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Saturday, 2 November 2013

Diwali at Neasden Temple

I was invited to the BAPS Shri Swaminaryan Mandir, popularly known as the Neasden Temple,  this  week to witness the 19.00 hrs. evening prayer known as arti and to witness its Diwali preparations. Many round the world celebrate the Hindu Festival of Light this weekend.
Security was airport-rigorous. In 2002, 33 temple devotees and visitors were gunned down at the Akshardham Temple in Gandhinagar, India by terrorists.
Neasden is a magnificent building and is Europe’s first traditionally built Hindu temple, the first such outside India in some 800 years. The last similar places of worship were built at Angkor Wat in Cambodia. No steel or manmade material has been used, in keeping with Hindu scriptures. One stipulation of the planners was that English oak should be utilised  in addition to the imported Burmese teak. Over 220 oak trees were felled for the temple, and some 2500 saplings were planted in their place . There is now a flourishing oak tree forest in Wiltshire, England.
 Almost 3,000 tonnes of Bulgarian limestone 1,200 tonnes of Italian Carrara marble, and 900 tonnes of Indian Ambaji marble, were hand-carved by more than 1,500 skilled artisans at 14 different sites around India into 26,300 pieces. These were then coded, packed and sent on their final 6,300-mile journey to London where each piece was assembled like a giant jigsaw puzzle over two and a half years. 
In the building known as the Haveli, a large hall behind which there is a similar-sized sports space popular with young people, there were peacocks placed around the walls as the Neasden temple Diwali has a peacock theme this year. For the first time in my life, I saw traditional rangoli pattern making being done by young and older ladies. This is an art form of design dating back centuries creating three-dimensional patterns of beauty. Watching the ladies at work on the huge coloured tiles laid out on the carpet was mesmerising and induced a feeling of calm. 
The temple has a fee-paying school attached to it that is in the national top five for points scored at GCSE, according to the Daily Telegraph. 
Neasden temple feeds 2,500 each weekend. The number is likely to jump to several thousand for Diwali.
In the temple complex is a great vegetarian supermarket and a reasonably priced vegetarian  restaurant; Shayona,  with an abundant and delicious menu. I enjoyed pani puri, chaat and masala dosa with a passion fruit drink.

The Mandir is open to everyone. More detail at 
Happy Diwali, Hindus around the world.