News and Events
“In the joy of others lies our own;
In the good of others abides our own.”
This is the profound message that is instilled in the young generation by their spiritual leader His Holiness Pramukh Swami Maharaj and it is this message that inspired the children and volunteers of the BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha (UK) to participate in the BBC ‘Children in Need’ programme – a nationwide charitable event that raises funds every year for unfortunate children.
This year the BAPS children decided to stage a cultural performance to raise funds for the BBC’s ‘Children in Need’ charity. They practiced for over two weeks to perform a spectacular Indian cultural dance. Under the banner of ‘Kids 4 Kids’ and ‘Show You Care’, the 400 children attending the BAPS children’s forum and Sunday School in London also gave up their pocket money for a week to ‘make a difference’ to a deprived child’s life. Whilst living in the modern world full of various luxuries, contributing towards this charitable cause gave them a sense of compassion and affection for less fortunate children and taught them to appreciate and cherish what they have! Moreover, while watching this programme, the thousands of children that visit the London Mandir annually as part of their religious education curriculum could also relate their trip to the Mandir and appreciate the Sanstha’s charitable efforts for the wider community.
On Friday 17 November, the fundraising efforts of the children were recognised by the BBC. Scenes from the traditional Indian dance, interviews of children, and the support slogans of the 400 balaks and balikas were recurrently broadcasted on primetime TV not only throughout the ‘Children in Need’ programme but also during Newsround (a popular children’s TV news show) on Friday and Saturday.
The event emphasised the Sanstha’s priority to work towards a cohesive multicultural society and a better future for unfortunate and underprivileged children.
From Ashadh Vad 2 to Shravan Vad 1 of the Indian Calendar (12 July – 10 August 2006), the Hindolã Festival is celebrated. Various decorated swings are created in which the image of God is gently swung with love by the devotees.
Seating God on the swing (hindolo) is symbolic of installing Him in one’s heart. The gentle pulling of the swing symbolises the aspirant’s efforts to please God and bring Him closer to oneself.
This year at the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Neasden – as at all Swaminarayan mandirs worldwide – swings based on various themes have been created with devotion by volunteers.
Themes included are Butterflies, Footballs/Basketballs, Snow, Kesar, Mirrors & Perfumes, Fruits and Rãkhdis.
The Rath Yatra (Festival of Chariots) was celebrated on Saturday 1 July 2006 at the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, Neasden, London.
A beautifully decorated rath with the image of Bhagwan Swaminarayan had been prepared. Following the Vedic poojan ceremony and a short talk on the festival by Shrihari Swami, the rath was pulled by hand around the Mandir complex to the singing of bhajans first by sadhus, then by the devotees.
After circling the Mandir five times, the devotees ended the festival with a dance.
In the evening assembly, sadhus spoke of the significance of the festival.
In keeping with the national Heart and Diabetes Awareness Week, the Akshar Health Committee hosted a series of ethnic-specific seminars and screenings. A whole host of volunteer medical professionals were on call to offer their advice.
Exhibitors included the Diabetes UK, The British Heart Foundation, Surya Foundation (Health & Fitness – Yoga) and professionals from the fields of Optometry, Podiatry, Pharmacy, and Dieticians.
The seminars proved very popular with visitors, the first of which was on dietary modifications. Dieticians Salma Butt and Nosheen Sheik were on hand to give ethnic-specific advice related to diabetes and heart disease. The second run by Dr Kalpesh Besherdas was on managing diabetes. Dr Deven Patel conducted the third seminar on Cardiology, focusing specifically on recognising the early symptoms of heart disease. The final session of the day was a plenary, chaired by Dr Bharat Patel and supported by key health professionals involved in the management of diabetic and cardiac patients. This was a question and answer session, providing an excellent opportunity for the participants to ask questions and gain an insight into their condition.
The BAPS Akshar Health Committee was extremely pleased with the numbers who attended the various screenings. Visitors were screened for Blood Pressure, Blood Glucose and BMI. Patients were also advised on medicines management. In total, 202 people were screened and some 10% of those had abnormal results which would require visiting their GPs for further follow-up. Mr K Meru was in charge of delivering Basic Life Support skills and over 30 people underwent training in CPR techniques.
Jean Gaffin, Chair of Brent PCT, was very impressed with the dedication of the volunteers. She commented that she had not seen such a positive response amongst the Asian community whenever similar seminars were held by Brent PCT.
The Right Honourable Tony Blair MP, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom visited BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, Neasden, the largest traditional Hindu Mandir in Europe, on Tuesday 25 April 2006 with his wife Mrs. Cherie Blair.
The Prime Minister and Mrs Blair arrived at 5.15pm and were welcomed at the ceremonial gates by Mr Jitu Patel, Chairman of the Board of Trustees and The Mayor of Brent, Colum Moloney. They were then introduced to the High Commissioner of India – His Excellency Mr. Kamlesh Sharma, trustees of the temple, Tony McNulty – MP for Harrow East and Minister of State for Immigration, Dawn Butler – MP for Brent South, Mr Barry Gardiner – MP for Brent North, Mr Keith Vaz MP, Mr Stephen Pound MP and Cllr. Ann John – Leader of the Brent Council.
At the base of the Mandir steps, after removing his shoes, the Prime Minister was welcomed in the traditional manner by Yogvivek Swami, Head of the Mandir by applying a chandlo to his forehead and tying a nada chhadhi on his right wrist, to the accompaniment of chanting of the ‘Shanti Path’ by young children of BAPS.
The Prime Minister was quite at home with this traditional welcome as he had come to the Mandir almost 10 years before as Leader of the Opposition in June 1996.
Mrs. Blair was also welcomed in the traditional Hindu manner by the ladies volunteers of BAPS. Mrs. Blair had also visited in 1997 and was familiar with the traditional welcome.
At the top of the Mandir steps, the Prime Minister was informed of the Swaminarayan School across the road from the Mandir learning how the School recently earned a place in the league tables as one of the top 20 in the United Kingdom.
Inside the Mandir, the Prime Minister paid respects to the sacred images by offering flowers, after which he was shown around the Mandir by Yogvivek Swami who explained the spirit of volunteerism that had gone into the building of the Mandir and the significance of the intricate carvings that adorn the Mandir.
Yogvivek Swami also explained the significance of the sacred image of Nilkanth Varni where the Prime Minister joined him in offering prayers and abhishek there.
From there, they continued into the glorious Haveli viewing the beautiful wooden carvings and proceeding into the main Prayer Hall where the Prime Minister was given a rapturous welcome by the audience of thousands that had gathered.
Yogvivek Swami welcomed the Prime Minister on behalf of His Holiness Pramukh Swami Maharaj reminding the Prime Minister of his previous visit to the Mandir on 21 June 1996 as Leader of the Opposition, when he had also met Pramukh Swami Maharaj who had offered prayers and blessings. At that time, the community had expressed a wish for him to return to the Mandir one day as Prime Minister.
He was then garlanded by Yogvivek Swami; Mrs Blair was garlanded by Dr. Jasuben Nirmal of the ladies wing.
On this historic occasion, His Holiness Pramukh Swami Maharaj had sent special blessings from India for the Prime Minister via video.
The Prime Minister then addressed the Indian Community that had gathered.
Thank you for having me here today… When I was here those 10 years ago and I met His Holiness Pramukh Swami Maharaj. I was immensely impressed, impressed really by two things.
First, the sheer scale of the vision to build this wonderful place of worship… That it took an enormous amount, obviously of effort and commitment. But what an extraordinary statement on behalf of Hinduism… It is something truly remarkable.
But the second thing that impressed me then, and has impressed me again today was obviously the sense of spirituality with His Holiness Pramukh Swami Maharaj. But also the air of friendship and harmony that this place of worship generates…
And I really want to say three things to you this evening… The first is to thank the Hindu community, the Indian community in this country for the contribution you make to our country. It is wonderful and it is deeply valued…
The second is to say… the hope I had in 1996 – that we would be able to create a stronger and better relationship between Britain and India – has been realised… When I visited India a short time ago and I saw for myself yet again the changes happening there, I tell you that India today is one of the greatest countries in the world… His Holiness gave me a very kind invitation to visit, what is translated as the abode of God… the incredible thing that is happening today in India is something that… it is the best thing you could possibly have in the early 21st century and that is a strong sense of tradition, and the values that have nurtured a country over a long period of time…
But the third thing I wanted to say… is about Hinduism and its place in our society and its place in the wider world… what a wonderful thing it is to see the Hindu religion as an exemplar of peace and harmony and people working across faiths together… I do not believe that there is not a place for spiritual belief. On the contrary… it is important, for there to be a role for faith and belief in something larger and more important than your own selfish interests. And this for me is what Hinduism represents. It represents an intense spirituality… a great deal of devotion… it represents as His Holiness was saying earlier… one of the most profoundly important things necessary not just for a society to grow and flourish, but for humanity to make progress. And that is a sense of duty towards others. And the fact that in Hinduism, so many of these values – that are truly human and universal values – are brought together, is a great inspiration…
So it is a very great pleasure to be back with you today. It’s a very, for me, evocative moment to come back here after 10 years… to recognise that this place of worship has remained as something strong and fundamental and unchanging in its commitment and in its devotion to humanity and to faith… the young children here… that here, they will find something important to guide them throughout their lives.
One of the great things that you have done here, in this place of worship, is not just about the worship inside the Mandir; it’s also about the school, the Swaminarayan School, next door, which is a wonderful, wonderful school and congratulations incidentally to everybody who worked so hard at it…
‘Learn-Direct’… is offering help to people, not just in the Hindu faith, but from different faiths as well. What a great statement on behalf of your faith and on behalf of your contribution to society…
But one thing I do know which is that this place remained with me over all the years and time that I’ve been Prime Minister. And this place and its spirit will remain with me for the rest of my life… Thank you all very very much indeed.
Finally, the Prime Minister was presented with a beautiful golden ‘amrut kumbh’ – a ceremonial ornamental pot, a symbol of auspiciousness and immortality. Mrs. Blair was presented with a beautiful golden ‘Akshar Deri’ – the symbol of BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha.
On Thursday 6 April 2006, numerous devotees visited BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, Neasden, London to celebrate the sacred festival of Shri Swaminarayan Jayanti and Ramnavmi. To mark this auspicious occasion, grand annakuts was offered to the deities.
At 12 noon, the sadhus performed the birth arti of Shri Ramchandra. All the devotees had the opportunity to rock the cradle of Shri Ramchandra.
During the course of the day, devotees were also given the opportunity of offering abhishek to the sacred image of Nilkanth Varni (Bhagwan Swaminarayan).
In the evening bhajans and speeches extolling the virtues and greatness of Bhagwan Swaminarayan and Shri Ramchandraji were presented. The grand assembly culminated in the celebrations of the birth of Bhagwan Swaminarayan at 10:10pm.
On Saturday 8 April 2006, further celebrations of Shri Swaminarayan Jayanti took place with a wonderful programme in the evening in which countless devotees attended. The programme demonstrated through dramas, bhajans and discourses, the true inspiration provided by Bhagwan Swaminarayan to the devotees to lead morally upright lives.
During the day many devotees took part in the ‘Akhand Swaminarayan Dhun’ in front of the sacred image of sacred image of Nilkanth Varni (Bhagwan Swaminarayan).
Devotees from all over the country also gathered at the local mandirs and centres to celebrate this important festival.
The BAPS Annual National Sponsored Walk was held on Sunday 2 April 2006 at all BAPS Swaminarayan Mandirs and Centres across the UK in London, Leicester, Ashton, Birmingham, Wellingborough, Loughborough, Nottingham and Cardiff.
Inspired by His Holiness Pramukh Swami Maharaj, this year’s walk was once again an outstanding success. Over 2000 participants walked for 10km in various centres throughout the country. Walkers between the age of 7 and 90 participated.
The walk at BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, Neasden, London, commenced at 9am from the Ceremonial Gate of the Mandir with the performance of Vedic rituals by the sadhus in the presence of The Lord Mayor of Brent, Columbus Moloney and Tony McNulty, MP for Harrow East and Minister of State for Immigration.
The route was stewarded by the BAPS volunteers and medical assistance was also provided. Arrangements for cold drinks and fruits were also made at rest points. The event was managed by over 100 volunteers.
Young boys and girls between the age of 4 and 7 also participated in their own mini-walk around the perimeters of the Mandir completing 11 rounds.
This year, participants contacted over 35,000 people to obtain sponsorships. The funds raised from this year’s Sponsored Walk will be used by BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha for its various charitable – social, cultural, moral, educational and humanitarian – activities.
On Saturday 8 April 2006 during the Shri Swaminarayan Jayanti celebrations, prizes were presented for the Sponsored Walk in two categories: ‘Most Sponsors Contacted’ and ‘Most Funds Raised’ across four age groups – Bal-Balika, Kishore-Kishori, Yuvak-Yuvati and Sanyukta-Mahila age groups. The trophies were a token of the hard work and efforts put in by the devotees to raise funds for the charities.
Sunday 26 February 2006 marked the celebration of ‘Maha-Shivratri’ at the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Neasden, London. The day began with the sacred abhishek of the Shivalinga amidst the chanting of Shiva Mahima Stotram by the sadhus. Every visiting devotee offered billi-patra on the Shivalinga; rudrabhishek was performed with pouring of holy water and milk in which the sacred rivers of Ganga, Jamuna, Saraswati, Godavari, Kaveri, etc. were invoked. The atmosphere rang with divine chants from the Vedas.
Throughout the day, devotees had the opportunity of Annakut darshan in which a colourful variety of ‘falahar’ items was offered at the shrines of Ghanshyam Maharaj and Shiv-Parvati.
The ice Shivalinga on display at the entrance was a great attraction, evoking memories of Amarnath in India where a natural ice Shivalinga exists.
In the special assembly held in the evening, the significance of Shivratri was explained in the discourses along with the singing of bhajans. Tony McNulty, MP for Harrow East and Minister of State for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality joined the celebrations and also addressed the august gathering. Before leaving, each visitor was given prasad and a special pocket calendar.