“ The BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir is a Hindu temple in Neasden, in the London Borough of Brent in north-west London. It was Europe's first traditional Hindu temple (as distinct from converted secular buildings), and according to Guinness Book of World Records it is believed to be the largest outside India, although this distinction may now be taken by the Balaji Temple in Tividale, West Midlands. „
The Shri Swaminarayan Mandir is the largest Hindu temple outside of India. This fact alone made me want to go and see it. It was completed in 1995 and was funded entirely by the Hindu community. I was taken by my Hindu friend, who lived in the area and regularly attended the temple. The temple is in Neasden, a rather run down area of northwest London. To get there you have to either get the bus or walk there from a nearby station. This is a nice way to get to the Temple as suddenly, out of the gloomy, grey Neasden streets, rises a stunning, white marble building.
THE TEMPLE FROM THE OUTSIDE AND THE ADJOINING BUILDING
From the outside the Temple looks very impressive with its many domes and pinnacles and the grand steps leading up to it. I was disappointed to find out that we wouldn't be entering the temple via the steps; I believe that entrance is reserved for VIPs. We were to enter through a set of less impressive doors to the left of the Temple, that led us into an open are that contained areas for depositing shoes and coats, doors to the toilets, a reception area, an area for sitting (an open space on the carpet) and a small shop selling products to do with the faith such as stickers and pictures of various Gods, books on the faith and on various Indian languages, trinkets, incense and key rings. Perusing around the shop after my visit into the actual temple, I found it was very cheap and had a good array of informative books on Hindi and in English. There is also a lot of information on the walls about the Temple and about the Hindu faith.
ENTERING THE TEMPLE
On entering the actual Temple part of the complex, I have to say I was actually surprised at how small it was, considering I knew it to be the largest Hindu Temple outside of India. It is nothing like the size of a grand church, it is more like the size of maybe two classrooms. But it is still amazing when you consider that it was funded entirely by the Hindu community and is made entirely out of Bulgarian limestone, Sardinian granite and Indian and Italian marble. The Temple was constructed without the use of any steel.
INDISE THE TEMPLE
Inside the Temple, you forget about the size as its beauty simply overcomes you. All stunning white marble and intricate carving, combined with the quiet and calm atmosphere, makes you feel somewhat awed. It is quiet inside the Temple as just whispers are allowed. There are beautifully carved statues of many of the Hindu Gods along with plaques that inform you of their story and reason for being worshipped. Our wonder around the Temple ended with my friend taping me on the shoulder and pointing upwards. I looked up to see the inside of the largest dome visible from the outside of the Temple. It was absolutely stunning. It is extremely carved with a symmetrical nature. To be honest I forget what exactly the carved design was of but I remember that I couldn't take my eyes off it. The Temple itself was beautiful, but this was on another level. I walked out of the Temple with my head back and my eyes raised trying to catch one last glimpse of the interior of the dome.
EVERYONE IS WELCOME
People inside the Temple were worshipping and paying us, as obvious outsiders, no attention. Visitors are very welcome in the Shri Swaminarayan Mandir and I believe you can even get guided tours. We just went along in our own time but you can also go for an actual service at certain times of the day.
A FUN, EDUCATIONAL DAY OUT
It only took us about 20-30 minutes to actually go around the Temple. We spent more time in the shop afterwards. But you really can make a day of it if you visit the Temple and then visiting one of the nearby Indian restaurants for a meal. Many of these places are very cheap and you can try a very different kind of Indian food than you might be used to. For example, we went to a place that sold Dosas, a south Indian food similar to a crepe, which that came with a variety of fillings. Very different to your usual curry house offerings of Chicken Tikka Masala.