News and Events

BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, London launches Green Travel Plan
Friday 27 November 2009

BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha, UK (BAPS), actively promotes and encourages its devotees to make a positive difference to the environment. Earlier this year, BAPS observed World Environment Day and continued its Go Veg… Go Green… campaign, affirming its commitment to raise awareness and take action for a safer, greener environment.

With many thousands of visitors received each year by the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Neasden (popularly known as the ‘Neasden Temple’), its main place of worship in the UK, BAPS has also taken proactive steps to address the impact that these worshippers and visitors have upon the environment through their mode of transport in reaching the Mandir.

For several months, BAPS volunteers had been in close consultation with the local Brent Council and transport officials in devising a special green travel plan. On Friday 27 November 2009, BAPS leaders and representatives from the local community, local businesses and transport organisations all gathered to mark the official launch of the ‘BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir Travel Plan’. Also present at the launch were Brent’s Liberal Democrat Council Leader Paul Lorber and the Council’s lead member for Highways and Transportation, Councillor Daniel Brown.

The Plan includes proposals to make a significant contribution to the Council’s aim of reducing carbon emissions across Brent through a range of measures including better transport use. Brent Council agreed to call for better transport provision for the Mandir as part of a comprehensive plan. Some of the other initiatives identified in the Travel Plan include: high quality travel information and maps, real-time public transport screens linked to Transport for London services, bicycle storage, and assistance to facilitate more car sharing.

Working in partnership with the London Borough of Brent, Transport for London, the Metropolitan Police and WestTrans (a sub-regional transport partnership), BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir has committed actively to encourage cycling, walking, car sharing and public transport use among their regular devotees and international visitors, to reduce single-occupancy car trips to the Mandir.

Mandir Travel Plan coordinator Nitin Palan explained: “As BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir is a focal point of worship for the community, the majority of our regular devotees already travel in a sustainable way; 60 per cent share a car with family and friends and 31 per cent travel by bus, coach or tube. The Travel Plan not only acknowledges this good behaviour, but also identifies how we can proactively support our worshippers and visitors to ensure they continue to travel sustainably.”

The BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir Travel Plan is not just about encouraging responsible travel, but also about working closely with partners to consider how bus services and infrastructure could be improved to meet the needs of Mandir visitors as well as the local community.

Alex Williams, Transport for London, said: “We welcome the opportunity to work with the Temple leaders and local partners to ensure the right services and facilities are in place to help worshippers travel to the Temple safely and comfortably.”

Cllr Brown added: “It’s great to see the Temple encouraging its worshippers and visitors to consider greener modes of travel. The Temple’s travel plan illustrates the continued commitment to sustainable travel in our borough and the value we place on working with both business and community leaders to ensure we jointly tackle traffic congestion in the area.”

To read Brent Council’s own press release of the launch, please click here.

For more information about Brent Council’s sustainable transport campaign and useful tips on smarter travelling, please click on the respective links.

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

‘PUTTING CHILDREN FIRST’ Celebrating Universal Children’s Day
Sunday 22 November 2009

Background
In 1954, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed that all countries institute a Universal Children’s Day, to be “observed as a day of worldwide fraternity and understanding between children.” It recommended that the Day be observed also as a day of activity devoted to promoting the ideals and objectives of the UN Charter and the welfare of the children of the world.

Many countries of the world observe this day on 20 November, which marks the day on which the Assembly adopted the Declaration of the Rights of the Child, in 1959, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, in 1989.

Observance by BAPS in London
This year, the event was observed by BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha (BAPS), a member of the United Nations’ Economic and Social Council, at BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in London, on Sunday 22 November 2009.

A short introduction to the assembly elucidated the theme ‘Putting Children First’, based on the second of UNICEF’s ten imperatives for children. The ten are:

  • Leave No Child Out: All forms of discrimination and exclusion against children must end.
  • Put Children First: It is the responsibility of everyone to ensure that children’s welfare is respected.
  • Care for Every Child: Ensure all children get the best possible start in life.
  • Fight HIV/AIDS: Protect children and adolescents and their families.
  • Stop Harming and Exploiting Children: Violence and abuse must be stopped now.
  • Listen to Children: Respect the rights of children and young people to express themselves.
  • Educate Every Child: Every child – all girls and boys – must be allowed to learn.
  • Protect Children from War: No child should experience the horrors of armed conflict.
  • Protect the Earth for Children: Safeguard the environment at global, national and local levels.
  • Fight Poverty: Invest in children.

This was followed by a moving video presentation which showed young children passionately singing about how they would like their world to be and the positive changes they would like to bring about.

Young children were then asked to express their views on children’s rights and what they felt was important. Shreyash Patel (6) replied: “All children should have a right to play freely.” Other children highlighted issues such as poverty, food, health, education and care for children all around the world. A few also touched on how BAPS’s Children Forums had helped them and other children with various value-based educational, moral and spiritual activities.

Next, Paramtattva Swami shared some startling facts about the plight of children around the world. For example:

  • More than 120 million children are missing out on primary education
  • More than 270 million children do not have access to healthcare
  • More than 400 million children do not have access to clean water
  • More than 140 million children are orphaned
  • Each year more than 10 million children become refugees due to conflict

Using some poignant slides, he further iterated how fortunate most children are in the UK compared to others in the world. He thus asked them to be grateful for whatever they had, not waste it, share whatever they could, and pray for those children less fortunate than themselves.

A short video presentation followed depicting how every child – no matter how small or alone – has the power to bring about positive change in the world. All the children were enthused with the self-belief that they can do something to improve society.

The assembly concluded with a final statement of prayer and reflection, tying in the spiritual message of Bhagwan Swaminarayan and Pramukh Swami Maharaj for the holistic welfare of children.

In thus observing Universal Children’s Day, BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha was able to raise awareness about children’s welfare to over 300 children and parents through an interactive and inspiring programme.

To learn more about Universal Children’s Day, please click here.

To visit the official UNICEF site, click here

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

Archbishop of Westminster Visits BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, London
Saturday 21 November 2009

The Archbishop of Westminster, the Most Reverend Vincent Nichols, visited BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Neasden on Saturday 21 November 2009.

The Head of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales was greeted by Yogvivek Swami, Head Sadhu of the Mandir, in traditional Hindu style – with a red vermillion mark applied to the forehead and the tying of a sacred thread on the wrist, symbolising friendship and goodwill.

Yogvivek Swami guided the Archbishop around the Mandir complex, including the sanctum sanctorum. He then moved to the deity of Shri Nilkanth Varni (Bhagwan Swaminarayan) where he joined Yogvivek Swami in praying for world peace and harmony.

The Archbishop’s visit coincided with the culmination of Inter Faith Week. BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha (BAPS) had actively participated in a number of organised events in the preceding days (click here for details) and the message of interfaith dialogue was further iterated with a special reception where members from all the major faith communities of the UK joined the Archbishop and BAPS Trustees in warm conversation.

In the main evening assembly, the Archbishop was welcomed with rapturous applause and a flower garland. Yogvivek Swami and the Archbishop were then joined by Baha’i, Buddhist, Muslim, Jain, Sikh and Zoroastrian representatives to collectively light a lamp – symbolising a shared commitment to understanding, respect and peace – while children chanted an ancient Vedic peace prayer.

The respected faith representatives were:

  • Hassan Afnan, of the Baha’i community
  • Sardar Rajinder Singh Bhasin, President of the Central Gurdwara, London (Sikhism)
  • Ervad Rustom Bhedwar, Head Priest from the Zoroastrian Trust Funds of Europe
  • Imam Abdullah Salloo of the Islamic Cultural Centre, Stonebridge
  • Shri Ashok Shah, President of the Oshwal Association of the UK (Jainism)
  • Venerable Galayaye Piyadassi Thera MBE, President of the World Buddhist Foundation and Head of the Sri Saddhatissa International Buddhist Centre
  • [Rabbi Frank Dabba Smith of the Harrow & Wembley Progressive Synagogue was unable to attend due to unavoidable circumstances]

In his welcome address, Yogvivek Swami recalled the meeting of His Holiness Pramukh Swami Maharaj, the spiritual leader of BAPS, with His Holiness Pope John Paul II in 1984 at the Vatican, and also his visit to the birthplace of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem in 1999. Yogvivek Swami also shared excerpts from Pramukh Swami Maharaj’s address at the United Nations Millennium World Peace Summit in New York: “The unity of all faiths will make our common future strong and protected. Flourishing together by working together is the key to lasting peace. We must not progress at the cost of others, but sacrifice a part of ourselves for the good of others. For in the joy of others, lies our own.”

In his keynote address, the Archbishop began by thanking everyone for the “the generous invitation and warm welcome” he had received “in your unique and beautiful Mandir.”

The Archbishop went on to say: “It is always good to come together like this, to strengthen each other, to learn of each other’s faith and to rejoice in a spirit of dialogue and love.” He shared the Church’s appreciation “that the entire human race shares a common origin and a common destiny” and it is this unity which “impels us to seek common elements in our path through life as we play our part in the quest for fundamental values so crucial in our time.”

The Archbishop further added: “It is with admiration that I see the many events and opportunities on offer in this complex for the wider community, and I salute the valuable contribution that you are making to the peaceful world we all strive to create. The concern and care that is shown here for our natural environment is just one example of the many causes on which we can work together…. It is truly inspiring to see the beauty of this place, and no less inspiring to see the commitment to helping the community that comes with it.”

Before departing, the Archbishop gifted Yogvivek Swami with a special candle, “a sign of the lovely light of God in our lives and a sign of the prayer which, in return, we offer to God.” Yogvivek Swami also presented His Grace with a memento of his visit to the Mandir.

Those accompanying Archbishop Nichols on the visit included: Father Stephen Willis, Dean of Brent and Parish Priest of the Parish of Our Lady of Willesden; Rev. Jon Dal Din, Director of Westminster Interfaith; Katharina Muller, Secretary of the Bishops’ Committee for Relations with Other Religions; and Father Antonio Ritaccio, Parish Priest of Stonebridge.

A number of local civic, political and religious leaders were also present. These included: Cllr Jim O’Sullivan, Mayor of Brent; local MPs Sarah Teather (Brent East) and Dawn Butler (Brent South); Councillors Bob Blackman, Muhammed Butt, Colum Moloney and Zaffar Vankalwala; Borough Commander Mark Toland; and several leading members from a number of other Hindu denominations and organisations.

For full transcripts of Yogvivek Swami’s and the Archbishop’s speeches, please see the report here on the Independent Catholic News site.

See also the official Roman Catholic Diocese of Westminster website here.

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

The Swaminarayan School Participates in Inter-Faith School Workshop London Inter Faith Centre
Tuesday 17 November 2009

On Tuesday 17 November 2009, The Swaminarayan School participated in an interfaith day called ‘Faithful Nurture’ at the London Inter Faith Centre as part of National Inter Faith Week (15-21 November).

The School, located opposite BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Neasden, was one of eleven faith schools from London selected for the event. The other schools were representing different traditions within Christianity, Islam, Judaism and Sikhism.

Upasana Chag, Shraddha Patel and Tanuj Srivastava represented The Swaminarayan School – Europe’s first and only independent Hindu school. During the morning, all the students interacted with each other in mixed faith group workshops to share their thoughts on pertinent issues facing young people of faith.

Later, in the presence of senior staff from the participating schools and the Archbishop of Canterbury – religious head of the Church of England and worldwide Anglican Communion – the students presented their reflections on the distinctive elements of their own religion which make a valuable contribution to society’s common good.

Following the presentations, the Archbishop shared his views of the presentations and the event.

Mr Savjani, Headteacher of The Swaminarayan School, commented: “It was an enlightening day for our students and even us staff. I believe it is important to allow our students the opportunity to engage with and learn from young members of other faiths. This can be a valuable growing experience – helping strengthen and enrich one’s own faith as well as appreciate Faith in general. This is absolutely vital if we are to see the next generation grow up to build and thrive in a peaceful, harmonious and productive society.”

To learn more about The Swaminarayan School, visit its independent site here.

Launch of National Inter Faith Week at Lambeth Palace
Monday 16 Novemeber 2009

The UK’s first National Inter Faith Week was held this year from 15 to 21 November. Its stated aims were:

  • to strengthen good interfaith relations at all levels;
  • to increase awareness of the different and distinct faith communities in the UK, in particular celebrating and building on the contribution which their members make to their neighbourhoods and to wider society; and
  • to increase understanding between people of religious and non-religious belief.

The Week was facilitated by The Inter Faith Network for the UK (IFN-UK) and the government’s Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) in consultation with the Equality and Human Rights Commission, among other agencies.

Its official launch was held on Monday 16 November at Lambeth Palace, the residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams – head of the Church of England and worldwide Anglican Communion.

Nitin Palan, BAPS UK’s interfaith representative and an Executive Director of IFN-UK attended the launch. There he joined the Archbishop, Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks, Dr Manazir Ahsan (Muslim Council of Britain), Dr Inderjit Singh (Network of Sikh Organisations), and other faith community representatives in pledging to continue to build good inter-religious relations and to contribute to the common good of society from each of their different religious perspectives.

The text of the pledged statement read:

We believe that good interfaith relations are a vital part of a harmonious, just and respectful society.

We pledge, today, to deepen our work to increase understanding about and between our faiths and to strengthen our cooperation on social issues.

We renew our commitment to developing effective and long term ways of dialogue and mutual learning. We shall continue to seek to understand the patterns of engagement of our faith communities – through history and today; to affirm the positive aspects of these patterns; and to heal wounds of misunderstanding where these are found.

While our great religious traditions are distinct in belief and practice, there is much that unites us. We will draw on fundamental values held in common and on the wisdom of our respective faith traditions to continue to work – as individual communities and together – for the wellbeing of our society, our wider global community and the planet that is our home.

Alongside all of good will, we will work to tackle with renewed determination the challenges of poverty, ignorance, injustice, crime and violence, and social fragmentation and to help shape a society where all feel at home; all are valued and justly treated; and all have a chance to thrive.

A full report of the launch can be found on the Archbishop’s official website here, with photos of the event on Lambeth Palace’s photostream here.

To learn more about Inter Faith Week, please visit the event site here.

To learn more about The Inter Faith Network for the UK, please click here.

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

BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha participates in National Inter Faith Week
15 to 21 November 2009

Background
The UK’s first National Inter Faith Week was held this year from 15 to 21 November. Its stated aims were:

  • to strengthen good interfaith relations at all levels;
  • to increase awareness of the different and distinct faith communities in the UK, in particular celebrating and building on the contribution which their members make to their neighbourhoods and to wider society; and
  • to increase understanding between people of religious and non-religious belief.

The Week was facilitated by The Inter Faith Network for the UK (IFN-UK) and the government’s Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) in consultation with the Equality and Human Rights Commission, among other agencies. It was mainly community-led with local faith communities and non-faith groups seeking to reach out to each other and build strong bonds of understanding and cooperation. A host of events including seminars, forums, workshops, and sports and entertainment programmes had been organised to bring together diverse groups of people both locally and nationally.

BAPS affirmed its longstanding commitment to interfaith harmony and dialogue by participating actively in National Inter Faith Week in a number of organised events.

Launch of Inter Faith Week at Lambeth Palace

Nitin Palan, BAPS UK’s interfaith representative and an Executive Director of IFN-UK, attended the official launch of Inter Faith Week at Lambeth Palace on Monday 16 November on the invitation of the Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams.

Mr Palan joined leaders and representatives of various faith communities in pledging to continue to build good inter-religious relations.

Click here to read a full report, including the text of the joint statement.

‘Faithful Nurture’ Inter-Faith School Workshop

On Tuesday 17 November, three pupils and senior staff from The Swaminarayan School attended the ‘Faithful Nurture’ workshop at the London Inter Faith Centre along with children from ten other faith schools. This, too, was in the presence of the Archbishop of Canterbury and proved an enlightening day for everyone involved.

Click here for the full report and photos.

The ‘Living Library’ Project

BAPS representative Girish Patel contributed to the ‘Living Library’ project on Friday 20 November to discuss the Hindu faith among a setting of interfaith learning. The DCLG’s Living Library project is a community-based initiative aiming to bring people together in one-to-one conversation, to encourage understanding, challenge negative stereotypes, and reduce prejudice.

The concept of borrowing books is replaced by ‘borrowing a person’, and Girish was high on demand from ‘borrowers’ of different faiths who asked questions about Hindu beliefs and values. Girish later shared that he “learnt just as much about myself in answering people’s questions as I think they did about Hinduism. It was immensely fulfilling and fun!” He also took the opportunity to engage with other living ‘books’ to learn about and appreciate their faiths as well.

For more details about the government’s Living Library project, please click here.

Archbishop of Westminster Visits the Mandir

And on Saturday 21 November 2009, the Archbishop of Westminster, the Most Reverend Vincent Nichols visited BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir. More than 60 members from the country’s major faith communities as well as several civic leaders also attended in what was a warm, inspiring and rewarding evening on the final day of Inter Faith Week.

Click here for the full report and photos.

To learn more about Inter Faith Week, please visit the event site here.

To learn more about The Inter Faith Network for the UK, please click here.

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

‘Brent in Bloom’ Garden Award
Thursday 12 November 2009

BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Neasden, London, has been awarded first prize in the category of Business/Public Premises in the ‘Brent in Bloom’ competition for 2009. The Mandir’s gardens also received a Certificate of Excellence from the ‘London in Bloom’ campaign for 2009.

‘Brent in Bloom’ is an annual competition that provides an opportunity for the local community to exhibit their gardening skills and aims to make the borough more attractive for residents and visitors alike. It has seven categories with marks awarded for colour, design, quality of plants and cleanliness. The competition also acts as the first heat in the ‘In Bloom’ campaign, which leads to the regional heat, ‘London in Bloom’, and then the national award, ‘Britain in Bloom’.

Judges visited entries across Greater London in July to cast their professional eye over the efforts of the communities to decide the winners in each category. The Mandir was selected as the best Business/Public Premises in Brent, and was acknowledged with a special discretionary award which is presented to community groups, local authorities, businesses, and individuals who have achieved excellence in a specific category.

Hansa H. Patel, landscape designer and manager of the small garden surrounding the Mandir, said she was “delighted” with the award and that it came “totally out of the blue”. Mrs Patel added: “It’s wonderful to be able to contribute to making Brent greener and more beautiful, and if anyone can find joy by just passing by the Mandir, then that makes all our hard work worthwhile.”

The Mandir’s garden is just one endeavour among BAPS’s commitment to work towards a greener, safer environment. Recent initiatives have included observing World Environment Day with an informative poster awareness campaign and the Go Veg… Go Green… exhibition.

This latest award also reiterates the Mandir’s positive impact for the local community. After receiving the Pride of Place award in 2007, it has also recently been voted to represent the Borough of Brent in the 2012 Olympic Games Pin Badge campaign.

The full list of winners in all the categories is published here on the Brent Council website.

For more information about the Brent in Bloom campaign, please click here.

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

Brent’s Landmark for 2012 London Olympic Pin Badge
Tuesday 10 November 2009

BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Neasden has been selected as the landmark for the London Borough of Brent to be featured in a celebratory set of ‘London Landmark’ pin badges for the 2012 Olympic Games.

Londoners were invited to cast their votes over September “to tell the world what they think makes their borough great”, as Councillor Merrick Cockell put it. Cllr Cockell is the Chairman of London Councils and is also leader of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.

London has a total of 33 boroughs and each had a shortlist of up to four ‘landmarks’ to choose from. Londoners voted for the “Neasden Temple” to represent Brent, illustrating once again how cohesively the Mandir has become a part of the local community.

Winners in other boroughs include St Mary’s on the Hill Church (Harrow), Westminster Abbey (City of Westminster) and the Natural History Museum (Kensington and Chelsea). A full list can be found on the London 2012 blog here

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

Historic Diwali Celebrations at 10 Downing Street
Friday 16 October 2009

Prime Minister Gordon Brown celebrated the Hindu festival of Diwali by lighting the ceremonial lamp at 10 Downing Street amid chanting of Vedic prayers for world peace, thus becoming the first British Prime Minister to personally host the occasion.

The new Indian High Commissioner His Excellency Nalin Surie, Baroness Vadera, and other eminent members of the Indian community had gathered in the Pillared Room of 10 Downing Street – one of the most famous addresses in the world – along with the hosts for the event, the Rt Hon Gordon Brown MP and his wife, Sarah Brown.

The Prime Minister and his wife were garlanded by volunteers of BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha and also presented with an intricate model of the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Neasden, London.

A traditional arrangement of Indian food was also on offer to Hindu Deities as part of the auspicious celebrations. Volunteers of BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha had worked hard to set up the ‘Annakut’ – as it is called in Sanskrit – comprising a colourful selection of Indian sweets and savouries in offering to Bhagwan Swaminarayan, Aksharbrahma Gunatitanand Swami, Shri Radha-Krishna and Shri Sita-Rama.

In his short, informal address, the Prime Minister lauded the Hindu spirit of respect and tolerance. He highlighted Diwali as a festival that brings hope and strengthens family and community values, and spoke gratefully of the valuable contribution of British Hindus to the nation.

On this historic occasion, His Holiness Pramukh Swami Maharaj, spiritual leader of BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha, had also sent a message of goodwill to the Prime Minister. His Holiness said he was praying for the peace and well-being of all people in the UK, and the light and warmth of God to guide us to better times.

In keeping with the spirit of Diwali, all the celebrants were presented at the end with the delicacies which had formed a part of the Annakut, to further share with their family and friends.

Earlier on Friday, the Prime Minister posted a special Diwali message on the 10 Downing Street website in which he sent his “warmest good wishes… for a peaceful and joyous Diwali” to the Hindu, Sikh, Jain and Buddhist communities of the UK.

Read a brief report of the celebrations on the official 10 Downing Street website here.

For detailed information about the Diwali and Hindu New Year celebrations at the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Neasden.

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

BAPS Volunteers Participate in Re-Opening of Marianne North Gallery at Kew Gardens
Sunday 11 October 2009

The Royal Botanical Gardens (popularly called Kew Gardens) at Kew, in London, invited BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha to mark the celebratory re-opening of the refurbished Marianne North Gallery on Sunday 11 October 2009. Drawing inspiration from her paintings, BAPS volunteers created traditional Indian designs (rangolis) and conducted henna painting workshops to contribute to the occasion.

Marianne North Gallery is a Grade II listed building in Kew Gardens’ UNESCO World Heritage Site. It houses a collection of over 800 botanical paintings created by one woman in the 19th century. It is the only gallery in Britain dedicated solely to the work of one female artist.

Marianne North (1830-1890) travelled extensively around the world and painted plants in their natural environment. She spent about 15 months travelling and painting all across India. Among over 200 paintings she produced in the Indian subcontinent is a collection of plants with significant cultural and religious values.

Supported partly by The Heritage Lottery Fund, the newly refurbished gallery now houses 832 paintings of Marianne North. New interpretations reveal stories of environmental change and show Marianne as a pioneering woman at a time of great discovery and scientific enquiry.

Approximately 200 people attended the re-opening from various community voluntary organisations, with many participating in the rangoli and henna workshops conducted by BAPS. During the workshops, BAPS volunteers also informed visitors about the cultural and traditional significance of plants and flowers in the Hindu faith.

Visitors also enjoyed the re-created rangoli of the “Water Lily” from Marianne North’s painting during her travels to India. In particular, visitors appreciated the volunteerism and warm community spirit of the eighteen BAPS volunteers who were on hand to help at the event. A spokesperson from Kew Gardens also stated that they “would love to continue fostering community relations with BAPS.”

Click on the respective links to learn more about the Royal Botanical Gardens (Kew Gardens) and the Marianne North Gallery.

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

Her Majesty’s Lord-Lieutenant Presents the Queen’s Award
Saturday 3 October 2009

Her Majesty’s Lord-Lieutenant for Greater London, Sir David Brewer and the Deputy Lieutenant, Mei Sim Lai visited the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Neasden, London on Saturday 3 October to present the prestigious Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service to the BAPS Children’s Forum.

The prestigious national honour, which is equivalent to the MBE, sets the national benchmark for excellence in volunteering, with the activities awardees judged as being of the very highest standard. The Children’s Forum of BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha, UK is one of only two groups in Greater London which has been conferred this year’s Award.

The Lord-Lieutenant and his wife were received at the Mandir by the Worshipful Mayor of Brent, Cllr Jim O’Sullivan. After being warmly welcomed by young boys and girls of the BAPS Children’s Forum, all distinguished guests were escorted to a special exhibition conveying the academic, recreational, environmental and social activities undertaken by the Forum. Another section highlighted its community work in aid of charities such as Children in Need, The Anthony Nolan Trust, and Blue Peter’s Shoebiz Appeal.

The guests were then escorted to the Mandir’s sanctorum where they spent a few moments admiring the intricate architecture of the Mandir.

Upon entering the Haveli Prayer Hall, the Lord-Lieutenant was greeted by rapturous applause from the gathered guests and devotees. Swayamprakash Swami (also known as Doctor Swami), a senior sadhu of BAPS, garlanded the Lord-Lieutenant and welcomed him in a traditional manner. Yogvivek Swami, the head sadhu of the Mandir, welcomed all the guests in his welcome address and also conveyed the good wishes and prayers of His Holiness Pramukh Swami Maharaj, the spiritual leader of BAPS.

Thirteen-year-old Tilak Patel confidently spoke about the BAPS Children’s Forum, highlighting its role in nurturing children for our increasingly challenging times. This was followed by an inspirational appreciation of a selection of the Children’s Forum volunteers who continue to give of their time and talents for the holistic development of children.

The Lord-Lieutenant then proceeded to present the Queen’s Award crystal to Doctor Swami, after which he read out the citation from the certificate, personally signed by Her Majesty the Queen, before presenting it to the trustees and the national coordinators of the BAPS Children’s Forum.

The citation reads:

Elizabeth the Second,

By the Grace of God of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of Our other Realms and Territories Queen, Defender of the Faith, to

Children’s Forum – BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha

Nurturing Hindu values, education and talents in children and young people in London

Greeting!

We being cognisant of the said group’s outstanding voluntary work in the community, and being desirous of showing Our Royal Favour do hereby confer upon it:

The Queen’s Golden Jubilee Award
for voluntary service by the groups in the community 2009

for such period as the group continues to provide its current service and do hereby give permission for the authorised emblem of the said Award to be displayed on the group’s letterhead and other public material.

Given at Our Court of Saint James’s under Our Royal Sign Manual this second day of June 2009 in the fifty-eighth year of our Reign.

Addressing the assembly, the Lord-Lieutenant remarked that the “prestigious national honour” was “so richly deserved” by BAPS Children’s Forum “for your exceptional community work of integrating value-based educational, social, environmental and recreational activities into one cohesive programme successfully implemented through hundreds of dedicated volunteers.” He further thanked all the volunteers for devoting their selfless time, adding: “It is admirable that your programme has been running for over thirty years and continues to help children of today mature into responsible British citizens of tomorrow.” The Lord-Lieutenant was also presented with a small memento to commemorate his visit to the Mandir.

On behalf of BAPS, Mr V H Patel, trustee thanked Her Majesty the Queen and the Lord-Lieutenant for their appreciation of the voluntary efforts of BAPS. The ceremony concluded with a traditional Indian dance to celebrate the presentation.

The Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service was created by Her Majesty to mark the occasion of her Golden Jubilee in 2002. For further details of the Award, please click here.

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

The Swaminarayan Preparatory School recognised as a “Thinking School” by Cognitive Education Centre, University of Exeter
October 2009

The Swaminarayan Preparatory School has been recognised as a ‘Thinking School’ and deemed a ‘Centre of Excellence’ by the University of Exeter’s Cognitive Education Centre. It is currently one of only 23 such schools from over 26,000 primary and secondary schools in the UK to have been accredited with this award. This follows the exceptional GCSE results from older pupils of the School, which was founded by His Holiness Pramukh Swami Maharaj in 1992.

The Cognitive Education Centre (CEC) was formed in 2006 to explore the growing understanding of cognitive education. A ‘Thinking School’ has been defined by the Centre as “an educational community in which all members share a common commitment to giving regular careful thought to everything that takes place. This will involve both students and staff learning how to think reflectively, critically and creatively, and to employing these skills and techniques in the co-construction of a meaningful curriculum and associated activities.’

Securing this title requires a formal commitment from the entire school and senior management towards cognitive education as a means of school improvement. The rigorous criteria for receiving such an award includes training programmes, regular assessment and evaluation of relevant programmes, and an ethos that conveys a “positive, caring and creative atmosphere for students”.

The School was introduced to Thinking Schools three years ago by the Head of the Preparatory School, Mr Umesh Raja. The programme was deemed “challenging, intriguing, rewarding and – most importantly – beneficial to the education of the pupils.” The first stage was the implementation of Thinking Maps, which involved special training and support for the teachers. But the positive impact on the children was soon discernible. As one school teacher, Mr Andrew Cubbit, noticed, “Children’s writing displayed improved structure due to careful planning using Flow Maps, and pupils’ ability to understand the causes and effects of major historical events improved as the result of careful work using Multi-Flow Maps.”

The second stage began in 2007 with the introduction of Philosophy for Children – a thought-provoking activity for all pupils, promoting the ideas of free speech, respect for all, and open questioning.

The School met the criteria for the award comprehensively, which is elaborated further in the CEC’s Inspection Report. Prof. Robert Burden, Emeritus Professor of Applied Educational Psychology, concludes: “The Swaminarayan Preparatory School clearly meets all the criteria set by the University of Exeter’s Cognitive Education Centre for the recognition as a ‘Thinking School’. It stands as an outstanding example of excellent practice in this domain.”

Mr Raja expressed his “delight” at receiving the award by firstly appreciating the teachers. “It’s an affirmation of the wonderful staff that we have here at the School to go above and beyond providing what is just adequate.” He further added, “More than anything, we are pleased that we are enabling our pupils to grow into well-rounded adults and become lifelong learners, who are lively, imaginative, enquiring and confident.”

For further information about the Cognitive Education Centre and the Thinking School award, please click on the respective links.

To learn more about The Swaminarayan Preparatory School, please visit its website here.

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

“Keeping the Elderly Healthy” Health Fair
Sunday 20 September 2009

“Older people are the main users of health and social care services…. [W]e are fully supportive of all preventative measures which result in better health in old age.”

Alex Mair, Chief Executive British Geriatrics Society

As part of its ongoing multifarious community outreach programmes, BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha, UK (BAPS), hosted a health fair on Sunday 20 September 2009 at BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, London, to help educate the elderly in keeping fit and healthy.

The Department of Health launched an initiative in July to “ensure that older people can stay fit and healthy for much longer so that they can live fulfilled, independent lives in their retirement”, as explained then by Care Services Minister Phil Hope MP. In keeping with the Government’s theme, the aim of the event was “Keeping the Elderly Healthy”.

The fair was inaugurated with a welcome speech by Dr Mayank Shah, head of BAPS Health Services. Chief Guest, Ms Anne Macfarlane OBE, a leading Disability Rights and Equalities Consultant, then addressed the audience explaining the importance of living an independent life despite the illnesses and disabilities associated with old age.

Experts from a variety of fields spoke and conducted interactive forums based on various aspects of a healthier lifestyle during the elderly years of life, a summary of which is detailed below:

  • Associate Specialist in Elderly Medicine Dr Babalal Depala discussed how to stay physically active in old age.
  • Dr Binita Jani, a consultant in Elderly Medicine at The Hammersmith Hospital, explained how to maintain mental health in old age by being mentally active and highlighted the sources of help available to those who suffer from mental health problems in old age.
  • Audiologist Mrs Sona Patel spoke about hearing loss in the elderly and highlighted common hearing problems along with their causes and methods of treatment.
  • Miss Mona Thacker, an optometrist, spoke about symptoms of common eye illnesses among the elderly – including cataracts, glaucoma and macular degeneration – and methods of care and treatment, especially for those who are diabetic.
  • In addition to the lectures, a series of workshops provided an opportunity to enhance the learning within a practical and interactive environment.

Workshop 1: Optimal sight and hearing
This was run by an audiologist and an optometrist. Attendees were offered an opportunity to have their hearing tested and discuss personal hearing and sight issues. Importantly, attendees were made aware of the array of products designed to help those with impaired vision and hearing.

Workshop 2: Keeping physically active
A physiotherapist demonstrated practical tips and examples of suitable exercises. A question-and-answer session was organised in which experts offered further practical, tailored advice.

Workshop 3: Keeping mentally active
This was organised by members of the charity Brent Mind. A short talk outlining common mental health problems was followed by group discussions in which attendees shared experiences and gave each other tips on how to keep mentally active.

Cooking demonstrations
In collaboration with the British Heart Foundation Social Cooking Project, two demonstrations on healthy, low fat vegetarian recipes were performed. The first was by celebrity chef Ms Anjum Anand, of the BBC’s “Indian Food Made Easy” programme. The second demonstration was led by celebrity dietician Azmina Govindji of the BBC’s “The One Show” and ITV’s “This Morning”.

The fair proved a great success among both the attendees and presenters. It provided valuable information and guidance to almost 150 elderly men and women to help them tackle health conditions at an earlier stage.

Click on the respective links to learn more about the Department of Health’s programme for keeping older people fit and healthy and the Government’s vision for Building a Society for All Ages.

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

Peace Begins at Home Observing International Peace Day
Sunday 20 September 2009

 

 

If there is peace in the home, there shall be peace in the world.


Background

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.

Observance by BAPS in London
This year, the event was observed by BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha, a member of the United Nations’ Economic and Social Council, at BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Neasden, London, on Sunday 20 September 2009 . The special evening assembly was inaugurated with the traditional lighting of the lamp while an audio-video presentation conveyed the Shanti-path, an ancient Vedic peace prayer.

A short introduction to the assembly elucidated the theme ‘Peace Begins at Home’, based on the oft-quoted adage ‘charity begins at home’. It followed on from the United Nations’ own preamble to the day’s 24-hour live broadcast:

If there is to be peace in the world, there must be peace in the nations.
If there is to be peace in the nations, there must be peace in the cities.
If there is to be peace in the cities, there must be peace among neighbours.
If there is to be peace among neighbours, there must be peace in the home.

This message was reinforced by 11-year-old Nikhil Saglani who read out two touching poems about the strength, sanctity and uniqueness of the family bond. He concluded with the prayer: “Oh God! Bless all of us with the love and wisdom to be a part of your one big happy, peaceful family.”

Next, Manoharmurti Swami elaborated upon the theme by explaining how family life is at the centre of a happy society and, conversely, how family breakdown is becoming increasingly connected to social ills. He shared Pramukh Swami Maharaj’s formula for a harmonious family – daily Satsang (worship), regular home-assemblies, seeking to understanding each other, and learning to forgive one another – and explained the truth of how the family that eats, learns, prays and plays together, stays together.

A short video presentation followed depicting how Pramukh Swami Maharaj was bringing peace and joy to all those around him every day. Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan had described him as “a Messenger of Peace”.

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 by acts of violence. A special prayer was also said for the orphaned, homeless, ailing, poor and deprived, and for those who were still reeling from the continuing economic unease.

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 conflict within hearts and homes and ultimately the world.

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 – here and now for us, and for generations to come everywhere.

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.

Visitors appreciate beauty and spirituality of BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, London, during Open House London 2009
Saturday 19 & Sunday 20 September 2009

“Absolutely stunning. A beautiful and true place of spirituality and calmness.”
– Mr S S (Consultant)

BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in London featured once again as a part of the annual Open House London architecture festival held this year during the weekend of 19-20 September 2009.

Visitors to the Mandir and the Haveli appreciated the beauty, serenity and religiosity of the traditional place of worship as well as the friendly welcome offered by the volunteers and guides.

Around 1,300 visitors streamed in over the weekend between 10.00am and 4.00pm amid the glorious late summer weather. They were warmly welcomed with traditional Indian hospitality and after admiring the ornate carvings and beautifully adorned sacred images, were guided around the ‘Understanding Hinduism’ exhibition and the gardens. A video presentation on the history and construction of the Mandir provided an informative and educational experience. Many also chose to attend the midday arti ceremony.

Some 700 buildings in London had opened their doors to visitors free of charge during the weekend. Entry to the Mandir, of course, is free throughout the year and people of all faiths and no faith are all welcome.

A variety of interested visitors – from architects and other professionals to families and individual students – shared their opinions of the visit. A few are given here below (full names withheld):

Fantastic educational resource for the London & wider community to understand and respect the Hindu faith. – Ms J M (Teacher)

Fantastic architecture. Amazed it only took 3 years. Opened our eyes to the nature of Hinduism. – Visitor

A wonderful, peaceful place. The beauty and calm moves one to tears. – Ms S G (Secretary)

Amazing…… Hard to believe this is in London. – Visitor

It is the most beautiful building I have ever seen. – Ms S N (Housewife)

Very impressed by the scale and delicate craftsmanship that have gone into the building of this mandir. The carving of the Burmese teak and Italian marble were particularly striking. – Mr N M (Journalist)

Amazingly beautiful building and very impressive social work of organisation…… – Mr L W (Information Management Consultant)

Impressed by the building + spirit of guides I met. – Ms D D (Researcher)

Absolute astonishment. – F M (Trainee Teacher)

Very good. A lot to take in on one visit. Will have to come back. – Ms J T (Bank Clerk)

For us it was a special moment to visit such a holy place. We felt peaceful and relaxed during the visit and spiritually moved. – Visitor

Click on the respective links to learn more about Open House London 2009, the event, and Open House, the organisation itself.

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

Fourteenth Anniversary
Sunday 16 August 2009

The fourteenth anniversary of BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, London – Europe’s first traditional Hindu Mandir – was celebrated with great devotion and festivities on Sunday 16 August 2009. Traditionally known as the patotsava, this year’s ceremony was held in the presence of Swayamprakash Swami (Doctor Swami), a senior BAPS sadhu visiting from India.

The occasion began with the Mangala Arti at 6.00am, followed by the arti of Shri Nilkanth Varni and the Shangar Arti at 7.30am. Doctor Swami and the sadhus then performed the ritual bathing (abhishek) of the murtis in the central shrines with panchamrut (a holy mixture of milk, yoghurt, honey, sugar and ghee) and water. Devotees were also privileged with the abhishek of the smaller murtis of Harikrishna Maharaj. Doctor Swami then addressed the gathering in a special assembly until noon.

Memories of the Mandir Mahotsav of 1995 were revived with a video presentation in the Haveli assembly hall in the afternoon. During that time, devotees and guests also took the opportunity to perform the abhishek of Shri Nilkanth Varni.

A grand mahapuja (Vedic ceremony) began at 4.30pm where hundreds of devotees prayed for peace and well-being and the good health of Guru Pramukh Swami Maharaj. The sumptuous stage decorations and intricate floral designs in the central aisle created a joyous and festive atmosphere throughout the assembly hall.

The concluding evening assembly focused on extolling the devotional and spiritual significance of a mandir. Yogvivek Swami, the head sadhu of the Mandir, also retraced the over fifty-year journey of the BAPS fellowship in London – from the first casual gatherings at various devotees’ homes in the early 1950s, to the first mandir in Islington converted from a disused church (inaugurated in 1970 by Yogiji Maharaj), to the larger mandir in Neasden on Meadow Garth, this time converted from a disused warehouse (inaugurated in 1982 by Pramukh Swami Maharaj), and finally to the traditional purpose-built stone mandir on Brentfield Road (inaugurated in 1995 by Pramukh Swami Maharaj).

Doctor Swami then addressed the assembly inspiring the devotees to bring the sanctity and piety of the Mandir into the home by strengthening family values and unity, as well as into one’s own personal life.

The finale of the grand celebrations culminated with the arti ceremony, as thousands remembered Pramukh Swami Maharaj performing the first arti of the Mandir fourteen years ago.

Janmashtami Celebrations
Friday 14 August 2009

The birth of Bhagwan Shri Krishna was celebrated with great devotion at BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, London, on Friday 14 August 2009. The day, traditionally known as Janmashtami, began with a grand Annakut offered to the murtis in the Mandir, where guests and devotees arrived throughout the day for darshan.

The evening assembly was held in the presence of senior sadhu Swayamprakash Swami (known as ‘Doctor Swami’), who is currently travelling in the UK and other parts of Europe sharing his wisdom through his inspiring discourses.

Young devotees began the evening with devotional songs extolling the glory of Shri Krishna. Yogvivek Swami, head sadhu of the Mandir, continued by narrating insightful episodes from the life of Shri Krishna and explaining their significance in today’s age. Doctor Swami then addressed the assembly focusing on the teachings of the Shrimad Bhagavad Gita. A delightful dance followed thereafter, artistically retelling the childhood pastimes of Shri Krishna.

The finale of the evening – marking the birth of Shri Krishna – was celebrated with the arti ceremony followed by the swinging of the ‘paranu’ (birth-cradle) by all the devotees to the accompaniment of traditional devotional songs.