In Photos: The Awe-Inspiring Neasden Temple

Will Noble
By Will Noble Last edited 69 months ago

Last Updated 26 September 2018

In Photos: The Awe-Inspiring Neasden Temple

It is one of the uncanny sights of north London. Emerging from a sea of suburban prosaicness and downright grim North Circular industrial units: the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir.

Catch the mandir — or Neasden Temple as it's often called — on a sunny day, and the Italian Carrara marble shimmers so ethereally, you might think this is an urban mirage.

But the temple is real enough, and what's more, members of the public — whatever their faith — can visit any day of the week, and be knocked for six by its dizzyingly ornate interiors.

Almost 5,000 tonnes of Bulgarian limestone and Carrara marble were quarried in the early 1990s then shipped to India, hand-carved by 1,500 artisans, then transported to north west London. In 26,300 separate pieces.

The mandir's crowning glory is its dome, slotted onto the top of the mandir, and locking the whole structure into place. No steel or concrete in used anywhere in the temple: sheer skill and gravity keeps the temple in one piece. Essentially, it's a giant 3D jigsaw puzzle.

The project was overseen by His Holiness Pramukh Swami Maharaj, and completed in August 1995. Almost every member of north London's Hindi population got involved — children spending their weekends polishing every detail on the stones until they sparkled. It's certainly easier on the eye than the truck garage that was here beforehand.

Hindus come to the mandir to worship in various ceremonies. Aarti is a ceremony in which candles are offered up to the deities. Anyone can come to watch and take part.

Worshippers also pay homage to the murti — statues of deities which are carved from marble, and clothed in robes and garlands, dependent on the day and even the time of day. They're washed every morning too — essentially treated as living beings.

After worship, many Hindus head across the road, to eat at Shayona. This vegetarian restaurant has some fine Indian fare, including palakh aloo tikki (spiced potato & spinach fritters) and coriander chilli paneer.

One neighbour of the temple is anther iconic structure — Wembley Stadium. From the steps of the temple, you can see the famous parabola peeking out from over trees and houses.

Coincidentally, the Nagara-style shikhar (spires) of Neasden Temple seem to echo the former Wembley twin towers — especially with their flags flapping in the breeze.

Two other brick behemoths stand to attention nearby; the chimneys of a former power station.

Attached to the mandir is its haveli — another intricately-carved building, this one from English teak and Burmese oak.

The haveli houses a large prayer hall, gymnasium, creche and library. It is also home to 12 swami — teachers who opt for a life that's cut off from the outside world, and dedicate their lives to Hinduism.

BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir is open daily from 9am-6pm. Entry is free, although donations are welcome. Or pay £2 entry to visit the Understanding Hinduism exhibit, inside the complex.