News and Events

Mother and Baby Welfare Workshop
Saturday 20 December 2008

BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha, UK (BAPS), hosted its first Mother and Baby Welfare Workshop on Saturday 20 December 2008 at BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Neasden, London.

The aim of the event was to provide vital guidance to new and expectant mothers about some of the important issues surrounding one of the most significant times in their lives.

Over twenty new and expectant mothers participated in the workshop which incorporated interactive talks, multimedia presentations, and demonstrations using various aids and apparatus.

The session began with Sheetal Raja, an experienced mother, sharing practical advice about breastfeeding. She went on to discuss postnatal care for both mother and the newborn child.

Swetha Patel, a pharmacist, spoke on the welfare benefits available to mothers during pregnancy and up to one year after childbirth. This included information about prescriptions and clubs to join for free services and products.

Physiotherapist Ripal Patel explained at length the importance of proper posture and alignment during pregnancy to decrease fatigue and low back and neck pain. She demonstrated correct methods for lifting, bending, sleeping, and generally being comfortable. She also offered practical guidance on exercises and relaxation techniques for both before and after childbirth.

With the help of Poonam Patel, a midwife, expectant mothers also learnt how best to deal with labour, both physically and emotionally.

Dr Kamini Rao of Princess Alexandra Hospital concluded the workshop with an insightful presentation covering the various stages of pregnancy. She spoke on what is available in the form of prenatal care, what preparations should be made before delivery, the onset and experience of labour itself (including options for pain relief), what to expect immediately after giving birth, and postnatal precautions for the safety of both mother and child.

The workshop proved a great success among the attendees. It provided valuable information and guidance to young women to help them make one of the most important experiences of their lives as safe, comfortable and memorable as possible.

One young mother commented, “I just wasn’t aware of the amount of free services and things I am eligible for. This is going to be really helpful, especially in these tough financial times.”

Another attendee, a first-time mother-to-be, added, “I have read about some of these things before but having it explained practically in simple language and coming from the professionals was very reassuring…. Thank you for relieving me of so many of my worries and doubts.”

Madhu Chudasama, head of BAPS UK’s Child Welfare Department and a leading member of the young women’s forum, explained that the workshop was a part of “BAPS’s commitment to provide holistic support to a member at every stage of her life.” “We see it as the Mandir’s role,” she added, “to be a place where women feel safe, confident and inspired, and a part of that comes from being able to receive expert practical help – both spiritual and for all aspects of life.”

Similar workshops planned for young parents will cover topics such as massaging for newborn babies and basic first aid for children.

Substance Abuse Workshop for Children & Parents
Saturday 13 & Sunday 14 December 2008

  • Approximately 450 children start smoking in the UK every day.
  • One in seven 12- to 15-year-olds has tried illegal drugs.
  • Nearly half of 10- to 15-year-olds have consumed alcoholic drinks.
  • A fifth of the same age have been drunk at least once in the past four weeks.

The statistics are shocking. Most worrying about the recent findings from Ofsted is that these habits are formed in childhood and the early teens. For example, the majority of people who take up smoking do so in adolescence; almost no one starts as an adult.

BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha, UK (BAPS), as part of its continued commitment to protecting children and families from these dangers, hosted a special Substance Abuse Workshop on the weekend of 13 and 14 December 2008 at the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Neasden, London.

Over 60 parents and children between the ages of 8 and 14 attended the workshop, which was conducted by the London Bus Theatre Company (LBTC), one of the leading Theatre in Education groups in the UK.

The aim of the programme was to raise awareness among both parents and children of the dangers of substance abuse and to provide practical guidance on avoiding them. Substances covered in the workshop included drugs, alcohol and tobacco.

Young performers from the Company played out real-life scenarios to educate children on how to behave responsibly in pressurising moments. Many of the actors were youths who had had firsthand experience of such situations and so the lessons they conveyed were especially compelling. They communicated the root cause and contributing factors that lead young people to take harmful substances, and the widespread and long-term consequences of such activity. The interactive nature of the sketches helped to drive home the message very effectively. As LBTC explains, “We have found that if you show something to someone, they usually forget it. If you involve them, they invariably understand it.”

Chris Turner, a trained workshop leader from LBTC, engaged in an eye-opening discussion of the facts surrounding substance abuse. He shared experiences of the Police and vital information about laws and prevention.

The workshop proved to be a powerful revelation into this serious matter and helped educate both parents and children to steer clear of its dangers.

To learn more about the London Bus Theatre Company, click here.

Disclaimer: BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha is not responsible for the content of external internet sites.

‘Understanding Hindu Identity’ Oxford Hinduism Course for BAPS Volunteers
December 2008

A number of key volunteers and teaching facilitators from BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha, UK (BAPS), undertook an impressive academic challenge over the weeks from October to December 2008. They enrolled on a module of Hindu Studies classes in London to learn about ‘Understanding Hindu Identity’.

The module is the first in a series which forms a certified Continuing Education programme developed and delivered by the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies (OCHS), a Recognised Independent Centre of Oxford University, in partnership with University of Wales, Lampeter.

Eight classes comprised the module, covering important topics such as: 1) Hinduism and the Hindu Identity; 2) Origins and Historical Development; 3) The Hindu Scriptures; 4) Hindu Religious Philosophy; 5) Hindu Religious Practice; 6) Hindu Society: Caste and Gender; 7) Modern Trends in Hinduism; and concluding with a summary and discussion.

The aim of the module was to provide BAPS volunteers a deeper and more nuanced understanding of their own faith while engaging in a wider discussion of what it means to be a Hindu in the UK in modern times.

As OCHS promised, the classes were friendly and academic, inspiring clear thinking, critical enquiry, and healthy discussion. Participants were continuously encouraged to explore and examine the very notion of Hindu identity.

The course was particularly successful because of the distinctive ethos underpinning the teaching and learning process. All three tutors – Dr Nick Sutton, Dr Rembert Lutjeharms and Anuradha Dooney – are not only academically qualified but finely sensitive to matters of faith.

Shaunaka Rishi Das, Director of OCHS, commended “BAPS’s vision in hosting this course.” “It is an excellent example,” he added, “of institutions working together to ensure our communities are investing in people who can represent the complexities of the Hindu traditions in ways that are meaningful to modern audiences, including Hindu youth.”

Dr Sutton, Head of the OCHS’s Continuing Education Department and a lecturer at Nottingham University, shared his appreciation and thoughts on the course by saying: “We found it both stimulating and rewarding to be able to work with members of the Swaminarayan community in these classes. Most of those who attended were very knowledgeable regarding the beliefs and practice of Hindu Dharma and were therefore able to make significant contributions to our class discussions. Hence I think the main value of the course was in providing a wider context that helped to locate an individual’s own religious experience within the wider framework of the Hindu tradition as whole.”

Feedback from the participants and other tutors was also overwhelmingly positive. Below are just a few of their comments:

It was a privilege for me to teach such a gracious group of students enriched by so much personal knowledge and religious practice. The wealth of insight this brings to discussion is both enlivening and enlightening to me. …The enthusiasm for learning in the class clearly went beyond a need for academic credits alone. It reflected more a desire to deepen their own spiritual journey and ability to understand and represent the Swaminarayan tradition within a broader Hindu context.”
– Anuradha Dooney (Oxon), OCHS Course Tutor

It was a great pleasure to work with dedicated Swaminarayan devotees…. The discussions were very stimulating, and the students’ openness was inspiring. I look forward to many more classes with them.”
– Dr Rembert Lutjeharms (Oxon), OCHS Course Tutor

The tutors were all vibrant, down to earth, honest, friendly, open, respectful, and deeply knowledgeable.”
– Rakhee Shah, Podiatrist

The course was great because it gathered many scattered topics in a succinct and structured way, providing a broad, more insightful appreciation of Hinduism.”
– Nirav Amin, Medical Student

This was an amazing eye-opener, and has given me a good foundation to strive for a deeper understanding of Hinduism. The opportunity to approach and learn about Hinduism from an academic point of view was also very useful. This will help me in forming better relationships with members of the Hindu community.”
– Nimish Vatsa, IT Consultant

This reinforced the basics and not only increased my breadth and depth of knowledge, it also made me think and refer back to our scriptures. Now I find it easier talking to and teaching youngsters.”
– Shamita Patel, Accountant

I feel more confident about my own faith now and also more sensitive to people of other Hindu traditions.”
– Harshad Patel, Pharmacist

My ability to understand, respect and appreciate others and their beliefs and principles has definitely grown after this course.”
– Kirit Wadia, Chartered Certified Accountant

I feel much better equipped now to communicate what I believe to others, even non-Hindus.”
– Chirag Patel, Dentist

This was very interesting and useful. It has allowed me to answer children’s questions and pass on what I have learnt to them.”
– Asha Soneji, Dentist

I felt at ease in the class when I made comments and observations because I was in the company of people who were equally motivated to learn and appreciate Hinduism. Thank you for this opportunity. It was probably one of the best learning courses I’ve been on!”
– Girish Patel, Business Consultant

The classes were well developed and led from one to the other in smooth progression. They could be heavy going at times because you need to concentrate and it is very thought-provoking, sometimes challenging, but it was always interesting. The presenters have a passion for the content and this comes across very well. Each had a different style and this made it even more interesting. The organisers and presenters are to be congratulated for an extremely well-run course.”
– Shailesh Pujara, Chartered Management Accountant

For further details about the OCHS Hindu Studies Course, click here.

To learn more about the OCHS’s work, vision and ethos, click here.

Disclaimer: BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha is not responsible for the content of external internet sites.

Children Pray for Mumbai Attack Victims
Sunday 30 November 2008

Following the Special Prayer Assembly after the tragic series of attacks in Mumbai earlier in the week, over 350 children and their dedicated voluntary teachers from the BAPS Swaminarayan Sunday School also held a prayer assembly on Sunday 30 November 2008 at the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Neasden, London.

The children (aged between 5 and 14) gathered to pray for all the victims and their family and friends, and for peace and harmony throughout the world. They were all aware of the saddening events, and were particularly moved because innocent children were also facing this violence. After singing Vedic peace prayers in Sanskrit, they learnt about the importance of peace and non-violence through a short visual presentation. The assembly concluded with a one-minute silence in respectful remembrance of all those who had lost their lives during this tragedy.

Additionally, all the children promised to turn an extra rosary before they went to sleep that night to pray to God to help those children and families affected.

Prayers for Peace after Tragic Mumbai Terror Attacks
Saturday 29 November 2008

After the horrific and tragic series of terrorist attacks in Mumbai between Wednesday 26 November and Saturday 29 November 2008, BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha, UK (BAPS), held a Special Prayer Assembly at the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Neasden, London, on Saturday 29 November 2008.

The assembly was organised as an opportunity for people of all faiths and local communities to join in prayer for all those killed, injured and affected by the deplorable acts, and for peace and normalcy to be restored as soon as possible.

With at least 195 lives lost and many more injured during the course of the attacks and ensuing siege, this act of violence was one of the worst in India’s history. At critical times like these, spiritual organisations such as BAPS are able to offer comfort and support in a lasting and meaningful way.

In remembrance of each of the innocent lives lost in Mumbai, 195 candles were lit along the central aisle of the Prayer Hall. Everyone’s thoughts were especially with the families and loved ones they have left behind.

The evening began with a traditional religious chant that was sung by all those gathered as an invocation to the Divine. This was followed by a recital of ancient Vedic verses and peace prayers by sadhus, youths and children of BAPS London.

Many dignitaries, Members of Parliament, well-wishers and supporters had sent their messages of condolence and sympathy for the occasion.

The first to share his message was Mr J K Sharma, First Secretary of the Indian High Commission, who conveyed the grief and resolve of the Indian Government. He also paid tribute to the emergency services and armed forces who had served courageously in these testing times.

The Prime Minister of Great Britain, Rt. Hon. Gordon Brown MP, had also sent a special letter of condolences for the occasion in which he also offered “all necessary support to the Indian authorities as they respond to the crisis.” He added: “Temples serve as a place of reflection and comfort as thousands gather to pray together following the callous attacks in Mumbai.” Tony McNulty (Minister for London and Minister of State for Employment and Welfare Reform) read out the Prime Minster’s letter, adding his own thoughts while echoing the Vedic sentiments that the whole world is one family.

Messages of support and sympathy were also conveyed by Cllr Bob Blackman on behalf of Rt. Hon. David Cameron MP, leader of the Conservative Party, and by Cllr Gavin Sneddon on behalf of Sarah Teather MP, Cllr Paul Lorber, Leader of the Brent Council, and representatives of the Liberal Democrats. A message had also been received from the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson MP.

In his keynote address, the head sadhu of the Mandir, Yogvivek Swami, spoke of the importance of peace, faith and unity in such times of tragedy. He said: “Today, gathered here in the United Kingdom, we stand together, as people of different backgrounds, different races, different cultures and different religions – yet united in one voice, united in affirming that terrorism has no place in any nation, no role in any religion, and no justification anywhere in our civilised world.”

Yogvivek Swami also relayed the message of His Holiness Pramukh Swami Maharaj who has appealed for calm and offered his prayers for all those who have suffered from the atrocities in Mumbai, adding: “We pray that no country, people or community ever have to deal with such a horrific attack again.” His Holiness especially emphasised that “Violence is not the answer to terrorism. We encourage people around the world and especially in Mumbai to stay calm and at peace. BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha will continue to offer its support in this time of tragedy.”

A short presentation followed with visuals of prayer assemblies already held at BAPS centres around the world, including that held at Tithal, India, in the presence of Pramukh Swami Maharaj. Many more prayer assemblies are scheduled at other centres on Sunday.

The assembly concluded fittingly with two minutes of silence and the arti ceremony, after which Mr J M Patel, Chairman of BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha, UK, conducted the vote of thanks.

The assembly, though organised at short notice, was well attended by members of all the major religions, including representatives from the Jewish, Christian, Islamic, Buddhist, Sikh, Jain, Zoroastrian and Hindu faiths. There was also strong cross-party political representation from local MPs, MEPs, GLA members, the Mayor of Brent, Mr Ralph Fox, and Councillors from Brent, Harrow and other London boroughs. Several other local and social organisations had also been present, including representatives from the Metropolitan Police.

A short video report of the prayer assembly can be found on the BBC website here.

Disclaimer: BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha is not responsible for the content of external internet sites.

GCSE Hinduism Course Begins with 100% Top Result BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha, UK
November 2008

In January 2008, BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha, UK, began certified GCSE Hinduism classes for 33 children. The course, comprising two units – Unit M on ‘Hinduism’ and Unit F on ‘Religion and life based on a study of Hinduism’ – with five sections in each unit, is accredited by Edexcel, the UK’s largest awarding body offering academic and vocational qualifications to learning centres in the UK and internationally.

The classes firstly concentrated on Unit M with the exam being taken in June of this year. These classes were held every Saturday at The Swaminarayan Independent School in Neasden, London, with some children travelling from as far as Milton Keynes, Luton and Wellingborough. The course tutor, Mr Lalji Ladwa, is a full-time Religious Studies and Gujarati teacher at the School. Special revision classes during the Easter and May Bank Holidays complemented the classroom lessons, and valuable support and encouragement from the parents helped the children prepare thoroughly.

We were delighted that a full 100% of all students who sat the exam achieved grades ranging from A* to C (the GCSE board considers grades D and E as passes, too), compared to 73% nationally. Of these, almost half (48.5%) were in the top A* and A band, whereas only one-third (33%) of students achieved the same standard in the subject nationally.

Special congratulations go to Elissa Patel (14) who scored a perfect 100% in her exam, coming among the top ten of 94,361 candidates nationwide who took GCSE Religious Studies. The School received a letter of commendation from the Managing Director of Edexcel congratulating her on this outstanding achievement.

We are very pleased for all our young students and their parents, especially considering the average age of the children was under 14 – compared to the usual age of 16.

Earlier this academic year, these children began their classes for Unit F. In parallel, another group of 34 new students has started Unit M classes in preparation for their exam in June 2009. With the help of 11 dedicated support-teachers, we are thus currently catering for 67 children studying towards a GCSE in Hinduism.

Most importantly, the children themselves are finding the classes very rewarding and enjoyable. Here are a few of their comments:

Learning about Hinduism is very important to me because there is no point in following a religion if you don’t know what it is about. It’s also very interesting and now I can answer all those questions my friends have been asking me in a proper way!”
– Hershini Soneji (12)

It has made me understand more about my own religion and also helped me to respect other people’s points of view.”
– Shraddha Patel (14) 

Hinduism is a really interesting topic to be studying. The teachers here are really nice and they make sure you understand everything. I don’t know much about my own culture, so if people asked me a question about my religion I wouldn’t have a proper answer but after coming here I can give a proper answer about my religion.”
– Priyanka Depala (14)

At first I thought that Hinduism would be a little hard, but then I realised that it really helped me understand my religion.”
– Araddhna Patel (12)

I think that this course is very interesting and very good as I found it fun and very resourceful. Our teacher Laljibhai is excellent!”
– Nikhil Patel (13)

I benefitted from this course because it brought me closer to the roots and traditions of my religion.”
– Parul Pujara (14)

The Hinduism classes have been very helpful and have increased my knowledge about Hinduism. I have really enjoyed it as I have made many new friends as well.”
– Shivani Patel (14)

I have learnt so much more about my culture and the Hindu way of life. Now, I am always ahead in RE lessons at school.”
– Danvi Morjaria (14)

I love to go to Hinduism classes because you can learn the background of the religion that you follow and are proud of. It’s a great chance to answer questions your friends will ask and answer them confidently.”
– Krupa Dodhia (12)

BAPS Youth Leader Conferred Prestigious Diana Award
November 2008

Nimisha Thanki, a youth leader at the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Loughborough, has been presented the esteemed Diana Award for her ability to “improve and inspire the lives of others.” The award is a prestigious and lasting celebration of the work of the late Princess of Wales. It “recognises the selfless and positive contributions made by young people to their schools, communities, families or friends,“ and is awarded to “exceptional people who have become positive role models for a generation”.

Nimisha, aged 17, was selected from thousands who are nominated for the award in recognition of her outstanding voluntary work in inspiring the lives of others and selflessly serving the community. The award, established in 1997, was signed by Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

Nimisha devotes much of her time to helping at her local mandir. She manages the female youth wing of the community every Friday evening and is part of the decoration team for all events. She ensures that she is available whenever required and is ever willing and eager to help others. She’s also a great motivator, encouraging others to help as much as they can as well.

Outside of the mandir, Nimisha is a part of a sports leaders organisation which consists of young people performing voluntary work in the community and at schools and clubs. She is also a coach for various sports activities in schools and colleges, working with children and youths aged between 8 and 18. In addition, Nimisha is a community volunteer for many charities outside of school and helps raise money for awareness. She regularly helps out at a youth club, teaching children sport and other activities. At college, she is a school council member and is also a trained referee in hockey and badminton.

“Volunteering with BAPS is really fulfilling,” she shares, “because you get to meet and help so many people and also bring out your own talents. That’s what sparked it off for me, to go out and help others in the community as well.”

When asked what has been her source of inspiration, she explained, “It has to be Pramukh Swami Maharaj, my spiritual guru. He has given me so much inspiration to do what I am doing right now. It is because of him that I am doing this voluntary work and taking it that step further to not only do as much as I can within BAPS but also help the community around me at the same time. I always keep in mind his words, ‘In the joy of others, lies our own.’”

We wish Nimisha all the best in her academic life ahead and her continuing services for the community.

For further information about the Diana Award, click here.

Disclaimer: BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha is not responsible for the content of external internet sites.

Outstanding Inspection Report for The Swaminarayan School
November 2008

The Swaminarayan School, Europe’s first independent Hindu school, has received an outstanding report following its recent inspection by the Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI), confirming its position as one of the best independent schools in the country.

ISI, the agency responsible for the inspection of all accredited independent schools, examines and reports on all educational provision for pupils, including those less than five years of age.

The Swaminarayan School is an independent day school for boys and girls aged between two-and-a-half to eighteen years. It has a total of 443 pupils; 199 in the Preparatory School (two-and-a-half- to eleven-year-olds) and 244 in the Senior School (eleven- to eighteen-year-olds), including 28 in the sixth form.

The School was founded in 1992 by His Holiness Pramukh Swami Maharaj to provide the very best of British education while reinforcing Hindu values and traditions.

After spending almost a week at the School, the team of ten ISI inspectors reported on the School’s excellent standards, highlighting the success that has been achieved not only through exceptional academic results, but also in providing spiritual, moral, social and cultural development in addition to excellent pastoral care and links to the community.

The official report states: “The Swaminarayan School provides its pupils of all ages, including the Early Years, with a well-rounded educational experience of high quality. Academic standards are high overall when compared to those found nationally and the quality of pupils’ spiritual, moral, social and cultural development is outstanding.

Much of the teaching provides excitement, challenge and enrichment beyond the normal curriculum.

The leadership of the school is outstanding and its management at each level and in both schools [Preparatory and Senior] is very effective. It is very well supported by a highly qualified body of teaching staff who in turn are ably assisted by a committed team of administrative and ancillary staff.

Pastoral care and provision for the welfare, health and safety of the pupils are outstanding and are well suited to the needs of the pupils. Throughout both schools, pupils retain their composure before and during lessons, show self-control and acquire a sense of purpose about their schooling.

The Hindu ethos which permeates through all areas of school life enhances the learning experiences of all pupils and substantially contributes to their personal development.”

Headteacher Mr Mahendra Savjani attributed the ISI’s findings to the collective efforts of everyone involved with the School. He said: “The credit for this success goes to our teamwork – committed and dedicated staff supported by governors, hardworking pupils and parents who recognise the value of education.”

This latest success follows the School’s exceptional GCSE results from the summer of 2008 and affirms its fourth position in the 2007 Independent Schools League Table published by the Government in January 2008. (This year’s tables are yet to be published.)

Congratulations to all the pupils, staff, parents and governors of The Swaminarayan School for continuing to build on their successes and achieving an excellent report. We wish them continued success in the future.

To view the full report on the ISI (Independent Schools Inspectorate) website, please click here.

Disclaimer: BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha is not responsible for the content of external internet sites.

Annakut Celebrations
Wednesday 29 October 2008

Following the auspicious day of Diwali on 28 October, the morning of Wednesday 29 October 2008 ushered in the Hindu New Year. From early in the morning, devotees and families arrived at the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Neasden, London, to offer their prayers on the first day of the New Year. Before their arrival, volunteers had been working through the night to ensure that visitors would have a smooth and pleasant experience.

The first prayers of the morning were dedicated to world peace and stability held inside the assembly hall. The Annakut – the ceremonial offering of vegetarian food to the deities – followed at midday. A breathtaking variety of over 1,200 dishes were offered. After the first arti ceremony of the day, the devotees enjoyed a video recording of the New Year’s blessings Pramukh Swami Maharaj had given in Gondal just a few hours earlier that same day.

The opening assembly also saw a small presentation ceremony. BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha, UK, presented a cheque to Sgt Barry Woods for the Police Widows’ Fund. This is an annual donation, marking BAPS’ continuing support and appreciation of our Police force’s sacrifices in ensuring the safety of the public.

Throughout the day, a continual stream of devotees and visitors observed the majestic arrangement of sweets, pickles, salads, fruit drinks and various other items exquisitely prepared by the devotees. (Click here for interesting facts about the offering.)

This year, the Annakut also carried a special theme: “Go Veg… Go Green…”. Visitors were informed of our collective responsibility to care for the environment and the impact of our diet in doing so. Many people appreciated the environmental benefits of being vegetarian through the inspiring displays, exhibits and videos shown throughout the complex.

Several local councillors, Members of Parliament and other dignitaries joined the devotees throughout the day to participate in the half-hourly arti ceremonies and to pass on their New Year’s greetings. These distinguished guests included: HE David Cooney (Irish Ambassador to the United Kingdom), Richard Barnes (Deputy Mayor of London), Tony McNulty MP (Harrow East & Minister of State for Employment and Welfare Reform), Barry Gardiner MP (Brent North), Dawn Butler MP (Brent South), Sarah Teather MP (Brent East) – and importantly, the Leader of the Conservative Party, Rt. Hon. David Cameron MP.

Click here for a short video report of the Annakut celebrations on the BBC website.

Disclaimer: BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites.

Opposition Leader Rt. Hon. David Cameron MP Celebrates Hindu New Year
Wednesday 29 October 2008

Leader of the Conservative Party, Rt Hon. David Cameron MP, visited the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Neasden, London, to celebrate the Hindu New Year on Wednesday 29 October 2008.

Mr Cameron travelled by Tube to Neasden Station and arrived at the Mandir shortly after 4.45pm. The head sadhu of the Mandir, Yogvivek Swami, greeted him in the traditional Indian manner with auspicious marks of welcome and goodwill.

Mr Cameron first performed abhishek of Shri Nilkanth Varni, after which he proceeded to the sanctum sanctorum where he offered flower petals at the central shrine. He spent several minutes absorbing the peace and intricate architecture of the Mandir.

Thereafter, the Opposition Leader made his way into the Haveli Prayer Hall where he was greeted with rapturous applause.

Yogvivek Swami conveyed the prayers and good wishes of His Holiness Pramukh Swami Maharaj in his welcome message, after which Mr Cameron addressed the assembly.

He began by expressing “what a privilege” it was for him to visit “this magnificent place” on this auspicious occasion. He also praised the themes of the festival – “the reaffirmation of hope, the celebration of friendship and of goodwill” – and added that these were values he shared as a part of his vision for a diverse yet unified Britain.

He went on to say: “This [temple] is not just a wonder of marble and limestone; it’s a symbol of the huge contribution that the Hindu community has made to Britain. The story of the Mandir is one of great faith and, as I understand it, collective effort inspired by the vision of Pramukh Swami Maharaj.”

Mr Cameron ended by wishing everyone a “Shubh Diwali” and went on to perform the arti with Yogvivek Swami and other dignitary guests.

Following the presentation of mementos, Mr Cameron bid farewell to the assembly and then departed from the Mandir at 6.15pm.

The New Year celebrations at the Mandir continued into the night with thousands of devotees and visitors flocking to view the world-renowned Annakut – a grand offering of hundreds of vegetarian food items as a traditional form of thanksgiving to God on the first day of the New Year.

Diwali Celebrations
Tuesday 28 October 2008

The final day of the Hindu year is considered to be one of the most auspicious and is celebrated as Diwali – the ‘Festival of Lights’. It is traditionally the day when business owners close existing account books and open new ones in preparation for the year ahead. The ceremony – called Sharada Pujan or Chopda Pujan – is also a time to take stock of one’s spiritual relationship with God.

This year’s Diwali festival was celebrated with great splendour and devotion at the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Neasden, London, on Tuesday 28 October 2008.

Following the evening arti, devotees and well-wishers gathered in the Haveli for the Chopda Pujan ceremony, which commenced at 6.30pm. Hundreds of new account books (some in the form of laptops or even portable memory drives) were blessed through the showering of flowers petals and rice grains amid the chanting of Vedic hymns and prayers.

The highlight of the evening for both young and old was the annual fireworks display which commenced at 9.00pm. Thousands of spectators, including families and local residents, braved the unseasonal sleet and snow, and were not left disappointed. For over twenty minutes, they were enthralled by a spectacular display which illuminated the bitterly cold October night. The beautifully lit iconic Wembley Stadium arch provided a stunning backdrop to the show.

As the crowds dispersed, the volunteers continued their preparations for the following day’s New Year’s Annakut.

Ladies Health Awareness Fair With Expert Speakers and Celebrity TV Chef, Manju Malhi
Saturday 11 October 2008

As part of its ongoing multifarious community outreach programmes, BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha, UK (BAPS), hosted a national health awareness fair for women at the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Neasden, London, on Saturday 11 October 2008.

The fair was inaugurated by Ann Keen, MP for Brentford and Isleworth and current Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Health Service, and Dawn Butler, MP for Brent South.

The aim of the event was to raise vital awareness among the local community about some of the major sources of illness and disability for women in the UK, particularly for South Asian women. Awareness and early detection of many of these conditions help to prevent serious and often disabling consequences.

Experts from a variety of fields spoke and conducted interactive forums on the following topics:

  • Breast and Cervical Cancer – by Dr Bhawna Sirohi (Consultant Medical Oncologist at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Cambridge)
  • Menopause/Hormone Replacement Therapy – by Dr Nuttan Tanna (Consultant Pharmacist at Northwick Park Hospital, London)
  • Osteoporosis – by Dr Hema Patel (General Practitioner, London)

Additionally, Marie Geiger and Ms Daksha Hathi from Breast Cancer Care facilitated a special workshop. They were available all afternoon to field questions and address concerns from attendees on a more personal level.

One of the other highlights of the fair was a live cooking demonstration by Manju Malhi, the prominent Indian-born British chef and food writer whose TV appearances include ‘Great Food Live’ and the BBC’s ‘Saturday Kitchen’. She demonstrated a series of healthy recipes including chilli paneer, spicy rice and okra with black pepper. Reinforcing the importance of health awareness and lifestyle, Ms Malhi explained: “A traditional vegetarian Indian meal can be easy on the pounds – both around your waist and on your wallet – and be tasty, too.”

Several national charities were also on hand to offer advice with information booths and exhibition stalls. These included:

  • British Heart Foundation
  • Cancer Research UK
  • Diabetes UK
  • National Osteoporosis Society

The Fair proved a great success among both the attendees and the presenters. It provided valuable information and guidance to hundreds of women to help them tackle these health conditions at an early stage.

All the speakers were particularly impressed at the smooth coordination of the event. Dr Tanna also noted that the reassuring, comfortable environment of the Mandir was important to women for asking the right questions and receiving expert advice.

Dr Sejal Popat, the country’s youngest tertiary specialist and a leading member of BAPS Medical Services in the UK, added: “It was very satisfying to see such a big turnout. Not everybody who needs this information has access to it and we want to reach out to as many women as possible and offer help which is relevant and practical.”

The event was open to all, and was free of charge.

BE THE CHANGE: BAPS Supports Millennium Development Goals
Thursday 25 September 2008

In 2000, at the United Nations Millennium Summit, 189 world leaders adopted a historic pledge to significantly reduce poverty, hunger and disease by 2015. The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are a roadmap to deliver this pledge with a total of eight time-bound measurable targets. Thursday 25 September 2008 marked the halfway point of the journey to 2015.

On this day, as the UN Secretary-General convened heads of state and government from around the world in New York to review progress and identify concrete actions still needed to honour the international commitment, thousands of ordinary Hindus in the UK showed their support in their own unique way.

For example, thousands of members of BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha demonstrated their support for the MDGs by fasting for the whole day. Other BAPS Hindus, some of them too young or frail to observe a full fast, skipped a meal or simplified their food intake.

The initiative was part of a larger campaign entitled Be The Change where “Hindus and people from other faiths can show solidarity and support for the plight of those less fortunate around the world suffering from hunger and poverty, denied access to education, and affected by environmental degradation.”

Backing the campaign, Prime Minister Gordon Brown MP said: “People with a shared moral sense are the most powerful weapon for change and faith groups through their network of followers have the power to mobilise millions across the world to make poverty history. This is why I am delighted that Britain’s Hindu community are marking the 25 September, the day of the UN’s High Level Event on the Millennium Development Goals, with a call to action for British Hindus. The Be the Change campaign sends a strong message that we each have the power to help the world’s most vulnerable and to play our part in efforts to relieve global poverty. It is through working together – as governments, business, faith communities, and civil society – that our promises to the poorest, the Millennium Development Goals, can be met.”

The fasting, while a relatively small gesture, was still a poignant reminder of the sacrifices still needed to be made to meet the MDGs, and was a powerful message that BAPS Hindus in the UK share the concerns of the world’s most underprivileged people.

The Be The Change campaign is also supported by several other leading Hindu organisations and bodies in the UK.

For further information about the Be The Change campaign, click here.

To learn more about the MDGs, click here.

Disclaimer: BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha is not responsible for the content of external internet sites.

UN International Day of Peace “Prayers and Reflection for Embracing World Peace”
Sunday 21 September 2008

Peace is one of humanity’s most precious needs.
Peace is life’s highest calling.

In 1982, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution declaring an International Day of Peace. In 2001, the General Assembly adopted 21 September as the permanent date for this annual event.

The Day is envisioned to provide “an opportunity for individuals, organizations and nations to create practical acts of peace on a shared date.” As the resolution specifically states: “Peace Day should be devoted to commemorating and strengthening the ideals of peace both within and among all nations and peoples.”

Since its inception, Peace Day has grown to include millions of people in all parts of the world, and each year events are organised to commemorate and celebrate this day

This year, the day was celebrated by BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha, an affiliate of the UN’s Economic and Social Council, at the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Neasden, London. The special evening assembly was inaugurated with the traditional lighting of the lamp, followed by the Shanti-path. This ancient Vedic prayer was eloquently sung in its original Sanskrit by four young children of the BAPS London Children’s Forum.

A short speech followed elucidating upon the Preamble to the UNESCO Constitution which famously begins: “Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed.”

This message was reinforced with a video presentation depicting how His Holiness Pramukh Swami Maharaj has touched the lives of millions with his peace-inspiring work. Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan had described him as “a Messenger of Peace”.

Young 13-year-old Kush came to the lectern next. He read out a piece in fluent English titled, “If I Had My Way…”. In it, he shared his thoughts about how he would like the world to be. He said: “If I had my way, the world would be full of peace. No fighting. No arguments. Everyone would be friends. … We are all One Family. So why should we fight? We are all brothers and sisters – children of a loving, Almighty God. We should live together – happily and in harmony. And like they say in stories: ‘… and they all lived happily ever after!’ Please God: make this world happen.” The simple, prayerful words of the child were both touching and inspiring.

Thereafter, the gathered joined in meditative silence to pray for all fellow humans who were suffering in war-torn, conflict-stricken zones, and for the bereaved and those who had lost their lives or been injured because of acts of terrorism. A special prayer was also said for the poor, homeless, ailing and deprived, for those who had been affected by the recent hurricanes in the Caribbean and in America, and even for those who had lost their jobs and/or savings in the grip of the continuing global financial crisis.

The assembly concluded with a final statement of prayer and reflection, tying in the spirituality and message of Bhagwan Swaminarayan and Pramukh Swami Maharaj for a truly lasting, meaningful end to inner conflict.

In thus observing International Peace Day, BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha affirmed its support of a shared vision of our world at peace and in harmony, and its commitment to converting these noble aspirations into a reality – for us, our children, and for many more generations to come.

May Peace prevail upon our glorious world. May Peace be unto all of us.

To learn more about the International Day of Peace from the official UN website, click here.

Disclaimer: BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha is not responsible for the content of external internet sites.

BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, Neasden, Features as a Part of OPEN HOUSE LONDON
Saturday 20 & Sunday 21 September 2008

Beautiful carvings – but my biggest impression is that Hinduism is a religion of peace in a way I had never realised before.
– Claire (Working in the Media Industry)

These were the words penned by just one of the hundreds of visitors who came to the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Neasden, London, as it featured again as a part of Open House London. This year the annual event took place during the weekend of 21 and 22 September 2008.

Open House is a unique, independent organisation committed to raising the standard for London’s architecture and built environment by opening people’s eyes and minds to design – through debate, dialogue, learning and direct experience of excellent spaces and places. Specifically, Open House London is London’s “largest architectural showcase” and this year’s event revealed the fabric of London in all its diversity: opening eyes and minds to the architectural gems, contemporary design and areas of urban change that define the city today.

The Mandir, recently acclaimed by Time Out city guides as “one of London’s Seven Wonders”, is a traditional favourite among architecture buffs who take advantage of this regular showcase. And this year was no different. As the September skies opened up to leave the Mandir gleaming in glorious sunshine, visitors steadily poured in from 10am to 4pm.

Individuals were free to absorb the atmosphere as they wished and many chose to take the personal audio-guided tours. For larger groups, trained volunteers were on hand for special guided tours at scheduled intervals. This included a chance to view the grand Haveli Prayer Hall and also a visit to the ‘Understanding Hinduism’ exhibition – all free of charge. Visitors were also given the option to see a short documentary on the making of the Mandir, and were given a special DVD with other video presentations. Many even attended the midday arti ceremony.

Some 700 beautiful buildings were ‘on show’ across the historic city of London. Almost 1,400 visitors chose to explore and enjoy the beauty and serenity of the Mandir over the sunny weekend.

Below is a selection of what just some the visitors had to say in appreciation:

Wonderful. Very peaceful and beautiful. Taking part in prayers was unbelievable. Did not wish to leave your lovely building.
– Christine Ensom

The Mandir is a wonderful place. The experience is marvellous. It has been the best organised Open House event I have attended. I will recommend it.
– Michael Reeves (Advertising Executive)

Humbling. Most beautiful. Impressive in its prayerful and peace-inducing qualities. Thanks to the many people who greeted and looked after us, my wife and I, during our visit.
– Petter Pilley (IT Assistant, South Thames College)

Fascinating and interesting place. Beautiful building. Informative exhibition. A most worthwhile visit.
– Colin Barry

We were greeted and guided with great politeness and consideration. The time spent with us was much appreciated.
– Dean Booth (Editor, Ministry of Justice)

Welcoming and informative. The atmosphere of silence was moving and a deep experience to see so many in sincere and perfect prayer. Thank you for great hospitality.
– Sister Alexine CSJP (Retired Teacher, Sisters of St Joseph of Peace)

I found my visit to be peaceful & spiritual – a reminder why we are here on Earth & how far modern life has taken us away from our reason of existence, whatever one’s religion.
– Arjen Westerdijk

A place built with devotion, cared for and visited by people with devotion. It is a pleasure to visit and I would very much like to learn more and come here again on my spiritual path. Please do contact me again if you wish.
– Visitor

Absolutely Fantastic! A very beautiful building, so proudly shown by staff who made us feel very very welcome! We really enjoyed our visit and plan to bring other family members. Many thanks!
– Gill Philips (Teacher)

A very beautiful place. The introduction to Hinduism is very useful information to understand the beauty and culture of this place and to understand the Hindu community in London. Great experience!
– Yufan Cai (Accountant)

Fantastic. An absolutely beautiful building – very interesting to learn about its construction. I was overwhelmed by everyone’s friendliness + openness. Was really pleased to be encouraged to stay for the ceremony.
– Catherine Reeves (Teacher)

Inspirational architecture and craftsmanship. A gift for London.
– Ben (Student)

I was in a really bad mood when I got here because of all the tube and bus closures. Then as soon as I walked in the Temple I instantly forgot all those stresses and felt so peaceful.
– Visitor

An extremely peaceful and very vibrant place that whilst attending the exhibition gave me a tremendous feeling of rightness that, at one point, even reduced me to tears!
– David Brown (Photographic Technician)

Health Awareness Day
Sunday 14 September 2008

As a part of its continuing community outreach initiatives, BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha, UK (BAPS), hosted a special Health Awareness Day at the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Neasden, London, on Sunday 14 September 2008.

The event was inaugurated by the Mayor of Brent, Councillor Ralph Fox, together with Mr Mark Easton, Chief Executive of Brent PCT, and Yogvivek Swami, Head Sadhu at the Mandir.

The aim of the event was to raise awareness in the local community on some of the important health conditions which represent major sources of illness and disability in the UK. Awareness, and early detection of many of these conditions, helps to prevent serious and often disabling consequences.

Experts from a variety of fields spoke and conducted seminars on numerous health issues and services. This included:

  • Chronic kidney disease – by Prof. David Taubbe (Professor of Nephrology at The Imperial College , University of London)
  • Dementia – by Dr Natasha Brijlani (Consultant Psychiatrist at The Priory Hospital)
  • Asthma and COPD – by Ms Vikki Knowles (Specialist Nurse) and Mrs Daksha Kamdar (Asthma UK)
  • Accessing NHS Services – Dr Sella Anant (Public Health Department at Brent PCT)

Additionally, a number of pharmacists, chiropodists and optometrists were also on hand for consultation by attendees.

The event also provided essential guidance and awareness on health issues that particularly affect British Asians. This was supported with a vital screening opportunity for cardiovascular risk factors, led by Dr Devaki Nair (Consultant Lipidologist) and her team from the Department of Lipidology at The Royal Free Hospital.

A number of national charities had also set up stalls with useful information being available throughout the afternoon. The participating charities were:

  • Asthma UK
  • British Heart Foundation
  • Diabetes UK
  • MIND
  • PCT – Brent
  • Stroke Association
  • Transplant UK

There was also Basic Life Support Training led by trainers from The British Heart Foundation.

The Day provided valuable information and guidance to over 200 people and raised their awareness to tackle these health conditions at an early stage.

The event also featured on the Asthma UK and Stroke Association websites. Click on the respective links for the full reports.

Disclaimer: BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha is not responsible for the content of external internet sites.

Young BAPS women cycle over 600 miles to raise funds for new Mandir & Cultural Complex in Leicester
Saturday 30 August 2008

On Saturday 30 August 2008, 39 young dedicated women (ages 14 to 23) from Leicester cycled over 600 miles across the city as part of a campaign for the upcoming BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir & Cultural Complex at Gipsy Lane in Leicester. The objective was to raise funds for women’s activities in the new complex and promote better health and fitness awareness within the Asian community.

The cycle challenge interlinked with a health awareness initiative for the local community with stalls from charities including Diabetes UK, The British Heart Foundation, Breast Cancer Care UK and Asthma UK, all providing medical advice and health screenings throughout the day.

The opening ceremony was graced by The Right Worshipful Lord Mayor of Leicester, Cllr Dr Manjula Sood, who inaugurated the occasion with the traditional lighting of lamps,and who was then honoured with a bouquet of flowers. Councillor Sood delivered motivating words, speaking of her admiration of the work of BAPS particularly citing the role of women and Swaminarayan Akshardham in New Delhi, which she had recently visited with her family.

The event had been keenly supported by The Cyclists Touring Club (CTC), UK’s National Cyclists organisation, who provided bicycles, helmets, mile counters and also valuable guidance on cycle maintenance and health and safety. Present during the opening ceremony were two representatives: Elizabeth Barner of CTC and Anna Singleton from ‘Bikes 4 All’.

Ms Barner who had also helped train the girls over the recent months described how she had witnessed them develop from being nervous, inexperienced cyclists to becoming far more confident individuals, being able to ride their bicycles even amid traffic on public roads. She was particularly impressed with the young BAPS women for the enthusiasm and leadership they brought to the event. She expressed that by choosing cycling as their method of fundraising, the group of women had significantly honoured their health, fitness and the environment, and asked the wider audience to appreciate and follow this initiative. Elizabeth and Anna were both thanked with a trophy and bouquet.

The participants then assembled with their bicycles at St Margaret’s Pastures for the flagging off. Each cycled a three-mile route alongside Ross Walk and parts of Abbey Park numerous times in glorious August sunshine until they completed their individual targets.

Stalls and activities for all the supporters ensured that everyone had a great time throughout the day. Children played in a bouncy castle and had face painting and sack races to entertain them. And while the adults enjoyed a game of cricket and visited an informative exhibition on BAPS Leicester, women were encouraged to participate in the health screening tests.

The closing ceremonies saw each cyclist being rewarded for her efforts with a certificate, and confirmed that the initial 500-mile collective target had been exceeded to 654 miles and the target of £5,000 had been surpassed to £6,650. The event provided an opportunity for friends and the wider community to have a fun, healthy day and also support the new BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir & Cultural Complex in Leicester.

The event also featured on the BBC website. Click here for the full report.

For more information about the new Leicester project, please click here.

Disclaimer: BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha is not responsible for the content of external internet sites.