A visit to BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir
It's hard to believe you're still in London before you even step inside Neasden Hindu Temple.
A few weeks ago I finally got round to visiting Europe's first traditional mandir (Hindu place of worship) - and what a treat! It's a place which has been on my "list" of what to do in London for years...ever since I drove past it many years ago, looking completely out of place in North London.
I love learning about religion, so hearing more about the Hindu faith from our knowledgable guides, through the fantastic exhibition, and even sitting in on a traditional prayer service.
I've visited many Hindu temples throughout South East Asia, rich in history and hundreds of years old, and it really was surprising to hear that this one only dates back to 1990's.
The history of the temple started in 1970, when Yogiji Maharaj, the then spiritual guru of BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha (a religious and social organisation within the Swaminarayan branch of Hinduism), consecrated a small mandir in Islington. Back then, he had a vision of a much larger traditional mandir in London, and fast forward to 1995, the temple was inaugurated.
The temple only took an astonishing 27 months to build, with much of the work carried out by volunteers. Almost 300 tonnes of limestone from Bulgaria and 2000 tonnes of marble from Italy were transported to India, where sculptors quickly got to work, and later everything was shipped to London to be assembled.
BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir takes it's name from Bhagwan Swaminarayan, the principle Hindu deity, and he is believed to have been a manifestation of God. He was born in 1781 in northern India and left home at the age of eleven to revive the Vedic tradition of morality and spirituality in India. He worked to stop superstitions and addictions, and emphasised liberation as the ultimate goal of human life through refuge in God or Guru. After his death, his spiritual mission continued, and today Pramukh Swami Maharaj is the fifth successor.
There's no photography allowed inside, so you will just have to pay a visit yourself to see inside the stunning temple (the intricately carved wooden Grand Haveli Foyer is just something else!). I really enjoyed my visit here, and definitely recommend. It's free, although for the exhibition there's a small charge, and for more details visit their very insightful website.