How Temple Facades Inform the Story of Hindus in London

I’m still a number of blocks away when the white towers of BAPS Sri Swaminarayan Temple emerge, gleaming in the sunlight I’m lucky to have accompany my check out. Finished in 1995 in Neasden, a district of London, the structure is the first purpose-built Hindu temple in the U.K. and explains itself as the first “authentic” Hindu temple in all of Europe. At the time of its construction, it was also the largest Hindu temple outside of India, needing practically 5,000 lots of limestone and marble for its elaborate carvings.

Today, over half of the UK’s more than 800,000 Hindus live in London, and there are particularly large communities in the northwest of the city (where the BAPS Sri Swaminarayan Temple is located). Walking or taking the bus around my neighborhood there, it’s not uncommon to come upon a temple unexpectedly. They vary from plain brick structures to lofty-towered structures in conventional Indian architectural idioms.

In analyzing the history of these temples– and why their appearances can differ so drastically– we can likewise trace the history of Hindus in the U.K.

Although the Indian neighborhood in Britain dates back to the 1600s, the very first significant wave of South Asian immigration to the U.K. did not come till after The second world war. The nations of South Asia remained part of the Commonwealth after self-reliance, meaning that the 1948 British Nationality Act, which bestowed British citizenship and the right to settle in the U.K. upon Commonwealth nationals, applied to people from modern-day India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh. Between the peak immigration years of 1955 and 1975, tens of thousands of individuals from the subcontinent, specifically the Punjab and Gujarat, took a trip to Britain to pursue economic opportunity at a time when the U.K. was dealing with major labor scarcities.

London in the 1950s had no official Hindu temples, and bias versus South Asian art and architectural designs stayed. As an outcome, Hindu immigrants at this time typically had to improvise spaces of praise in private, transforming houses and workplaces into temporary praise halls.

London in the 1950s had no main Hindu temples, and prejudices versus South Asian art and architectural designs remained.
While South Asian immigrants to the U.K. had problem getting an official house of worship going, Western counterculture figures who ended up being enamored of Indic religion dealt with less barriers. In the 1960s, popular fascination with a glamorized concept of “the East” led in part to the rise of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, much better known as the Hare Krishnas. Their Radha Krishna Temple, the lease of which was co-signed by George Harrison, opened in the 1960s near hectic Oxford Street, a place chosen for maximum proselytizing.

Radha Krishna Temple was housed not in a specifically constructed structure however a repurposed one, a technique that many communities would use to secure bigger sites of worship beginning in the 1980s. Shree Ghanapathy in Wimbledon, a temple committed to Ganesha, looks from the outside like the Presbyterian church it when was prior to ending up being Europe’s very first completely consecrated Hindu temple in 1981.

The brand-new temple has a red-brick, classical base, combined with a tower, domes, and brilliant plaster bands with pastel blue and pink accents. It was constructed to cater to London’s growing neighborhood of Hindus from East Africa: Thousands of South Asians came to the U.K. from Uganda in 1972 following Idi Amin’s expulsion of the neighborhood on xenophobic allegations of financial sabotage, and inequitable laws in Kenya pressed numerous from that nation to the U.K.. This influx of fairly wealthier citizens would correspond with the start of the building and construction of purpose-built temples carried out totally in a conventional style.

In 2015, the Shree Ghanapathy Temple finished a significant restoration that constructed an elaborate southern or dravida-style temple that is inside the preexisting church interior. The pyramidal structure in which the primary image sits echoes in mini the shikhara (or tower) constructed above such temples’ primary icons, which are housed in a special room known as the garbhagriha, or “womb chamber.”

While the inner temple at Shree Ghanapathy exemplifies the southern style of Hindu temple architecture, BAPS Sri Swaminarayan Temple’s design derives from the nagara (Sanskrit for “town” or “city”) style most associated with northern India. Its multiple towers are normal of that style, as are the amalakas (ridged finials) that leading every one.

The entire praise hall, a temple guide explained to me on my go to, was built without making use of nails or other metal executes. Rather, the stone structure is held together by precise joinery. Reviving the highly technical skills required both for the carving and the engineering of such a structure—- crafts that had actually mainly fallen by the wayside with the mechanization of the building industry—- was one of the goals of the structure task.

There are attempts to incorporate modern innovation at BAPS Sri Swaminarayan. A discreet collection box in the praise hall welcomes contactless contributions, a nod to the U.K.’s progressively cashless economy (and likewise potentially a reaction to the central bank’s statement that upgraded banknotes consisted of animal fat, a relocation that led some Hindu temples to ban them).

The temple complex also testifies to the growing use of Hindu temples not just as religious spaces but as recreation center in a broader sense. The Neasden temple consists of a South Asian supermarket, a vegetarian restaurant, a gymnasium, and a variety of classrooms. The entry location takes its cues from architecture beyond the spiritual custom– elaborate manor houses referred to as havelis, for which Rajasthan is famed. The intricate design work functions to draw the eye upward to the skylights through which the sun (when British skies allow) gathers, a creative turning of secular design components to spiritual function.

Today, the temple, which was called among London’s “7 marvels” by Time Out, brings in hundreds of thousands of visitors a year– a figure that would most likely be unimaginable to the small congregations satisfying in the living-room of congested flats a century back.