Check out this amazing Hindu temple in Neasden, London: the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir.
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, one which also makes visitors welcome – it’s a beautiful, traditional Hindu temple, standing some 70 feet high, carved entirely out of stone, and free to visit to boot. [Header photo: Saurabh Chatterjee]
And the story behind it is actually rather surprising!
Although the mandir was designed and built using traditional techniques dating back donkeys-years, it’s actually a rather modern miracle: construction only started in 1993, and was, somehow, completed by the community in just two years. (We should’ve called these guys about Crossrail, in retrospect.) 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 8,000 tonnes of Indian and Italian marble and Bulgarian limestone, all of which had to be 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 1,000 volunteers assisted in their assembly.
As impressive as it might be from afar, head closer (and then inside!) to check out the mandir in more detail. Marvel at all the incredible carvings that make up the building itself, and pay a respectful visit to the deities, each in their own shrine.
They do have a rather welcoming presence, actually.
The whole place is well worth the mission and, like any fine place of worship, has a deeply calming and uplifting effect on the old emotional innards.
(Tip: don’t then immediately visit the IKEA around the corner – ‘oh but, it’s so convenient! we’ll just pop in for a bathroom mirror!’ – and gradually obliterate your inner calm over the next several hours.)
Guided tours and audio tours are available, and the website is really quite informative – they’re obviously hugely proud of this place, and with excellent reason. As a place of worship, there are some (modest) dress code requirements, and it’s also proper to remove one’s shoes once inside, so make sure you wear some nice socks, you scruffbag.
Location: 105-119 Brentfield Road, NW10 8LD. Nearest station: Neasden (which still isn’t particularly close.)
Opening hours: Seven days a week, 9am – 6pm.
Entry: Free, but don’t be stingy – visit the Understanding Hinduism exhibition within for £2.
More information: head to their website.