Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury visited The BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, Neasden, the largest traditional Hindu Mandir outside India, on Sat 29 Jan 2005. Dr Williams arrived at the Mandir at 6.30pm where he was welcomed by the Trustees of the Mandir, Sarah Teather MP for Brent East, H.E. Kamlesh Sharma – The High Commissioner of India, The Mayor of Brent – Cllr. Ahmed Shahzad and Cllr. Ann John – Leader of Brent Council. As The Archbishop entered the Haveli he was welcomed in the traditional Hindu manner by Atmaswarup Swami, Head of the Mandir. In this first visit to the Mandir, he admired the rich intricate carvings of marble and the splendour of the architectural structure.
In the main shrine of the Mandir, Dr Williams was introduced to the deities of Bhagwan Swaminarayan and the other deities. Atmaswarup Swami explained the spirit of volunteerism that had gone into the building of the Mandir and the significance of the intricate carvings that adorn the Mandir. He next visited the exhibition, “Understanding Hinduism”, that details the origins, beliefs, values and contribution of Hinduism. Dr Williams was then given a tour of the Haveli complex meeting community leaders as well as volunteers who had been involved during the construction phase of the Mandir complex. He was fascinated to see a sports hall adjoining the prayer hall.
Dr Williams was formally garlanded in the main Prayer Hall in the presence of 2000 worshippers.
Atmaswarup Swami in his address spoke of the proud Hindu tradition of welcoming visitors from all faiths. He went on to say that the message of Hinduism is that the entire world is but one human family. He added, “Let us teach our followers that religion does not grow by quantity of numbers, but by quality of spirituality. We want to stress the unity in diversity, that there are more things that unite us than divide.”
His Holiness Pramukh Swami Maharaj, inspirer of the Mandir sent a special message. He had written, “We are deeply pleased by your visit and welcome you on behalf of the Hindu community… Your visit shall provide new energy to the spirit of friendship and understanding... May God grace you with good health, and may the people of all cultures and communities, of all races and religions grow together through spiritual harmony.”
The High Commissioner for India, His Excellency, Mr Kamlesh Sharma spoke of the welcoming nature of the host community and of the obligation of Hindus to work for the welfare of the country and make a contribution. He went on to say that he was glad that “this is in fact what is happening.”
In his address to the 2000-strong gathering, The Archbishop of Canterbury said, “I have looked for a long time for the possibility of such a visit but as one of the stories in our scriptures says, the half of it was not told to me.”
He went on to say that he found the need to promote dialogue and understanding between the great faiths of the world. “We have learned and are still learning how to welcome one another into our hearts and homes… I have felt this evening welcomed by you in spirit.”
He continued, “I have been of course struck by the beauty of this place, but the beauty of craftsmanship and art devoted to God is only a small thing compared with the beauty of the spirit. But I have seen here also that beauty in great evidence.”
Dr Williams then spoke of the example set by His Holiness Pramukh Swami Maharaj in his efforts for reconciliation in India and throughout the world. “I see it in his refusal to speak in retaliation in the universality of spirit which allows him to be a welcomer of others and that is beauty of spirit [referring to the Terrorist attack on Akshardham in Gandhinagar, India]. We hope that as we learn the spirit of welcome and sacrifice, others may be drawn by the beauty of God to walk in that same way.”
He added, “Part of that beauty also, expressed once again in the teachings of the Inspirer, Pramukh Swami Maharaj, is the conviction that our joy and peace are to be found in the joy and peace of the other.”
In concluding, he said, “I pray that we may learn from one another and together see that beauty which is from God, which alone will change and save our world.”
Atmaswarup Swami and Dr Williams exchanged mementos to mark this special visit to the Mandir.