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History

In 1950, with the blessings of Shastriji Maharaj, Mahendrabhai Patel (Barrister), Purushottambhai Patel and other devotees began to meet occasionally for satsang in London. As Mahendrabhai writes, "I landed in London in 1950 for further studies. Shri Purushottam Patel was a devotee of Shastriji Maharaj residing in the county of Kent, whose address was given to me by Yogiji Maharaj." Yogiji Maharaj regularly wrote to him to do regular satsang. Slowly Indians, still few number, began arriving in London.
 
In 1953, Yogiji Maharaj blessed Dahyabhai D Meghani, nephew of the renowned scholar and author, Zaverchand Meghani, in India saying, "Go to London, we want you to spread Satsang." On arriving in London, Meghani, Chandubhai, Maganbhai, and others started to meet on a regular basis.
 
Pramukh Swami Maharaj writes: "In London, Shri D D Meghani, his brothers and friends had been holding Satsang sabhas in his office since 1953. They would read Yogi Bapa's weekly letters. Later arrivals from India and East Africa – Navinbhai Swaminarayan, Prafulbhai Patel, Chitranjanbhai and others – joined in and started the weekly assembly at the house of Prahladbhai, the son-in-law of Ravjibhai of Jinja, in 1958."
The Saturday evening assemblies at Prahladbhai's house in Seymour Place near Baker Street station attracted a few devotees. With the ritual dhun and kirtan the assembly concluded after a spiritual discourse by a devotee. The annual Annakut festival was celebrated at his house for several years.
 
Initially, preparing Indian food in London was difficult. Green vegetables, pulses and grains were hard to get. Many devotees speak of having lived on bread and butter for months.
 
In the summer of 1959, a constitution for the Satsang Mandal was drafted, and registered under the name of 'Swaminarayan Hindu Mission, London Fellowship centre'. Shri D D Meghani was appointed as Chairman of the Mission, Mahendrabhai (Barrister) as Vice-chairman, Prafulbhai Patel as Secretary, Chandrakant N Dhupelia as Treasurer and Navinbhai Swaminarayan enlightened the Satsang assemblies with his spiritual talks and experiences.
 
In September 1959, Gulzarilal Nanda (the then Union Labour Minister of India and later, acting Prime Minister of India) visited London during his trip to Europe. Yogiji Maharaj wrote to the devotees to organise a reception in his honor. The Indian High Commissioner in London, Mrs Vijayalaxmi Pandit was contacted and briefed about the reception. It was held at Vega Restaurant in Central London where more than one hundred students and dignitaries were present at this first public function. Shri Meghani welcomed Nandaji in his speech and praised Yogiji Maharaj and the activities of the Satsang Mandal. Nandaji was impressed by the youths and devotees, who though living in a far off land, were wedded to the moral code prescribed by Bhagwan Swaminarayan and Yogiji Maharaj.
 
The centre was nourished by letters from Yogiji Maharaj and through visits by learned devotees. Ravibhai Pandya of Mombasa often made business trips to London and also inspired and enlightened the devotees.
In 1962, Harmanbhai Patel from Nairobi visited London solely for the purpose of consolidating and bolstering the devotees.
 
In 1964, Navinbhai Swaminarayan started a Satsang assembly in Manchester.
 
In 1970, during Yogiji Maharaj's visit to East Africa, devotees in London invited him to come to London. Yogiji Maharaj insisted that if they acquired a place for a mandir then he would come. A historic conversation transpired by phone between the devotees of London and Yogiji Maharaj from Tororo, Uganda. With the blessings of Yogiji Maharaj the devotees started exploring London for a suitable place.
 
A few years earlier, while looking at a map of London, Yogiji Maharaj had made a pencil mark on a spot where a place would be acquired for the mandir. And a place was found on that very marked spot.
 
Pramukh Swami Maharaj notes: "The number of devotees was small for establishing a mandir. But their desire to call Swamishri to London and his command inspired their efforts. On searching they came upon an old church (St John's Baptist Church in Islington, East London). The proprietors asked for £12,000 and the devotees made an offer of £9,500. A devotee, Jayantibhai of Changa, had a vision of Yogi Bapa, in a dream, who told him that they would get the church for £9,000. And that was exactly what happened. The next day the church authorities said, "You are doing good work and so we will sell it to you for £9,500." By the wish of Swamiji the church (on 77 Elmore Street) was bought to create a mandir. Swamiji arrived in London on 23 May 1970 with many sadhus and devotees."
Two days later in an assembly at a Methodist Church in Park Lane, Wembley, Yogiji Maharaj revealed, "This city is sacred because Shriji Maharaj has showered his grace upon it. The collectors of Nadiad and Kheda districts had met Maharaj. When the Governor (Sir John Malcolm) died in London, Maharaj came in a divine form to redeem him."
On 26 May 1970, Yogiji Maharaj in his blessings said, "We have three things to accomplish in London:

  1. To convey the blessings of Shastriji Maharaj so that everyone may live happily in this country.
  2. To open a mandir and perform the murti-pratishtha. And everyone should come every day for darshan..
  3. To make a boarding house here. In future a huge mandir will be made. The government will grant some land and you will make the mandir – this is a blessing from Shriji Maharaj."
The first mandir in Islington was inaugurated by Yogiji Maharaj on Sunday 14 June 1970. Pramukh Swami Maharaj recounts, "After restoring and re-decorating the church, sacred images which had been sanctified by Shastriji Maharaj and given to Prabhudas Lalaji, were brought from Kampala. A yagna was performed and thousands witnessed the procession, after which the murtis were installed joyously in the new mandir.
 
"During his stay Pujya Swamiji stayed at Arvind Guru's home in Dollis Hill for one-and-a-half months, while the sadhus stayed at Chitranjanbhai's place. Every morning, the puja was held at the house of Arvindbhai Patel in Dollis Hill, and every evening discourses were delivered in the new mandir. The devotees prayed to Swamiji, 'Though the mandir is ready, there are only a few devotees. Do bless us that Satsang grows.' Swamiji enthusiastically showered his blessings saying, 'One day this mandir will be too small to accommodate the devotees. Satsang will flourish throughout London. A great shikharbaddh mandir will be erected. Hundreds of thousands of people will benefit."
 
On 14 June 1972, in the village of Piplana Pramukh Swami Maharaj wished, "May there be a marble shikharbaddh mandir in London and 100 sadhus grace the murti-pratishtha ceremony."
 
In 1972, thousands of devotees and Indians expelled from Uganda emigrated to England. The Islington mandir could not accommodate the ever increasing tide of devotees. Shri G D Patel, a veteran devotee, played an important role in enlightening the growing congregation with his spiritual talks. During festival days, hundreds of devotees had to stand outside on the streets.
 
In 1974, Pramukh Swami Maharaj installed the huge painted murtis of Akshar Purushottam Maharaj, Radha Krishna and the Guru Parampara which had been retrieved from the Tororo mandir during the expulsion period in Uganda in 1972.
 
Swamishri describes, "Later through his (Yogiji Maharaj's) blessings, and the divine grace of Bhagwan Swaminarayan and Gunatitanand Swami as well as the vision of Shastriji Maharaj, a new site of 2.25 acres was acquired in Neasden. The factory site was renovated to create a mandir and an assembly hall."
 
The ground-breaking ceremony was performed on 20 July 1980 by Pramukh Swami Maharaj. In 1982, Pramukh Swami Maharaj performed the opening of the new mandir in Neasden. It was around this time that Swamishri first proposed the idea of building a traditional, shikharbaddh mandir in London. The original plan was to construct the mandir on the Meadow Garth site itself. After due consideration with architects and engineers, it was recognized that the existing premises would be much too small and unsuitable for the purpose.
 
In the meantime, the small scattered pockets of Satsang had started growing and centres flowered in Leicester, Wellingborough, Preston, Ashton, Birmingham, Coventry, Luton, Crawley and other places. Shri C M Patel, Chairman of UK Satsang Mandal, always encouraged the growth and development of the Mission.
 
In 1984, a much larger plot of 4.5 acres of land was acquired in Harrow for a new mandir but planning permission was not granted by the Department of Environment in December 1986. In 1985, the Cultural Festival of India was celebrated on the grounds of Alexandra Palace in London. During the annual Annakut festival as many as 20,000 devotees and Indians came for darshan at the Neasden mandir.
 
In 1990 Swamishri saw a 'For Sale' sign board on the Arlington site near the existing hari mandir on Meadow Garth. To the surprise of all, Swamishri asked Chandubhai Dalia to enquire about the land and it was purchased by the instruction of Swamishri. On 7 July 1991,
Swamishri laid the foundation stone for a shikharbaddh mandir on the Arlington site. Work on the new mandir began in November 1992 and in an astonishing period of 2.5 years, a shikharbaddh mandir was inaugurated by Pramukh Swami Maharaj.
 
In early 1992, Sladebrook School, across the road on Brentfield Road, was acquired and refurbished and opened as 'The Swaminarayan Independent Day School' in August 1992 – the first Hindu school in Europe.
 
And so from a handful of devotees five decades ago, the Akshar Purushottam Satsang grew into a gigantic socio-spiritual organisation. Its youth and children's forums and women's wing – all reflect the strength and growth of a benignly powerful, spiritual and philanthropic organisation. Through the efforts and blessings of Yogiji Maharaj and Pramukh Swami Maharaj, the Shri Swaminarayan Mandir – a seven pinnacled mandir, became a reality. It stands elegantly as a symbol, a source, a citadel of our culture and faith for all future generations. The mandir is the crowning glory of a history chequered with struggle, determination and setbacks. The inauguration on 20 August 1995 marked the culmination of an epic story of effort and divine blessings of Bhagwan Swaminarayan, Shastriji Maharaj, Yogiji Maharaj and Pramukh Swami Maharaj.

Timeline

1950
With the blessings of Shastriji Maharaj, Mahendrabhai Patel, Purushottambhai Patel and other devotees begin to meet ocasionally for Satsang sabhas, in London.
 
1953
Yogiji Maharaj blessed Dahyabhai D Meghani, nephew of the renowned scholar and author, Zaverchand Meghani, saying: "Go to London, we want to spread Satsang." On arrival in London, Dahyabhai, Maganbhai, Chandubhai, Mahendrabhai and others install the murtis of Akshar Purushottam Maharaj and Yogiji Maharaj. Regular weekly Satsang sabhas are focused around the reading of Yogiji Maharaj's weekly letters.
Satsang sabhas held at D D Meghani's business premises in Central London.
 
1958
Satsang sabhas are held at Prahladbhai Patel's house.
 
1959
Gulzarilal Nanda, the Union Labour Minister of India and staunch satsangi, visits London. A reception held at Vega Restaurant (founded by George Bernard Shaw).
Registered with Charity Commission as 'Swaminarayan Hindu Mission, London Fellowship centre.'
 
1962
Harmanbhai Patel visits London to consolidate Satsang activities
.
 
1963
Shri Swaminarayan Student Centre is established at the wish of Yogiji Maharaj.
 
1964
Navinbhai Swaminarayan starts Satsang sabha in Manchester.
 
1970
Yogiji Maharaj makes his first visit to London.
Procession through Oxford Street.
Yogiji Maharaj inaugurates Britain's 1st Hindu mandir at 77 Elmore Street, Islington, London.
 
1973
1st Youth Convention.
 
1974
Pramukh Swami Maharaj's first visit to the UK as spiritual leader of the Bochasanwasi Shri Akshar Purushottam Sanstha.
2nd Youth Adhiveshan.
Meeting with The Archbishop of Canterbury.
 
1977
Pramukh Swami Maharaj visits the UK and inaugurates mandirs in Leicester, Ashton and Welingborough.
3rd Youth Convention.
 
1979
4th Youth Convention.
 
1980
Pramukh Swami Maharaj is given a grand reception at the Royal Albert Hall, attended by 8,000 devotees.
Procession on the streets of London.
Pramukh Swami Maharaj hosts World Religions Conference at the Wembley Conference Centre.
5th Youth Convention.
 
1982
Pramukh Swami Mahraj visit the UK and inaugurates a new Hari mandir in Neasden.
Sadhus travel to Satsang centres in Europe.
 
1984
Pramukh Swami Maharaj visits the UK, Holland, Belgium, Portugal and Italy.
Meets Pope John Paul-II in the Vatican.
Inaugurates Hari mandir in Preston.
 
1985
Pramukh Swami Maharaj celebrates the 33-day Cultural Festival of India at Alexandra Palace, London. Over 1.5 million people visit festival.
20 July – Suvarna Tula Mahotsav.
 
1987
6th Youth Convention
.
 
1988
Pramukh Swami Mahraj visits the UK, Portugal, Spain, France, Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Norway and Sweden.
Pramukh Swami Maharaj honored in the House of Commons.
 
1990
Pramukh Swami Maharaj visits the UK.
 
1991
Pramukh Swami Maharaj lays foundation stone for the shikharbaddh mandir on the Arlington site.
 
1992
September – The Swaminarayan School, 1st Hindu school in Europe, opens.
November – Construction of BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, 1st Traditional Hindu mandir in Europe, begins.
 
1993
December – Construction of cultural complex begins.
 
1994
Pramukh Swami Maharaj visits the UK, Czech Republic and Sweden.
 
1995
August 20: Pramukh Swami Maharaj performs murti-pratishtha ceremony of Akshar Purushottam Maharaj and deities. Six day Mandir Mahotsav (Festival of Inspirations – 18 to 23 August) held to commemorate the occasion.
 
1996
Pramukh Swami Maharaj visits the UK.
 
1997
Pramukh Swami Maharaj visits UK.
7th Youth convention.
 
1998
Pramukh Swami Maharaj visits UK.
 
2000
Pramukh Swami Maharaj visits UK.
Gurubhakti Din.
Opening of Satsang Bhavan in Lisbon.
 
2001
Inauguration of Loughborough mandir.

 

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