BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir London was inaugurated on August 20, 1995 by his holiness Pramukh Swami Maharaj. BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, Neasden (also commonly know as the Neasden Temple), is a Hindu temple in the London Borough of Brent in north-west London. Built entirely using traditional methods and materials, Neasden’s Swaminarayan Mandir is Britain’s first authentic Hindu temple. It was also Europe’s first traditional Hindu stone temple, as distinct from converted secular buildings. It is a part of the Bochasanwasi Shri Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha (BAPS) organization.
The Mandir was cited in Guinness World Records 2000, as follows:
"Biggest Hindu Temple outside India: The Shri Swaminarayan Temple in Neasden, London, UK, is the largest Hindu temple outside India. It was built by His Holiness Pramukh Swami Maharaj, a 79-year-old Indian sadhu (holy man), and is made of 2,828 tonnes of Bulgarian limestone and 2,000 tonnes of Italian marble, which was first shipped to India to be carved by a team of 1,526 sculptors. The temple cost £12 million to build."
The Mandir was built and funded entirely by the Hindu Community and the entire project spanned 5 years although the Mandir construction itself was completed in two and a half years. Building work began in August 1992. On 24 November, the temple recorded the biggest-ever concrete-pour in the UK, when 4,500 tons was put down in 24 hours to create a foundation mat 6ft (1.8m) thick. The first stone was laid in June 1993; two years later, the building was complete.
The Neasden Temple complex consists of:
The Mandir is the focal point of the complex. Designed according to the Shilpa-Shastras, a Vedic text that develops Hindu architecture to metaphorically represent the different attributes of God, it was constructed almost entirely from Indian marble, Italian marble, Sardinian granite and Bulgarian limestone. No iron or steel was used in the construction, a unique feature for a modern building in the UK.
From the conceptual design and vision of His Holiness Pramukh Swami Maharaj, the architect C. B. Sompura and his team created the mandir entirely from stone. It is a shikharbaddha (or pinnacled) mandir: seven tiered pinnacles topped by golden spires crowd the roofline, complemented by five ribbed domes. The temple is in fact noted for is its profusely carved cantilevered central dome, believed to be the only one in Britain that does not use steel or lead. Inside, serpentine ribbons of stone link the columns into arches, creating a sense of levitation.
Light cream Vartza limestone from Bulgaria was chosen for the exterior, and for the interior, Italian Carrara marble supplemented by Indian Ambaji marble. The Bulgarian and Italian stone were shipped to the port of Kandla in Gujarat. It was there that most of the carving was eventually completed, by over 1,500 craftsmen in a workshop specially set up for the project. More than 26,300 individually numbered stones pieces which were shipped back to London, and the building was assembled like a giant three-dimensional jigsaw.
The Mandir was inaugurated on 20 August 1995 by Pramukh Swami Maharaj, the spiritual leader of BAPS – the organisation behind the temple.
The entire Mandir complex represents an act of faith and collective effort. Inspired by Pramukh Swami Maharaj, more than 1,000 volunteers worked on the building, and many more contributed and solicited donations, or organised sponsored walks and other activities; children raised money by collecting aluminium cans and foil for recycling. The Mandir serves as the centre of worship. Directly beneath each of the seven pinnacles seen from the outside is a shrine. Each of these seven shrines houses murtis (sacred images of the Deities) within altars. Each murti is revered like God in person and devoutly attended to each day by the sadhus (monks) who live in the temple ashram.
Beneath the Mandir is the permanent exhibition ‘Understanding Hinduism’. Through 3-D dioramas, paintings, tableaux and traditional craftwork, it provides an insight into the wisdom and values of Hinduism. Visitors can learn about the origin, beliefs and contribution of Hindu seers, and how this ancient religion is being practiced today through traditions such as the BAPS Swaminarayan Sampraday.
The Mandir is open to people of all faiths and none. Entrance is free, except to the ‘Understanding Hinduism’ exhibition where there is a £2 fee.
Adjoining the Mandir is BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Haveli, a multi-function cultural centre. Whereas the Mandir is carved from stone, the Haveli uses wood: English Oak and Burmese Teak have been fashioned into panels, arches and screens, all carved by craftsmen in India with a cornucopia of geometric patterns, stylised animal heads and flower garlands.
The Burmese Teak used was harvested from sustainable forests. To compensate for the 226 English Oak trees used, over 2,300 English Oak saplings were planted in Devon. The Haveli also incorporates energy-saving features such as light-wells.
Richly carved haveli (courtyard house)-style woodwork from Gujarat is the most striking characteristic of the building’s façade and foyer.. It has been designed according to traditional Indian haveli architecture, to evoke feelings of being in Gujarat, India, where such havelis were once commonplace. It required over 150 craftsmen from all over India three years to carve 17,000 square feet (1,600m²) of wood. Behind the traditional wooden façade, the cultural centre houses a vast pillarless prayer hall with space for 3,000 people, a gymnasium, medical centre, dining facilities, bookstall, conference facilities, and offices.
The Mandir and Haveli were built and funded entirely by the Hindu Community and the entire project spanned five years although the construction itself was completed in two-and-a-half years. Building work began in August 1992. On 24 November 1992, the temple recorded the biggest-ever concrete-pour in the UK, when 4,500 tons were laid in 24 hours to create a foundation mat 6ft (1.8m) thick. The first stone was laid in June 1993; two years later, the building was complete.
The Shayona restaurant offers vegetarian curries, snacks, and a wide range of breads, salads, chutneys and yogurts. Shayona has enhanced these traditional items to bring an authentic taste of India to visitors of the Mandir, and also catering for private events.
Adjacent to the Shayona restaurant is the Akshar IT Centre, an adult learning centre providing government-accredited IT course to the public.
Opposite the Mandir is The Swaminarayan School, Europe’s first independent Hindu school. Founded in 1992 by Pramukh Swami Maharaj, it follows the National Curriculum while promoting aspects of Hinduism and Hindu culture, such as dance, music and language.
The 2007 GCSE results placed the school fourth among all independent schools in the country.
In the morning before sunrise, the murtis which are adorned in their night attire are woken by the sadhus and the shrine doors are opened for the Mangala Arti, which is the first of five ‘arti’ prayers offered during the day. Arti is a ritual wherein a specific prayer is recited to a poetic format with music while the sadhus wave a lighted lamp in front of the murtis. The sadhus recite some shlokas (prayers), serve the deities, offer them food and bathe them, and close the shrine doors.
The shrines are opened again for the second arti (Shangar Arti). The shrines remain open from 9:00am to approximately 11:00am, when the shrines are closed and offered thal (food for lunch). At 11.45am, the shrines are opened for the midday arti (Rajbhog Arti), and the thal (offering hymn) is recited before the Deities. The shrines are closed after this to allow the Deities to rest during the afternoon.
The shrines re-open at 4:00pm (3:30pm on weekends) until 6:30pm for darshan. The Sandhya Arti (sunset arti) follows at 7:00pm. Thereafter, a selection of prayers are recited by the devotees including dhun (where the names of God are chanted and verses of praise are sung). The shrines are closed again for approximately one hour so they can be offered their final meal by the sadhus (monks).
The Deities are then prepared for the night and adorned in their evening attire by the sadhus. The shrines are opened a final time for the Shayan Arti (nighttime arti), with the lights dimmed and music lowered. The devotees recite a few hymns, gently sending the Deities to sleep, before the shrines are finally closed for the night.
The Mandir was awarded the ‘UK Pride of Place’ award in December 2007 by Government authorities after a nationwide online poll. After weeks of voting, the Mandir registered the largest number of votes across the country as well as in London, with an overwhelming 81% of votes from the London Borough of Brent.
Seven wonders of London
Time Out, the highly respected international city-guide publishers, declared the Mandir as one of the "Seven Wonders of London. In an "epic series… to pay tribute to… the capital’s seven most iconic buildings and landmarks", they embarked upon an ambitious search of London’s best. The Mandir featured among the choice seven.
Guinness World Records
In 2000, Guinness World Records presented two certificates to recognise the world record of offering 1,247 vegetarian dishes during the Annakut Festival held at the Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, London on 27 October 2000, and secondly to recognise the largest traditionally built Hindu temple outside India.
The Eventful 20th Century – 70 Wonders of the Modern World
This prestigious Reader’s Digest publication (1998) prominently features the Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, London, lauding its scale, intricate detail and the extraordinary story of how it was built and inspired by Pramukh Swami Maharaj.
Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England
In the 1997/8 Annual Report of the Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England, the Mandir is featured, and is referred to as a "modern building of major importance in our multicultural society.
Most Enterprising Building Award
The Most Enterprising Building Award 1996 was awarded by the Royal Fine Art Commission & British Sky Broadcasting to the Swaminarayan Mandir in London on 5 June 1996.
Natural Stone Award
The Stone Federation issued a special award to the Swaminarayan Hindu Mandir in 1995 as part of its Natural Stone Awards.