something in London that connects with this, so I want to find out what this connection is and have an experience related to the things I'm blogging about.

Today I went to visit the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, a.k.a. the Neasden Temple in the North London Borough of Brent.  It's reputedly the biggest Hindu temple outside India and it's not so much a Rajasthan connection, as a Gujarati one, having been built by followers of Shri Swaminarayan, who are primarily Gujurati immigrants. 

It's a very beautiful building and no expense was spared on the Italian marble and Bulgarian limestone.  The marble was sent off to India, where figures were hand-carved into it by artisans and then returned to London and painstakingly put together by large numbers of volunteers.  The temple was opened in 1995. 

The setting for the temple is rather unusual, as it's right beside one of London's busiest roads and is surrounded by a mixture of lower-middle class suburbia and industrial estates!  Nevertheless, the atmosphere in the temple was one of calm and welcome.  There were lots of people there today, this being the weekend and the thirty degrees temperature outside was in keeping with any other visits I've ever made to a Hindu temple. 

I also walked around the exhibition called 'Understanding Hinduism' and learned about the life of the 18th century Shri Swaminarayan.  Swaminarayan was a precocious student and led an interesting life, including a seven-year journey across India, from his home near Ayodhya in Utter Pradesh, to the state of Gujarat where he finally settled.  Swaminarayan was a modern Hindu reformer and spent his life on social projects with the poorest people in his society.  He was also opposed to the practise of sati (self-immolation of widows on their husbands' funeral pyres) and called for reform of the dowry system, which was (and still is) the cause of so much poverty.  His charitable works are continued by the BAPS organisation and the exhibition ends with details of their various social programmes. 

Afterwards, of course, I was able to feast on delicious meat-free samosas and pakoras at the Shayona restaurant which is opposite the temple.  Time Out has named the Neasden Mandir as one of London's Seven wonders and I would definitely recommend a visit, if you live in the London area.

Image credits:

All photos were taken by me, however it's forbidden to take photos inside the Mandir, so you'll have to go see the wonderful architecture and Murtis for yourself. 
Post a Comment