The Shri Swaminarayan Mandir is a Temple in Neasden, a place of worship for Hindu’s of the Swaminarayan faith. Since opening in the mid 1990s it attracts more than half a million visitors annually. However getting there isn’t all that easy. It’s about a one walk from Neasden underground. It seemed longer to us as it was raining at the time. Within sight of it is Wembley Park, which in it’s own right is a temple – to football.
The Shree Swaminarayan Mandir is Europe’s first traditional Hindu Temple. It is the largest temple to be built outside India. One of London’s most striking monuments, it is open daily throughout the year and welcomes all visitors.
Security is taken seriously so you are expected to leave bags at the security office. Shoes have to be placed in the shoe racks provided in the Mandir. On this rainy day in December we had the place almost to ourselves. The temple personnel appeared keen to brief me on key facts regarding the temple.
The Temple has been carved and constructed entirely according to an ancient treatise on Temple architecture. 2,820 tonnes of Bulgarian Limestone and 2000 tonnes of Italian Carrara marble were shipped to India where more than 1,500 craftsmen worked on the project out of devotion. Over 26,300 carved pieces of marble including intricate ceilings of Indian Ambaji marble were shipped back to London. Within three years they were assembled together like a jigsaw with help from over a thousand followers of the faith.
The temple consists of seven pinnacles, six domes, 193 Pillars, 32 windows and four balconies. Inside the temple there are two levels. The lower one contains a permanent exhibition on "Understanding Hinduism" combined with a Culture Centre. The temple has free entrance, but to go into this exhibition area you have to pay.
Hinduism is the world’s oldest religion. It precedes recorded history and has no one human founder. It is a mystical religion leading the devotee to personally experience the truth within, finally reaching the consciousness where man and God are one.
The Swaminarayan faith (better known as BAPS: Bochasanwasi Shri Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha) started around the 18th Century by Bhagwan Swaminarayan. The current leader of BAPS is Shri Pramukh Swami Maharaj, the fifth spiritual leader. He is the inspirer of this Temple and many others around the world. By guidance from the spiritual leaders, the basic main aim of BAPS is to "inspire a better and happier individual, family and society".
This temple is full of intricate detail. Intense yet beautifully and perfectly carved flowers, animals and symbolic patterns surround you. Hindu’s believe this temple not only is the home of God but also a bridge between man and the Divine.
The second floor is the main area for worship and a number of different images of God are presented here. The daily Worship is done by a priest who is the only person allowed in the inner most Shrines. Appropriate mantras are chanted at each ritual. At festival times worshippers may enter the inner shrine and make offerings to the images of God.
Adjacent to the temple, on the right hand side is another building consisting of a number of halls for prayers and dining facilities. Like others I believed the vivid carpets, containing patterns skilfully mirroring that of the carved wood on the ceiling, had been woven in India. Imagine my surprise on finding out that they had been made in Ireland.
A down side to the visit is that you are not allowed to take pictures inside the building. In the gift shop, however, in the foyer you can buy pictures. They also have a range of books for sale suitable for children and adults, and a variety of languages available, such as English, Gujarati, and Hindi.
This building rivals the best in London and is a must visit.