THE ARCHITECTURE OF THE MANDIR
A trip by tube to Neasden, a grim suburb in the north west of London, then a 15 minute walk through a very cheap neighbourhood with concrete flyovers and the most hideous old and new factories in a treeless area of mud spattered junk.
And suddenly we see something foreign, strange, exotic, a snow white building straight out of an oriental fairy tale, by some called The Eighth Wonder of the World: the Shri Swaminarayan Mandir. It covers 1.5 acres, is 75 feet high, has one big dome, five smaller ones, seven pinnacles with golden tops and many carved pillars.
Every information makes us gape in wonderment: no steel was used, the reason being that steel sets up magnetic fields which would interfere with mediation, 2.800 tonnes of cream coloured limestone from Bulgaria was taken for the exterior, 2.000 tonnes of Italian (and Indian) marble and 127 tonnes of granite. The stones were first shipped to India, where more than 1.500 craftsmen and artisans carved out the 26.300 parts of the Mandir, each piece was given a computer code and then shipped back to London where the ‘puzzle’ was put together from 1992-1995.
The guide tells us that only Indian marble is completely white and that the Italian marble from Carrara has fine dark veins. Why hadn’t they only taken the Indian variety then? We hear to our amazement, "EU marble is cheaper."
How could the craftsmen and artisans in India know what to carve and how could they be sure that all the parts would fit together in London? The explanation is: The architect followed the ancient laws for building mandirs which have been valid for more than a millenium, everything we see now could have been made a thousand years ago, if the building weren’t (still) so white, it could have been built in the Middle Ages. In fact, the craftsmen and artisans didn’t need any instructions, they knew how to carve the figures and ornaments by heart. New is only what serves the comfort of the visitors of today, such as a heating system, lifts for the handicapped and indirect lighting.
If this architectural concept were transferred to our part of the world, it would mean that the European Christians would have built only Romanesque churches for one thousand years, that there wouldn’t have been a Gothic, a Renaissance, a Baroque period.
(in a very small nutshell) On the ground floor of the Mandir is an exhibition ‘Understanding Hinduism’ which informs the visitors about the origin, growth and glory of this religion and what Hindu values can contribute to the individual, the society and the world at large.
Hinduism is the world’s oldest living religion, over 8.500 years old. Presently, Hindus compose 13.7 % of the world’s population residing in over 150 countries. Its roots lie in the Indus Valley, the people living there came to be known as the Hindus. No single founder is known. Through penance and prayers, intuition and introspection, seers gained the ultimate experience of God, which they put down in the writings of the Veda (knowledge/wisdom), written in Sanskrit, the oldest language of the world.
Egypt inherited much of its sacred knowledge from India, then passed it on to Greece, from where it became the foundation of European philosophy and religion.
What makes the Hindus special is that they honour the whole of Creation, see the presence of God in everything. To them there are no heathens or enemies, everyone has the right to evolve spiritually, and shall, at some time realise the Truth. Hinduism is liberal, it does not set man a limit of one life, but offers many lives. At the same time, it is strict, it makes men feel responsible for every action they perform.
The Hindus don’t do missionary work, if you aren’t born as a Hindu, you can’t become one.
THE SWAMINARAYAN FAITH
Guru Swaminarayan lived from 1781 - 1830 and was worshipped as a God already during his lifetime. The guided tour begins with a video film informing about the founder of this denomination who lived for the belief in its pure form and stressed the essential thoughts without a hue of hypocrisy.
Pujya Pramukh Swami Maharaj is the fifth spiritual successor of the founder and the present leader of the Swaminarayan faith.
THE INDIANS IN GREAT BRITAIN
Swaminarayan was active mainly in what is now Gujarat in the North of the Indian West coast. People from that region have built Mandirs wherever in the world they happen to live, in other parts of India, in Africa, the USA and Great Britain. In the whole of GB there are about 20.000 Gujarati, in London about 2.000. They have donated money not only for the Mandir, which is already incredible enough, but also for socio-religious projects adjoining the Mandir, such as a library, a meeting room, a mensa with kitchen, a gymnasium, a kindergarten and a school for Indian children.
About 3 million British subjects, 6% of the population, come from the former colonies, among which the immigrants from the Caribbean Islands form the biggest group. Only about 900.000 people come from former British India, but economically speaking they are the most successful, there are hundreds of Indian millionaires in GB. So the Mandir is also a symbol for what the Indian immigrants have achieved in their new home country, although discrimination against them has not completely ended yet.
The visit of the Mandir is free, the exhibition costs: Adults 2.00, OAP’s and children 1.50
Group and school parties should contact: (020) 8965 2651
Visiting times: 9am - 6 pm, daily, throughout the year