Neasden Temple: A Tour of Baps Shri Swaminarayan Mandir
Certain buildings in London have the power to stop you in your tracks, forcing you to pause, maybe rub your eyes, and take a closer look. If drama is what you look for in a building. Look no further than Neasden Temple.
Admittedly it’s a bit out of the way (the hour-long trip on the Jubilee line followed by a 20 minute walk almost put me off) but boy was it worth it.
What is Neasden Temple?
To start with, its full name is Baps Shri Swaminarayan Mandir. For the uninitiated Swaminarayan comes under the umbrella of Hinduism, the name is from a man; Bhagwan Swaminarayan who was born in India in 1781.
At the age of 11 he began a seven-year pilgrimage across the country and established his own traditions known as Vedism. These centred on greater morality and spirituality, transcending barriers of caste and gender.
When he died in 1830 he was worshipped as a deity and passed over his leadership to successor. Neasden Temple is the brainchild of the fifth spiritual successor of Bhagwan Swaminarayan.
Hi holiness Pramukh Swami Maharaj visited London in 1992 and, seeing the community of Hindus based here, predicted that a large marble temple would soon serve the people. Eager to fulfil his vision, the Swamishri began construction.
It’s the first traditional Hindu Mandir (temple) in Europe, built according to the ancient Shilpashtras (literally, ‘the Science of Shilpas’, meaning arts and crafts) and it’s astonishing.
Ready for the close-ups
It’s carved entirely of stone and wood, just to reiterate. That’s it. No concrete core or steel frame props this up!
In numbers it’s staggering; 2,828 tonnes of Bulgarian limestone and 2,000 tonnes of Italian Carrara marble. All this was shipped to Indian to be hand carved by skilled craftsmen before making its way back to London to be assembled. Over 3,000 volunteers helped to create the Mandir.
I don’t know how long I expected a three dimensional 26,300-piece jigsaw to take, but 3 years sounds like an insanely short amount of time.
According to our volunteer guide who gave us a lovely talk about the building, nto one piece of stone was damaged in the journey to London. The only slight hiccup came with teh building of the final arch which frames the entrance;
One stone piece – a day before the official opening – just couldn’t be found anywhere. In the end the craftsmen just re-carved another stone and slotted it into place. A week later, of course they found the missing stone!
The Vision Realised
So from Pujya Pramukh Swami Maharaj’s prophecy that a temple would appear back in August 1992, the opening ceremony took place on 3 August 1995.
He described the Mandir as “A palace of paramount peace, a centre for realising God”.
As well as the main temple for prayer we also enjoyed an exhibition space which explains the origins, beliefs and far-reaching influence of Hinduism. For instance, It was news to me that the world’s first university was established 2,700 years ago in North West India, that Sanskrit has 70 different words for ‘water’ and that a man called Shushruta practised plastic surgery in India 2,600 year ago!
Visiting Neasden Temple
Photography isn’t allowed inside and so you’ll have to take my word for it that inside is definitely worth visiting!
Neasden Temple is open for visitors every day from 9am to 6pm. However within these times the temple has different ceremonies so it’s worth checking the breakdown of these here. It’s free to visit but there are plenty of opportunities to donate to the Mandir if you’d like to. There’s a list of some fo the guidelines including advice on dress and photography here.