The Right Honourable Tony Blair MP, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom visited BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, Neasden, the largest traditional Hindu Mandir in Europe, on Tuesday 25 April 2006 with his wife Mrs. Cherie Blair.
The Prime Minister and Mrs Blair arrived at 5.15pm and were welcomed at the ceremonial gates by Mr Jitu Patel, Chairman of the Board of Trustees and The Mayor of Brent, Colum Moloney. They were then introduced to the High Commissioner of India – His Excellency Mr. Kamlesh Sharma, trustees of the temple, Tony McNulty – MP for Harrow East and Minister of State for Immigration, Dawn Butler – MP for Brent South, Mr Barry Gardiner – MP for Brent North, Mr Keith Vaz MP, Mr Stephen Pound MP and Cllr. Ann John – Leader of the Brent Council.
At the base of the Mandir steps, after removing his shoes, the Prime Minister was welcomed in the traditional manner by Yogvivek Swami, Head of the Mandir by applying a chandlo to his forehead and tying a nada chhadhi on his right wrist, to the accompaniment of chanting of the ‘Shanti Path’ by young children of BAPS.
The Prime Minister was quite at home with this traditional welcome as he had come to the Mandir almost 10 years before as Leader of the Opposition in June 1996.
Mrs. Blair was also welcomed in the traditional Hindu manner by the ladies volunteers of BAPS. Mrs. Blair had also visited in 1997 and was familiar with the traditional welcome.
At the top of the Mandir steps, the Prime Minister was informed of the Swaminarayan School across the road from the Mandir learning how the School recently earned a place in the league tables as one of the top 20 in the United Kingdom.
Inside the Mandir, the Prime Minister paid respects to the sacred images by offering flowers, after which he was shown around the Mandir by Yogvivek Swami who 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.
Yogvivek Swami also explained the significance of the sacred image of Nilkanth Varni where the Prime Minister joined him in offering prayers and abhishek there.
From there, they continued into the glorious Haveli viewing the beautiful wooden carvings and proceeding into the main Prayer Hall where the Prime Minister was given a rapturous welcome by the audience of thousands that had gathered.