Bradford Lakshmi Narayan Hindu Temple

Bradford Lakshmi Narayan Hindu Temple

341 Leeds Road

Bradford

BD3 9LS

Telephone: 01274 395603

Fax: 01274 395603

Email: info@bradfordmandir.org

Website: http://www.bradfordmandir.org/

On 24th May 2007, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip opened the brand new £3 million Lakshmi Narayan Mandir in Bradford.  According to the official website, this Mandir has an overall congregation of 2000-3000 worshippers and is attached to a community centre which provides hot lunches for elderly people, religious education classes, cultural activities and mother tongue classes.  The organisation responsible for building the new temple, the Hindu Cultural Society of Bradford still maintain a building in a nearby street, St Margaret’s Terrace.

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The Lakshmi Narayan Mandir, Bradford

Unlike many religious institutions which only allow male priests, the priestly duties in Bradford are managed by a male and a female, husband and wife team.  Our interviewee thought that this arrangement worked “really beautifully because then they understand as a married couple the challenges of the worshipers who come here.”

As well as regularly hosting school visits from as far afield as York, activities which take place in the mandir include an elderly day centre, yoga classes and a children’s group. The mandir also caters for important life cycle rites including weddings and funerals.  Its role as a polling station also means that visitors who may not have visited a Hindu mandir previously will also come and have a look around.

Our interviewee explained that the busiest days for worship are Mondays and weekends. As Monday is a dedicated day of Shiva worship those who wish “to do hands on worship rather than priests doing it for them” will visit on Mondays to worship “a symbol of Shiva which is called Shiva Lingam.”

Our interviewee explained that the mandir is named after the main deities in this temple, Lakshmi and Narayan, Narayan, being another name for Krishna. Two deities were brought from the old temple to the new, and are displayed in the main shrine.2015-07-07-11-55-40

The main shrine

Unlike many religious institutions which only allow male priests, the priestly duties in Bradford are managed by a male and a female, husband and wife team.  Our interviewee thought that this arrangement worked “really beautifully because then they understand as a married couple the challenges of the worshipers who come here.”

As well as regularly hosting school visits from as far afield as York, activities which take place in the mandir include an elderly day centre, yoga classes and a children’s group. The mandir also caters for important life cycle rites including weddings and funerals.  Its role as a polling station also means that visitors who may not have visited a Hindu mandir previously will also come and have a look around.

Our interviewee explained that the busiest days for worship are Mondays and weekends. As Monday is a dedicated day of Shiva worship those who wish “to do hands on worship rather than priests doing it for them” will visit on Mondays to worship “a symbol of Shiva which is called Shiva Lingam.”

Our interviewee explained that the mandir is named after the main deities in this temple, Lakshmi and Narayan, Narayan, being another name for Krishna. Deities were brought from the old temple to the new, and are displayed in the main shrine.

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The three original deities (bottom left)  from the old temple

Originally, it was not planned to bring the deities from the old mandir on St Margaret’s Terrace to the new mandir, however according to our interviewee, the planning application and development of the temple did not proceed smoothly until the two deities were brought from the old temple – indicating the power that the deities had  to guide the direction of the project. Our interviewee explained how the deities were taken to the river ?Wharfe? at Bolton Abbey to be washed before their installation, an idea suggested by the temple priest:

“I think very cleverly the priest which helped us to install all this from India, had a very clever talk process to analyse your surroundings.  It’s not all about India, it’s where you’re living.  That cohesion, that appreciating, so every time now the Hindu community go to Bolton Abbey, it’s special, but it’s even more special because we can say…  “Do you remember that day we came here?”  It was fantastic”

A link to India does remain, primarily through the shrine, which is made of Makrana marble, the same marble which the Taj Mahal is made from.  Indeed, one of our interviewees told us that the marble for the shrine at the mandir comes from the same quarry as the Taj Mahal stone.  In a building made from Yorkshire stone, containing a shrine made from the same stone as the Taj Mahal, the Bradford Lakshmi Narayan Hindu Temple is a physical manifestation of a confident, prospering community who appreciate the customs of their ancestors and their Yorkshire heritage.

Further References:

http://www.thetelegraphandargus.co.uk/news/760410.3m_hindu_temple_soon_to_take_shape/

http://bradfordhindumandir.weebly.com/

http://www.thetelegraphandargus.co.uk/community/communityasian/asianfeatures/794191.Faith_creates___3m_temple_for_Hindu_community/

http://www.aalayavanimagazine.org/2013/02/shree-lakshmi-narayan-hindu-temple-bradford-2/

https://nimbarka.wordpress.com/shri-sadgurudev-ji-maharaj/2009/shri-lakshmi-narayan-hindu-temple-bradford-1st-patotsava-19th-april-2009/

http://www.thetelegraphandargus.co.uk/news/10947414.Tribute_to__a_true_gentleman__as_Bradford_man_Achhar_Paul_Dharni_dies_aged_72/

http://www.exeter.anglican.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/RE-Today-Mandir-Visit-R-Oates-Article.pdf

http://www.thetelegraphandargus.co.uk/news/1424934.Queen_removes_shoes_for_visit_to___3m_new_temple/

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Shri Venkateswara Temple, Dudley

Shri Venkateswara Temple, Dudley

Dudley Road East, Tividale
West Midlands B69 3DU
Tel: 0121 544 2256 / 0121 544 2257

Email: temple@venkateswara.org.uk

Website: www.venkateswara.org.uk

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The Balaji Temple in Dudley

Opened in August 2006, the Shri Venkateswara Temple (Balaji) in Dudley was proclaimed to be ‘the largest Hindu temple in Europe’.  Costing £6.5m to build and 30 years in the planning, the temple was inaugurated during a 5 day ceremony which attracted over 10000 people.

The Shri Venkateswara Temple complex in Dudley is built on 12.5 acres of what was a rubbish tip and has been constructed in the style of the temple of Sri Venkateswara in Tirupati, India.

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The temple of Sri Venkateswara in Tirupati, India

The site was funded by a £3.3m lottery grant from the Millennium Commission and has taken over 30 years to come to fruition since local Hindus first decided to build a temple in the West Midlands in 1974.  They spent the next 20 years searching for a site and trying to secure funding but were unable to obtain planning permission. In 1992, they finally located Brades Hall Farm, a disused farm and a tip, locally known as ‘Monks Tip’ bounded by a canal.

In 1994 the Black Country Development Corporation agreed to allow the devotees to build on the site, granting them planning permission for a temple. As our respondent explained, the Black County Development Corporation had decided that the land would be designated for community purposes as it could not be used for housing.  Although originally only allocated 3.5 acres for the site, the Hindu community were allowed to develop all 12.5 acres when the other planned occupants all pulled out.  The huge site now contains a number of distinct buildings including the temple, a community centre and seven ‘faith hills’.  The ‘faith hills’, an initiative of Dr Narayan Rao, chairman of the temple hit the headlines on October 1st 2013 when a Farohar symbol with a man in the centre was unveiled in a ceremony at the temple to represent the Zoroastrian tradition.

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A plan of the site

This symbol now sits alongside a dedication to Freddie Mercury on top of the Zoroastrian Parsi Faith Hill, one of seven hills representing Islam, Sikhism, Judaism, the Zoroastrian tradition, Buddhism, Jainism and Christianity.

In 1996 the Millennium Commission approved a matched funding scheme. Work started on the site in 1997 with a foundation laying ceremony Bhoomi Pooja (ritually sanctifying the ground). The Ganesh and Shri Venkateswara Utsava Moorthy murtis were installed in 1999, as the first of three smaller shrines next to the site of the main temple were completed.  In the same year, a team of 600 builders started work in India on the main temple building. The installation of the main murtis of Shri Venkateswara and Hanuman took place in the main temple in April 2000 with further ceremonies taking place between 2000 and 2004 while the main temple was being completed. In August 2006 the grand opening ceremony of the main temple was performed.

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Inside the Main Temple

In May 2007 an ornamental pond with the statue of Ananthapadmanabha was opened. The shrine for Shiva was built and the statue (natural stone selected from the river Ganges in the foot hills of Himalayas) was installed in 2011.

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The ornamental pond

The concrete, granite and class structure was built in stages in India before being shipped to the UK to be assembled on site.  A team of 30 highly-skilled craftsmen and stone masons were brought over from India to work on the carvings of Hindu gods and goddesses that adorn mahogany doors, stone pillars and the walls and ceilings inside the temple.

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Carvings on Mahogany Doors

The temple did face opposition from the local population, as Dr. Kandiah Somasundara Rajah, involved with the project since its origins in the 1970s explained:

we had a lot of opposition from the locals – we organised a meeting and nearly got lynched … But we went ahead with it anyway. It came from small beginnings and it is wonderful seeing it being celebrated. It is a dream come true for all of us.”

Dr Rajah explained that “there were rumours that dead bodies were going to turn up in the river.” In order to ensure that the project succeeded three of the founders had to put in £100,000 each to stop the temple going bankrupt.

The mandir operates through a team of volunteers and twenty two full and part time employees including nine priests.  The priests, all from India, are employed on two year rolling contracts.  The priests are employed from two different traditions to work in different parts of the temple – the upper temple called the Venkateswara Temple which focuses on Vishnu, and the lower temple which focuses on Shiva.  As Dr VP Narayan Rao, the founding chairman of the temple explained, the priests are trained from the age of seven to perform the chanting in Sanskrit.  Our respondents explained that the ceremonies at the temple are deliberately conducted in Sanskrit with some Hindi translations for those who don’t know Sanskrit.  This was to maintain the ‘purity’ of the rituals, as “translation from poetry to prose you lose something … we wanted to retain the tradition and then people like it.  People may not understand everything that the priest chants, but they know the gist of it.”

The mandir attracts tourists and visitors from a number of different backgrounds playing host to tourist companies from as far away as Germany and hosting over eight thousand school visits a year.  Weddings are conducted in the community centre which is also a venue for lectures and health and well-being days.

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Inside the Community Centre

The temple was designed in a collaboration between an Indian and British architect and Dr Adam Hardy, then at Leicester University, who assisted with initial planning permission.  Our respondents explained that they were responsible for ironing out a number of issues including the placement of toilets:

“So the Indian architects said you can’t have toilets in the temple.  I said, “If you can’t have toilets in the temple you will have a temple in the toilet.”  Because in India they build temples, no toilet.  So early in the morning people defecate all the way round. I went to India about six months ago, and met a priest coming out of a temple and just defecating there.  So I said we are not building the old India fashioned toilets … we’ve installed a brand new surgically clinical toilet, it’s a flush toilet and people wash thoroughly, shower if they want to and then we go up to the temple in their bare footed without being affected by the weather.”

Another innovation in terms of the temple management is the advisory council which includes the mayor of the city and other faith representatives. Our respondents explained the reasoning behind this

“It is pointless in constructing something which is so isolated inside a community and being apart.”

In terms of its future, Sandwell council have recently approved a scheme for the new one-storey building at the Shri Venkateswara Balaji temple on Dudley Road East.  This will allow for the construction of a Yagashala building, which caters for a special ceremony to introduce babies to the faith, allowing parents and future generations to develop their links to the mandir in the years to come.

References

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/west_midlands/5276562.stm

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-402098/Europes-largest-Hindu-temple-opens-doors-Midlands.html

http://www.expressandstar.com/news/2013/10/01/freddie-mercury-honoured-in-unveiling-of-tividale-statue/32273298/

http://news.bbc.co.uk/local/blackcountry/hi/people_and_places/religion_and_ethics/newsid_8936000/8936896.stm

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/west_midlands/5278896.stm

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Bhaktivedanta Manor… ‘an alien presence’… ‘in the village of Letchmore Heath’

The beginnings

Srila  Prabhupada – the founder of ISKCON – first arrived in London on September 11 1969 and ‘after a short press conference, he was driven to the Beatle John Lennon’s Tittenhurst Manor. John Lennon had personally sent his white Rolls-Royce and chauffeur to drive Prabhupada from the airport. After arriving at the Manor, Prabhupada’s first visitors were the Beatles George Harrison and John Lennon and Yoko Ono. He took off the garland he was wearing and gave it to George Harrison. George smiled welcoming him to England.’(1)

This relationship between Srila Prabhupada and the Beatles  – with George Harrison in particular – was to shape the future of ISKCON in the UK.

Our interviewee told us that  Prabhupada approached one of his disciples -Shyamasundar das – whom he knew had become friendly with George Harrison – to see if he could help them a new property as the temple at Bury Place had become overcrowded and was no longer big enough for their needs. When Shyamasundar das posed the question to George, ‘a lightning bolt hit the building they were in, the lights went off, came back on and George turned round and said, “I guess I’ll have to help you then.”’

George tasked another devotee – Dhananjaya das – to select a property. Dhananjaya das found what was to become Bhaktivedanta Manor. Our interviewee told us that there ‘was an old Scottish woman [Mrs Ruffles] living here in one room of the entire building with quite a few cats. He looked at the property and he thought, “This is a good one,” he phoned George Harrison, it was a coin phone from what is now our temple. He said to him, “This is what’s here, this is what’s available,” and George Harrison said, “Get it but don’t pay a penny more than the asking price,” and that was it, and he got it.’

The temple was established in 1973 in a stunning mock-Tudor manor house and became one of the first Hindu temples in England. Our interviewee emphasised that he has ‘always been of the view that the Hare Krishna temple inside a mock Tudor mansion has been an iconic thing for British Hindus.’ The estate can be traced back to 1261 as belonging to Geoffrey Picot and in the 16th Century a Tudor house was built on the site. This was purchased by George Villies in 1884, who demolished the house,  constructing the building we see today. It was named ‘Piggots Manor’, after Mr Picot, and was renamed Bhaktivedanta Manor in 1973, which at that time included 17 acres of land. (2)

When they first got the property it seemed too big for their needs but within a few years the Hindu population in England began to grow as people had to leave their homes in East Africa, including from Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania. As the Indian High Commissioner said at a recent function at the Manor, ‘This was a great watering hole for the tribes of people that arrived with no place of worship in the UK.’

For these East Africans, the first Hindus that many of them saw or met in England were were these strange western converts who were Swami Prabhupada’s first followers there and who  ‘were wearing Indian traditional clothes and probably not wearing them very well…the common things was people… wrapped in bed sheets….not knowing quite what the traditional clothes were…they went out and got whatever they could. At one point rather than the sacred Tulsi plant they were growing Basil and their beads…were whatever they could get…But the thing about us then was western people were the growing Hindu influx and it was all happening in the village of Letchmore Heath. At the time it was just an alien presence.’

Growth and resistance

Situated in middle-England, in the Parish of Aldenham in Hertfordshire, just over a mile from Radlett and four miles from Watford, the juxtaposition of this ‘alien’ presence alongside the trappings of quaint British rural life has over the years generated some local opposition to the activities undertaken at the Manor, not least due to the increased levels of traffic. Our interviewee explained that ‘dealing with the local complaints, the council of Hertsmere took a position to shut the worship here down on the basis of what this place had permission for being I think just a theological college and training place.’ In 1981 the council ‘tried to stop worshippers and pilgrims by banning all festivals. Later, however, a compromise was reached to limit large festivals to six days a year.’ (3) As a solution the temple proposed to buy adjacent land to build an access road but  this fell through. This gave rise to a ‘massive campaign from the 80s that went on right through to 1996 when it concluded with the Secretary of State finally [granting] permission for this ‘access land’ to be purchased’. They were told that this land ‘must be purchased and accessed, a road must be built or you’re closing for worship.’

In his concluding report, the Secretary of State acknowledged that ‘[the temple] is unique in the UK because there is no comparable alternative place for teaching, worship and meditation; and the level of provision of these religious facilities is to an exceptionally high standard. Furthermore, the close association of the Hare Krishna movement’s founder with the Manor makes it a special, if not unique place . . . so that association must continue.’ (3)

Activities and facilities

Our tour around the Manor took us to the private quarters of Praphupada which have been preserved as he used them, as a shrine to his memory.

 

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In addition to the worship of the deities throughout the day and the celebration of religious festivals the estate also houses the Bhaktivedanta Manor School, the  Krishna Club/Sunday School, the Manor Preschool  and the College of Vedic Studies.

Another key aspect of the work undertaken at the Manor is New Gokul a dairy farm and visitor centre, ‘ a mixed herd of 57 animals, some of whom give milk, some who are working oxen, and some who are retired or in their childhood. We operate a system of cow protection. This means that unlike most commercial farms we don’t slaughter any of our cows, bulls or calves, regardless of whether they give us milk or not.’ In Hinduism it is a sacred duty to protect the cow, and many Hindus are vegetarian.

The future

 

In 2012, Hertsmere Borough Council carried out a consultation process about the use and future needs of the Manor and produced a ‘planning brief’ to guide future plans for development.(4) (5) The brief recognises the special significance of the site for ISKCON specifically and for Hindus more broadly and that ‘the whole of the Manor estate is a ‘Dhāma’ – a sanctified place’ (5). Given the listed status of the Manor house and the fact that it does not meet modern accessibility requirements, limits the extent to which the Manor itself can be altered or extended to meet current needs. In 2014 permission was sought for the ‘Erection of a two storey community building (Haveli)…Relocation of existing poly tunnels, greenhouses and playground, revisions to existing playground and erection of a single storey extension to the ladies Ashram, including landscaping to site.’ (6) (7) Much more recently in 2016 Hertsmere Borough Council Planning Committee has given consent for the Manor to build the Shree Krishna Haveli.

 

References

  1. https://theharekrishnamovement.org/2013/02/27/srila-prabhupadas-england-visit/
  2. http://www.bhaktivedantamanor.co.uk/home/?page_id=6
  3. http://www.bhaktivedantamanor.co.uk/home/?page_id=7
  4. https://www.hertsmere.gov.uk/Documents/09-Planning–Building-Control/Planning-Policy/Planning-Publications/Bhaktivedanta-Planning-Brief.pdf
  5. https://www.hertsmere.gov.uk/Documents/09-Planning–Building-Control/Planning-Policy/Planning-Publications/Bhaktivedanta-Consultation-Supporting-Documentation.pdf
  6. http://www6.hertsmere.gov.uk/online-applications/applicationDetails.do?activeTab=summary&keyVal=NGZ51LIF1W000
  7. http://www.bhaktivedantamanor.co.uk/home/?p=11917

 

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Shree Swaminarayan Temple & Art Gallery, Bolton

Details

Address: 161 Deane Road Bolton, Greater Manchester, BL3 5AH

Tel: +44 1204 533 558

Email: Bolton@SwaminarayanGadi.com

Website: SwaminarayanArtGallery.com

The Mandir on Deane Road, officially known as the Shree Swaminarayan Temple & Art Gallery is one of two Hindu Mandirs in Bolton which affiliate to the Swaminarayan tradition. The mainly Gujarati Swaminarayan disciples who established this particular mandir were inspired by Jeevanpran Shree Muktajeevan Swamibapa of the Shree Swaminarayan Gadi Sansthan who established Swaminarayan Temples all over the world. Arriving in Bolton during the 1960/70s congregations were initially held in houses. As numbers increased, the devotees purchased a property at 164 Deane Road, which was converted into a Temple and inaugurated in 1974.

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In 1991, as the congregation grew, the building was renovated and enlarged. While this renovation was taking place, the congregation used the ground floor of a church across the road at 161 Deane Road. Having this relationship meant that when the church officials decided to sell in 1996, they gave the Swaminarayan congregation first refusal. In 1996, the Swaminarayan community bought the church, allowing the church congregation to continue using it for 12 months until they found a new location. On Sunday the 15th June 1997, following a three-day Festival, the Temple was inaugurated by His Divine Holiness Acharya Swamishree Purushottampriyadasji Maharaj.

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As this old Unitarian church was not a listed building, the pews and stained glass windows were removed by the sellers when it was sold. The Swaminarayan congregation, then built a function hall in the downstairs of the church while continuing to use 164 Deane Road as the mandir.

Following its inauguration as a mandir in 1997, in 1998 the congregation moved in to the building from across the road. Once they had moved in, marble murtis (statues) were ordered, while artists from India were employed to complete the ceiling. Over two years, from 1998 to 2000 sketches were drawn in India, canvases brought to the UK and then fixed on the ceilings. The Soni family from Nahbard in Gujarat were responsible for the paintings.

The ceiling of the mandir is a 3000 square foot canvas, with paintings of Lord Swaminarayan and Jeevanpran Swamibapa. The mandir contains the murtis of Lord Swaminarayan, Jeevanpran Abji Bapashree and Jeevanpran Swamibapa along with those of Lord Hanuman and Lord Ganesh.

The Grand of Opening of the Shree Swaminarayan Mandir Arts and Culture Centre, the Murti Pratishtha Mahotsav took place on the 16th August 2000.

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The opening of the extension to the building in 2013 was reported by local and national media. As with the original building, the Soni family completed more paintings for the new extension.

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The intricate artwork has led to this temple being known as the Shree Swaminarayan Temple & Art Gallery. As our interviewee explained:

When we bought the place the ceiling was in need of repair. We want to put a false ceiling, tiles, and then why? It’s a beautiful structure, why put a false ceiling? You losing the beauty about the place. So we flew the artist from there in 1997, he came over here in 1998. He came with the plans to do this, and then came up with …

The paintings on the ceiling are all scenes from the life of Lord Swaminarayan. Our interviewee described the process of choosing the scenes as follows:

“The artists and the gurus, or the swamis, they’ll sit together and draw the sketches that they go off and they’ll decide, ‘Yeah, this story meets …’ Because sometimes they’ll tell the story to an artist and an artist will start drawing sketches from the story they told. And once the meat of the story, they put extra figures onto it, the scene, but it has to tell a story.”

So, why Bolton? How has Bolton become a key site for British Hindus in the North West of England? For our interviewee:

Bolton was easy because housing was cheaper and there were already people in Bolton so they came. And the jobs were easy to find in textiles. Even though in Africa they were builders, over here they didn’t want to go in building site, I don’t know why. In Bolton nobody went in building site, they all went into textiles.

Indeed, the paintings enabled the Mandir to fundraise as each painting was sponsored. The total renovation cost of £2.6 million was underwritten by a Bolton business man allowing individuals and families to pledge money and then pay this back over a longer period. The mandir now attracts members from Oldham, Manchester and beyond.

The biggest annual function held is Diwali, with the largest weekly event being the Sunday evening aarti at 5:30pm which attracts over 300 people. Aarti takes places every day, in the morning and evening run by the priest living on the site. In addition, the mandir runs a number of classes including Indian dhol classes and meditation.

One of the main things that the Swaminarayan Mandir in Bolton is known for is the Shree Swaminarayangadi Pipe Band Bolton. Established in 2002, the Band has over 40 members and regularly performs at charitable fundraising events, at the Reebok stadium in Bolton and at events held in nearby Windermere.  The band was also invited to play at the Olympic Torch event in Bolton in 2012 highlighting its importance to the city.

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Going forward, there are plans to make the Mandir look “more like a Hindu Temple”. The building will be clad in fibreglass. In terms of planning permission and regulations, our interviewee explained that the council had been very supportive in the development of the building, primarily as the mandir has led to the development of derelict land. The mandir regularly hosts local, national and international dignitaries (including representatives from Bolton’s twin town of Le Mans and Paderborn) and also works very closely with Bolton Interfaith Council. Regularly hosting school children and members of the local community it is clear that this Mandir is an important presence in Bolton, both for local Hindus and for the population of Bolton as a whole.

Further References:

http://allhindutemples.com/city/bolton/hindu_temple/shree-swamnarayan-mandir/

http://www.swaminarayanartgallery.com/aboutus/findingus.php

http://www.swaminarayangadi.com/bolton/activities/band.php

https://www.swaminarayangadi.com/pipeband/ourbands/index.php?band=bolton

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‘The Only Hindu Temple in Zone 1’…‘a spiritual oasis in the centre of London’: Radha Krisha Temple and Govinda’s Restaurant, Soho Square, London

Srila Prabhupada, the spiritual leader of ISKCON (International Society for Krishna Consciousness), brought the Hare Krishna movement from India to the West in the 1960s, establishing the first temple in England at 7 Bury Place in 1969, a ‘narrow skinny building’ that the Krishnas rented near to the British Museum.

Our interviewee told us that Prabhupada ‘always felt that London was one of the most important places in the world as a capital centre and he really wanted Krishna consciousness to be established here because he felt that it’s truly international.’

The Hare Krishnas remained at Bury Place for 10 years and 1977 they acquired their current building on Soho Street – which used to be a nightclub – moving the deities there in 1978. By the mid-1970s the premises at Bury Place had ‘got too small and we were looking for a larger place and one of the members of the community drove past and he thought this would be a nice new larger centre for us to move to.’  Although Prabhpada passed away in October 1977, whilst in London earlier that year ‘he saw the building [on Soho Street] and said, “Okay, yeah, buy it”…he kind of gave us blessings for us to move the deities here.’ First of all the restaurant was opened in 1979, today called Govinda’s – referring to another name for Lord Krishna – but at that time was named ‘Healthy, Wealthy and Wise’.

 

Prabuphada’s vision had been to open a large temple in central London and back in the 1970s the hope was that

‘with George Harrison’s help that would happen, but George Harrison’s vision was that we should have a nice place in the country and that’s where he donated Bhaktivedanta Manor. Then once we got that new place in the country all the focus had to go there because it was such huge grounds, big facility, so then a lot of focus went there…the plan has always been for the deities to have their own purpose-built temple. This again was also just meant to be a temporary stopover for them that’s been 36 years now that they’ve been here.’

With a growing community of devotees, the premises on Soho Street is now too small and on festival days the queues snake around around the block. However, it has not been possible to extend the building or to find another central location. Our interviewee stressed the importance of being in ‘zone 1’

‘I would never want to get rid of this [temple] because it’s such a wonderful position, I mean we’re able to serve as a bit of a spiritual oasis in the centre of London, so a lot of people who come in are kind of really overwhelmed by the materialistic concept of society.’

The central location means that the temple is accessible to people, drawing in a multicultural crowd with  ‘nationalities from over 150 different countries’, but the temple is also part of the fabric of that part of London

‘because we’ve been here so long and in some cases three generations of families have passed through here from grandfather to son to grandson, it’s become part of your life almost, part of your heritage…millions of people around the world know where we are now because of the restaurant so it’s just not possible to let it go.’

ISKCON teaches a style of Hinduism that has traditionally appealed to Westerners, but that also attracts growing numbers of people of South Asian background. One of the attractions is the careful and structured emphasis upon teachings about Hinduism in the English language as well as upon devotional practices (bhakti). Our interviewee explained that some other Hindu temples in the West are not as accessible to those outside traditional Hindu communities nor do they emphasise teachings about the religion to the same degree.

Some devotees live at the temple, a maximum of around 24 at a time, which is divided into ‘houses’ or ‘ashrams’ with ‘a separate floor for the ladies and a separate floor for the men. The style of living is…a communal style [with] bunk beds in shared accommodation on the floors’. The programme of worship begins at 4.30 am in the main shrine room on the first floor of the building, with 8  opportunities throughout the day to see the deities (darhsan) and to take part in worship/offerings (arti) in total throughout the day. People come into the building for these rituals and also to hear teachings on a daily basis. A range of courses and seminars are also held at the temple as well as the celebration of festivals.

Other key Hare Krishna activities, co-oridnated from the temple, include the distribution of books (about Krishna, Hinduism and vegetarianism), street chanting (Harinaam), the Food for Life project that distributes food to the needy and Radha Krishna records, a not-for-profit record label and owned by the Radha-Krishna Temple, producing devotional music about Krishna that can been accessed on Itunes.

Most of the activity at the temple takes place in the main shrine room. This is not a large room and the walls have been decorated with ornately crafted alcoves housing pictures of Krishna and stories about his life. At the rear of the temple room is a shrine with a statue of Srila Praphupada and at the front of the room is the main shrine to the deities.

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Srila Praphupada statue

Our interviewee told us that the deities ‘were brought to England by a Radha Krishna temple that was going to open in Ilford and when they arrived Radha had a chip on her finger’. It is a traditional Hindu custom that if the deity is damaged in any way it can’t be installed and the temple donated them to Srila Prabhupada. He said ‘that this was just Krishna’s trick because he actually wanted them to come here. So then he installed the deities, the deity was repaired and he installed them.’

 

2016 marks the 50th anniversary of ISCKON and a range of activities have been taking place at the Radha Krishna temple to mark this important occasion. Included in this has been a renovation project, of which phase 1 is complete and a process of fund raising underway, including sponsorship for an 10 km race the president of the temple and his wife are undertaking at the end of May 2016:

‘For the 50th Anniversary, we have ambitious plans to renovate the Temple in order to be able to better serve Their Lordships, Sri Sri Radha-Londonisvara, and our growing community and guests.

ISKCON’s Seven Purposes, written by Srila Prabhupada, show the importance of erecting a place dedicated to the personality of Krishna and bringing the members closer together for the purpose of teaching a simpler and more natural way of life.

The Temple renovations is intended to support these aims. We want to enhance the quality of service rendered to Their Lordships and also enhance the experience for our community and guests who visit the Temple every day.

If you can help us reach our goal we would greatly appreciate it as we run for Krishna in May !’

 

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Shree Hindu Temple and Community Centre, Leicester

Shree Hindu Temple and Community Centre, Leicester

 The Shree Hindu Temple and Community Centre is located at 34 St Barnashree hindubas Road in the North Evington area of Leicester in a building that used to house a British Telecom exchange workshop. It was purchased by members of the Gujarati community for £180,0000 in 1996.[1] When the property came up on the market, the community had looked at around 15 different buildings in the city and had spent a large sum of money on solicitors’ fees, search fees, surveys and applying for planning permission.

Prior to this, the temple had been located at number 47 Cromford Street, in the Highfields area of the city, established in 1969 in a former Co-operative corner shop purchased for a few thousand pounds. Money had been raised within the local community under the leadership of a female religious teacher called Shyama Devi, who arrived from India in 1968. On June 3rd 1969 the murtis of Radha and Krishna were installed by Shyama Devi and this became the first Hindu temple in Leicester.

The size of the Hindu community began to grow more quickly from the early 1970s as people emigrated from East African countries following Africanisation policies in those settings. 47 Cromford Street provided the first contact with other Hindus for many of these newly arriving migrants. Indeed Leicester was attractive for the very reason that it had a Hindu temple, whereas London had yet to have one.

 

By 1989 the Cromford Street property was handed over to Shyama Devi and another property was sought. Shayama Devi continued to operate a temple from Cromford Street and in 1977 a second temple was opened in a vacant shop in Balham High Street, South London, and more recently a second shop there was converted to become part of the temple.

It was not until 1996 that the current property on 34 St Barnabas Road was purchased and planning permission was obtained to use the property as a temple, notwithstanding some objections about parking and noise from bells. The new temple in St Barnabas Road was more suitable for a growing community, seating up to 500 people. Renovations and extensions were undertaken, including the installation of a kitchen, toilets and a committee room. In 1997 planning permission was granted to add 3 shikhara (towers) at a maximum height of 10m giving the temple its distinctive Indian aesthetic.[2] In 2013 planning permission for change of use was granted to convert an old factory at the rear of the temple into additional space for the community to use.[3]

Money was borrowed from the bank to purchase the temple in 1996 and to make necessary changes, but within 5 years it had been paid off by generous donations from the community. £100,000 alone was raised from the opening ceremony, including donations that people paid for the privilege of being the first to perform puja to the newly installed deities or the first to ring the bell at the deity’s shrine.

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Shree Krishna and his consort Radha (reproduced here with permission from Shree Hindu Temple and Community Centre, Leicester)

The opening ceremony of the temple, which took place over several days, also included the important prana pratishta ritual, where ‘prana [breath] means to instil life into that deity, and pratishta is to install’. It is important to note that for Hindus the ‘statues’ in the temple are not representations of the gods but are actually the deities incarnate. This explains the important role of the prana pratishta ritual and of the pujari (priest) in the temple, in attending to the deity – waking him/her up, bathing, clothing, feeding and then putting the deity to bed to rest.

The main deities in the temple are Shree Krishna and his consort Radha, but we also find other popular deities including Shree Ram, Sitaji and Laxman situated together, Shree Hanumanji (the monkey god), Shree Ganesh (the monkey god), the goddesses Shree Durga Mataji and Shree Randal Mataji and the god Shiva, as well as a display of Baliya Dev, Shitla Mataji, Jalaram Bapa, Shirdi Saibapa and Shree Vishwakarma. As our interviewee told us ‘the decision was a collective decision of the committee members of what do we want, and we wanted to provide a temple for all the different sectors of the Hindu community.’

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Shree Ram, Sitaji and Laxman (reproduced here with permission from Shree Hindu Temple and Community Centre, Leicester)

 

Our interviewee explained that in addition to pujas for deities,

‘a typical Hindu temple provides religious requirements, spiritual needs of the people, anything people have to do with birth, death, moving into a new house or any particular ceremony they want to hold, either in their own homes or at the temple. The priest’s job is to advise and guide them, and the committee will also be involved in that process. So that is taking care of the spiritual side of the temples goals….The other bit is to provide educational facilities, social facilities, drop-in centres, libraries and also a place where people can come and eat as well.’

The temple also runs school visits and has welcomed ‘local councillors, from MPs or government officials, including even the royal family.’

Notes

[1] http://shreehindumandir.tripod.com/id4.html

[2] http://rcweb.leicester.gov.uk/planning/onlinequery/PPRNResults.aspx?PPRN=RLQ4464

[3] http://rcweb.leicester.gov.uk/planning/onlinequery/ResultSet.aspx?AppNo=&Address=french%20road&UPRN=&Wrd=&AppType=&DateRecFrm=&DateRecTo=&DateDecfrm=&DateDecTo=&Proposal=&DecisionType=

 

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ISKCON Leicester: ‘A spiritual centre at the heart of England’

ISKCON (International Society for Krishna Consciousness) established its first centre in the UK in London on Bury Place, Bloomsbury, in 1969 and then in 1973 another centre was set up in a manor house bought for that purpose by the Beatles band member George Harrison,  renamed Bhaktivedanta Manor. In England today, ISKCON has 9 temples with their own buildings. This includes 3 in London (Radha Krishna Temple, Soho, ISKCON South London and ISKCON Redbridge), 2 in the North (in Newcastle  and Manchester), 3 in the Midlands (in Birmingham , Coventry  and Leicester) and 1 in the South (Bhaktivedanta Manor, Watford). There is also a charity shop in King Cross, London called Matchless Gifts  and a longstanding vegetarian restaurant called Govinda’s, which is next door to the temple in Soho. In addition to these there are many more ISKCON groups that meet across the country renting or borrowing buildings for meetings and other activities.

In 2011 ISKCON Leicester obtained a grade II listed former HSBC bank in the centre of Leicester at 31 Granby Street, designed by Joseph Goddard (opened in 1874) in a Gothic style and we went to visit this towards the end of 2015, shortly after it had opened as a new temple.

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31 Granby Street, Leicester

ISKCON, however, has a far longer history in the city, with devotees coming there to teach since the 1970s. Our interviewee told us that…

‘….the first place we had was on Belgrave Road in one of the shops in the basement…a small shrine and a restaurant and that was it….Then we moved around the corner to a terraced house where we used the front room [That would have been early 80s]…The front room was used as the temple and then we had some monks staying upstairs…Then we moved from there and got a five bedroom house [in North Evington on Thoresby Street] and thought “wow, progress, bigger property, a bigger temple hall” and then we were there for over 20 years.’

In September 2010 there was a massive explosion, caused by a gas cylinder used for cooking, at the temple on Thoresby Street. About 1/3 of the house was destroyed, but ‘miraculously’ the deities, even though they were only made from plaster, survived. They were taken to the house of a couple of devotees who ‘could look after them, they had space and time’ and the community began to reflect on what had happened and what they were going to do in the future.

The community had some relatively recent experience of being in another location, when for 3 months in 2005 the temple had been based on Belgrave Road in a building belonging to the a branch of the Indian organisation the Brahmo Samaj, while repairs were being made to the Thoresby Street property. Our interviewee told us…

‘…speak to anyone in ISKCON in Leicester, they will tell you that those three months were the best that they ever had…Because we were on the main road, every morning for the morning service, we had 40 people…People from the Belgrave area came up and said, “Since you were in Belgrave, we thought you left Leicester, we didn’t know you had a place in Evington”. Every evening we would have 100 people for the service, every Sunday, it’s like a community day where we have a full meal… just going there doubled the amount that we were cooking every single Sunday and by the end of that time, we were tripling the amount we were cooking from when we started, just because of the volume of people.’

Being in this property underscored the importance of a central location for ISKCON and upon moving back to Thorseby Street they began to look for another property. ISKCON tends to have a younger demographic, as our interviewee told us, with most devotees in Leicester, for instance, being British-born, with the majority British Asian. Also in contrast to many other Hindu organisations in the UK there was a focus on providing a ‘very systematic, step by step learning opportunity’ about the Hindu tradition in the English language. Being in a central location makes it more likely that this demographic will be able to find out about and access ISKCON.

Before obtaining the former HSBC bank on Granby Street, which had been empty for  4 years, ISKCON devotees had met in different venues, including the ‘East West Centre just off Narborough Road’. The Granby Street bank was on the market for £1.5 million but needed around a further £3 million to repair it. After a period of fundraising and of hard bargaining with HSBC the community managed to secure it for just £350,000.

Our interviewee also told us about an news article that the Leicester Mercury had run – Can City Bank be Saved From Ruin – that had also supported their case – in fact we were told that it represented a ‘turning point’. The article was about ‘Leicester’s at risk heritage buildings’ with most of it focussing on the Granby Street building, drawing attention to   ‘HSBC’s negligence of a major heritage building’ and including a ‘quote from the Civic Society chairman, Stewart Bailey [who] says, “it is our hope that ISKCON can take this and make it into something beautiful”.’

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The Victorian bank, 31 Granby Street

A landmark in Leicester’s Victorian architecture the former bank in Granby Street used to be the headquarters of the Leicestershire Banking Company. According to the ISKCON Leicester website:

 ‘The Leicestershire Banking Company was established in 1829 to finance the burgeoning industries of    Leicester. By 1840, the bank stood at Granby Street. The Three Crowns Hotel had previously stood here for more than a century, providing rooms and refreshments for travellers on the busy route between London and Manchester.

By 1872 the expansion of the bank’s business required a similar growth in its premises. Local architects were asked to submit their designs for a new bank in an open competition.

The winner of the competition was Joseph Goddard….The spectacular gothic building was executed in red brick and Portland stone with an unusual corner porch and French pavilion roofs. The front to Granby Street is particularly impressive with its three tall-decorated windows. The finished building cost £7439 and opened for business in 1874….

The interior of the bank is also a masterpiece of design. The enormous hammer beams form a lantern roof giving the building a lofty and imposing atmosphere. The pillars are hand-carved with individual friezes and each corbel stone is decorated with a different coat of arms. These heraldic arms belong to those towns and cities where the Leicestershire Banking Company carried on its business. It is not certain whether or not the stained glass windows were part of the original plan as they display certain art nouveau features. The clock in the banking hall was made by Dent’s of Southwark, also responsible for Big Ben. The portraits in the banking hall depict H Simpson Gee and Samuel Bankart, past chairman of the Leicestershire Banking Company.’

temple

The news that Listed Building Consent and Planning Permission for the design and renovation work for 31 Granby Street had been granted was received in August 2013 and as our interviewee told us ‘we then did some initial work which completed in 2014, opened up the main hall, put some new toilets in, cleaned it up a bit and so on. From the end of 2014, we then moved all of our activities into the building, opening once a week, maybe in the evenings for different classes and for celebrating all of our festivals.’

When we visited in July 2015 the deities had not yet been properly installed at the new temple and instead the community were using pictures since ‘when we have deities properly installed in the shrine…there have to be people living on site as part of the services that need to happen.’

In addition to religious activities there will be a restaurant, a coffee shop, a heritage room and facilities for classes, in Hindu teachings, music, drama and dance. Recently, ISKCON Leicester have won £37,500  Heritage Lottery Fund to restore stained glass windows in the building. Work has started to restore the historical stained glass windows at ISKCON Leicester.

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