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A special interfaith assembly to pay tribute to soldiers from India and the Commonwealth who served during the First World War was held at BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, London, on Friday 16 November 2018.
This year marks the 100th anniversary since Armistice Day (11 November 1918) – the day when the War formally came to an end. To commemorate this occasion, a programme of remembrance was held at the Mandir. The event coincided with National Inter Faith Week in the UK.
More than 1.5 million Indian Army soldiers served in the Great War, while 74,000 were killed and 11 Victoria Crosses were awarded to their ranks.
Representatives from various faiths began the assembly by lighting lamps. A trumpeter played the ‘Colonel Bogey March’ and ‘Qadam Qadam Badaye Ja’ – music representing marches of the British and Indian armies during World War One. The trumpeter, flanked by children holding 53 flags of the Commonwealth nations, also performed the national anthems of Great Britain and India.
The instrumental performances were supported by uplifting recitals by children and soldiers, from poetry by Sarojini Naidu and Rabindranath Tagore. Inspiring videos depicting the bravery and resilience of Indian soldiers were also shown, while faith leaders offered the ‘mantrapushpanjali’, an ancient Hindu floral tribute, to the departed souls.
HE Euripides L Evriviades, High Commissioner of Cyprus and Chair of the Commonwealth Board of Governors, delivered a poignant message on behalf of the Commonwealth. Lord Gadhia explained the significance of the poppy made from khadi (the homespun cotton made famous by Mahatma Gandhi) which has been commissioned by The Royal British Legion in recognition of Gandhi’s loyalty to Britain.
Lord Ahmad, Minister of State for the Commonwealth and the UN and the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy on Freedom of Religion or Belief, said the event at the Mandir was “an incredible demonstration of the unity of mankind, the unity of remembrance, appreciation of friendship and ties of kinship”. Sardar Sulakhan Singh, Honorary President of the Namdhari Sikh Sangat UK, reflected on the “sacrifice of servicemen from various faiths who fought in the Great War [to enable us] all to live in happiness today”. Imam Mohammed Mahmoud of Finsbury Park Mosque described the event as “unique and long-awaited” and encouraged everyone to “preserve peace and keep it alive”. Several other faith and civic leaders were also present.
Also in attendance was Rt. Hon. Tom Tugendhat MP, Chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee of the House of Commons. Mr Tugendhat recently laid a wreath at India Gate in New Delhi in respect of Indian soldiers who lost their lives in the Great War. He spoke of the stories that Britain and India had written together and which bind the two countries.
Swami Yogvivekdas, Head Swami of the Mandir, concluded by sharing His Holiness Mahant Swami Maharaj’s message for the evening: “I pray for the peace and liberation of the many souls who sacrificed their lives for all of us – not only in World War One but in all the many wars since. May their sacrifices always be remembered and may the need for such sacrifices never arise again.”
The Mandir recently paid homage to the heroes of the First World War by installing a poppy display outside the Mandir. It was one of 14 locations selected by The Royal British Legion to display large poppies featuring moving messages from the First World War generation woven along threads that pointed to 20-ft installation at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, London.