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His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales, accompanied by Her Royal Highness Duchess of Cornwall, visited BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Neasden, London, on the afternoon of Friday 9 November 2007 – the auspicious Hindu day of Diwali.
Their Royal Highnesses arrived shortly after 3.30pm and were introduced to several prominent Members of Parliament, local councillors and leaders: Cllr. Harshad Patel – Mayor of Brent, Cllr. Paul Lorber – Leader of Brent Council, Dawn Butler – MP for Brent South, Barry Gardiner – MP for Brent North, Sarah Teather – MP for Brent East, Cllr. Bob Blackman and Cllr. Ann John. The head sadhu of the Mandir, Yogvivek Swami, greeted The Prince in the traditional Indian manner with a chandlo, nada chhadi and a garland. Senior female members of the Women’s Wing simultaneously welcomed The Duchess in the same traditional manner.
The Royal couple then proceeded to the sanctum sanctorum where they offered flower petals at the central shrine. Both spent several minutes absorbing the peace and beautiful intricate architecture of the Mandir. Their Royal Highnesses then together performed abhishek of Shri Nilkanth Varni, after which they were escorted to the Haveli foyer to view the Haveli architecture.
After meeting BAPS volunteers who were busy preparing food and decorations for the following day’s Annakut festival, Their Royal Highnesses made their way into the Haveli Prayer Hall where they were greeted with rapturous applause accompanied by musical fanfare and the waving of flags.
As they progressed inside the Haveli, the Prince and the Duchess each lighted a divo to commemorate their presence on this day of Diwali, the Hindu festival of light. Then, after being garlanded, the Prince and Duchess participated in a symbolic ‘Chopda Pujan’ ceremony while BAPS children chanted Vedic prayers. They then watched an enthralling Diwali dance.
Yogvivek Swami conveyed the prayers and good wishes of His Holiness Pramukh Swami Maharaj in the welcome address, after which His Royal Highness addressed the assembly and spoke of his “great privilege” of visiting the temple on this “tremendously auspicious occasion of Diwali… the most wonderful festival of light.” He specifically thanked BAPS volunteers for their “overwhelming warmth” on his two previous visits to the Mandir in 1996 and in 2001, and felt especially touched on being allowed to participate in the sacred rituals this time, even joking about bringing his own account books to the Mandir so that they, too, could be blessed.
The Prince then went on to recollect fond memories of when he received His Holiness Pramukh Swami Maharaj at St James’ Palace back in 1997, exactly ten years to the day. He recalled being “touched by [His Holiness’] humility and tremendous compassion for all living beings.”
He repeatedly congratulated the “peace-loving and values-based Hindu community” in the UK and thanked them for their “huge contribution to the fabric… of our society.” He also shared his personal belief that the local Hindu community is “one of the most positive forces which help to bind the country together.”
His Royal Highness ended by wishing everyone a “Shubh Deepawali… and every possible success” in the year to come.
Following the presentation of mementos, Their Royal Highnesses bid farewell to the assembly before departing from the Mandir at 5.05pm.
The Diwali celebrations at the Mandir continued into the evening with hundreds of businessmen and women participating in the Chopda Pujan ceremony. At 9pm, thousands of visitors, including members of the local community, gathered to witness the grand finale – a spectacular display of professional fireworks. Late into the night, volunteers continued preparations for the following day’s world-renowned Annakut offering to celebrate the Hindu New Year.