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