From Muslim prayers during the month of Ramadan at the East London Mosque in Whitechapel, to the procession in honor of Madonna del Carmine in the italian quarter of Farringdon, from the Holi Festival of Color in Twickenham, the Sikh Nagar Kirtan celebrations in Southall and the Jewish festival of Purim in Stamford Hill, London abounds with opportunities to witness religious festivities and celebrations.
According to the 2011 Census, 37% of the population of London was born outside the UK, including 24.5% born outside of Europe. The largest religious groupings are Christians (48.4 per cent), followed by those of no religion (20.7 per cent), no response (8.5 per cent), Muslims (12.4 per cent), Hindus (5.0 per cent), Jews (1.8 per cent), Sikhs (1.5 per cent), Buddhists (1.0 per cent) and other (0.6 per cent).
I visited yesterday the Hindu temple BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Neasden for the Swaminarayan Jayanti celebrations, to mark the manifestation on earth of Bhagwan Swaminarayan in 1781. Lord Swaminarayan was born in the village of Chhapaiya into a Brahmin family. As a young boy, He travelled widely around India finally settling in an ashram in Gujarat. He founded, at the early age of 21, the Swaminarayan Sampradaya to promote his teachings. He initiated 3,000 monks to his doctrine and, to continue his work of promoting morality and spirituality, he promised his followers to remain ever-present through a succession of enlightened gurus. Hindus devotees celebrate on the day of his birth, fasting, praying and offering food to the sacred images of Bhagwan Swaminarayan. In the night, celebrations continue with scriptural discourses, chanting, and live enactments of episodes from his life. At 10.10pm, believed to be the exact time of Swaminarayan’s birth, the arti ritual is performed symbolising the auspicious birth.
I arranged with the press office my arrival just before sunset to get a couple of shots of the exterior of the temple as well. The magnificent structure was hand-carved in India before being assembled in London, using 5,000 tonnes of Italian Carrara and Indian Ambaji marble and Bulgarian limestone. I was lucky to be ready (actually I waited two hours!) when the sun came out behind the clouds, creating this beautiful light on the facade.
This one above is one of my favorite pictures of the day. Just before entering the temple, I went outside on the street trying to find a different angle to photograph the domes and I discovered that the sun was casting these incredibly long shadows on the brick wall surrounding the temple. It’s a pity I couldn’t stay more to get someone in a more colorful traditional dress to pass by.
Here below some images of the festivities inside the temple with devotees paying tributes to Lord Swaminarayan’s sacred statues and of the arti ritual.
Check out more photographs of the celebrations on my website and follow the blog for more!