A while ago I posted a few stunning photos that I took outside of BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir (Neasden Temple) and I’ve finally been able to make my way to back to Britain’s first traditional Hindu Temple for a proper look around.
Before visiting, I made sure that I did a fair amount of reading up about what to expect while visiting. The official website http://londonmandir.baps.org/ has an abundance of information that includes visitor guidelines and photos of the various areas where cameras are not permitted. It is also important to time your visit (information about timing is also on the website) so that you are able to view Darshan. Darshan is one of the most basic forms of worship in Hindu, admiring the Deities. This is offered during particular times through the day when the shrines are open for viewing.
I know that there is no way that I can give such a beautiful place proper justice through words but I will do my best to document my experience. This is certainly a place that one must take in for themselves. When visiting places of religious significance I take it as an opportunity to learn. I listen and most importantly maintain respect for those that are worshiping. It took so much out of me to keep all of the Ooohs and Aaaaahs that were floating around in my mind from blurting out. The only reason that I was able to keep quiet is because I was rendered speechless by the beauty of the Temple inside and out.
Bags and cameras are not allowed inside of the Temple, they must be left in your vehicle or in the Security booth where these items must be checked in. The Haveli (cultural centre) is the point of entry into the Temple. The Haveli is made of 17,760 square feet of intricate wood carvings of Burmese Teak and English Oak.
It is customary to remove your shoes upon entering the Haveli complex where male and female shoe racks are provided. As we entered we were told to hurry as we were just barely making the time to view the shrines. I must say that I knew that I was about to witness something beautiful but the energy that I felt once entering into the Mandir (Hindu place of worship) nearly bought tears to my eyes.
The Mandir is a Marble Masterpiece in the middle of a concrete jungle. It is made up of tons of limestone and fine Italian Carrera Marble etched and sculpted in India and lovingly put together in North-West London. In every piece you can see supreme craftsmanship. Go to http://londonmandir.baps.org/the-mandir/mandir-how-it-was-made/ to see how it was made and for more amazing photos.
The Mandir is a quiet place where you can literally feel the stillness in the air. You will see many people bowing, hands together in front of the images, some lying on the marble floor or sitting in meditation in front of the sacred images.
We visited during Hindola Utsav (Swing Festival) and were able to witness the devotional tradition which takes place 24 July-22 August 2013. The Swing Festival is where images of God are placed on swings and devotees rock the image away and toward them in a loving manner. Placing God on a swing symbolizes placing God in your heart and the rocking motion is symbolic of the desire to bring God closer. The swings are changed and redecorated throughout various times of the month. On this particular day there were two large fish sculptures with the image of God placed on a swing in the middle with a long rope extended from the swing to the area where devotees stand. One by one they would approach the image and give a light tug. http://londonmandir.baps.org/2013/07/hindola-utsav-swing-festival/ (more images of the completed swings so far).
Also seen in the Mandir are the sacred images or Murti displayed in shrines throughout. They are not just seen as beautiful “images” but admired and cared for as a living being would be. The images are dressed elaborately with colorful garments and headpieces and adorned with jewelry. The shrines are open during particular times and closed for others to allow times for visits, food offerings and a to allow the sacred images to rest, following a normal daily routine. Murti Darshan is changed daily. Pictured below is one Darshan displayed on the day of our visit. The smell of fresh fruit was soaring through the air and each one was delicately and purposefully placed around the shrine.
After walking through the Mandir, taking in the beauty and calm of it all, we visited the gift shop. There are books for children and adults, miniature sacred images, incense, candies and teas that bear the BAPS name. Additionally, across the street from the Mandir is Shayona Restaurant (and delicatessen) which serves a delightful menu of authentic Indian cuisine.
We were allowed to retrieve our cameras from the security area to take photos outside of the Mandir before leaving. These are a few of the images:
Upon leaving “P” turned to me to say that he now has a sudden urge to visit India and I agreed! I highly recommend visiting BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir to anyone visiting London, it’s a MUST SEE, a pleasurable, peaceful experience.