Outing to The Neasden Hindu Temple 

Our visit to Shri Swaminarayan Mandir [The Neasden Hindu Temple] on 20th February was a great success. We arrived in time for coffee at the Shayona Shop in the car park alongside before passing through security, entering the temple, removing our shoes and storing them. The marble floors have under floor heating so going shoeless was no hardship.

We assembled together to watch a video on the history of this amazing London landmark, the first traditional Hindu Temple in Europe. It is a masterpiece of traditional Hindu design and exquisite Indian workmanship. Five thousand tonnes of Italian and Indian marble were used together with Bulgarian limestone and its 26,300 pieces were hand-carved in India before being assembled in London in only two and a half years. It opened in 1995 and attracts half a million visitors a year.

We gathered in the Grand Haveli Foyer with its soaring teak columns and beautifully carved oak panels. For each tree felled for the construction ten saplings were planted.

We progressed to the Inner Sanctum, which is the heart of the Mandir, which is a Hindu place of worship where people can unite to serve God and society. There are requests for silence in this area where there are seven shrines which house "muftis," sacred images of the deities. In this peaceful place one can but admire the exquisite carvings on the pillars and the ornate dome around the base of which one sees a series of different musicians with their instruments. The men amongst us moved to the front of the Sanctum with the ladies at the back and chanting commenced as the doors of the shrines were ceremonially opened revealing the gorgeously dressed muftis. The men then moved forward to file past followed by the ladies, respectfully absorbing the peaceful ambience.

We reassembled down stairs where an extremely helpful guide answered many questions from our group and then took us into the Haveli Prayer Hall which can be divided into smaller halls but when fully opened seats 2.500 worshippers. Many visited an exhibition "Understanding Hinduism" which is the world's oldest religion.

There was a gift shop with a wide assortment of souvenirs, carvings, CDs, joss sticks and even clothing. After a fascinating morning we repaired to the Shayona Restaurant for a really scrumptious buffet lunch - vegetarian of course with no onions or garlic. It really was delicious. Hindus also never drink alcohol or smoke. There was a supermarket alongside the restaurant where many bought fruit and vegetables, dried fruits and nuts and various other exotics. Our drive home with Darren was quick and easy and we were very grateful to Sheila Stephens for organising such an enjoyable and interesting outing.

Sue Glyn-Woods