The lightly-industrial A-roads of Neasden aren’t on every tourist’s ‘must-visit’ list, but this north-west neighbourhood is home to one of the most remarkable buildings in London. The BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, commonly known as the Neasden Temple, is a beautiful, traditional Hindu temple, standing some 70 feet high, carved entirely out of stone. Oh, and it’s free to visit to boot!
And the story behind it is actually rather surprising…
Although the mandir was designed and built using traditional techniques dating back centuries, it’s actually a rather modern miracle: construction only started in 1993, and was completed by the community in just two years. (Maybe they should be running the Old Street roundabout renovation!) When completed it was, for a time, the largest Hindu temple outside of India, and as you can see, there were no half-measures taken.
This mandir is constructed out of 5,000 tonnes of Indian and Italian marble and Bulgarian limestone. All of that material was first shipped to a mini-township in Kandla, India, where 650 artisans intricately carved the stone into 23,000 different pieces.
Back in the UK, the local community came together to raise the £12 million required to build the chapel, and then, as the pieces of the world’s heaviest jigsaw puzzle arrived, over 3,000 volunteers assisted in their assembly.
Visiting the Neasden Temple
As impressive as it might be from afar, head closer (and then inside!) to check out the mandir in more detail. The incredible carvings that make up the building itself are truly marvellous. And be sure to pay a respectful visit to the deities, each in their own shrine.
While it is a place of worship, they are open to people of all faiths and backgrounds, all year round. The whole place is well worth the mission and to get to and, like any fine place of worship, has a deeply calming and uplifting effect on visitors.
Guided tours and audio tours are available, and the lower floor of the Mandir is dedicated to a permanent exhibition: ‘Understanding Hinduism’. The exhibition takes guests through “the values and wisdom of Hinduism through 3D dioramas, paintings, tableaux and traditional craftwork”.
As a place of worship, there are some (modest) dress code requirements, and it’s also proper to remove one’s shoes once inside. But these are small considerations when faced with the scope and impressiveness of the temple!
Also published on Medium.