Time Out, the highly respected international publisher of magazines, websites and city guide books, has announced the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Neasden among its “Seven Wonders of London”.

With forty years’ experience in providing up-to-date, insider information about the world’s most exciting cities – over 120 in total – journalists from Time Out recently set about on an “epic series” celebrating London’s Seven Wonders. They wanted to “pay tribute to” what they considered to be “the capital’s seven most iconic buildings and landmarks”.

With London being strewn with marvels such as the Tower of London, the Houses of Parliament, the Tate Modern Art Gallery, and the London Eye, the journalists admitted they had their work cut out for them. Eventually, they arrived at the choice seven. They are, in no particular order:

* St Pancras International
* Kew Gardens
* The Old Royal Naval College
* The Natural History Museum
* BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir
* The National Theatre

The announcement comes just days after the Mandir was awarded the ‘UK Pride of Place’ Award by Government authorities after a month-long nationwide online poll.

In writing about the Mandir, Jessica Cargill Thompson from Time Out London begins by calling it “Neasden’s answer to the Taj Mahal”.

“It’s the sort of undertaking that requires faith, or one hell of a lot of chutzpah,” she adds. “Build the largest Hindu temple outside India, in the finest materials, using master craftsmen with ancient skills rarely found outside the diaspora. Ask unpaid, untrained members of the community to give up their time to work on the site. Raise more than £10 million to finance it, with no government aid. Finish within three years. And do it all in Neasden.”

She compares this feat to building the great Pyramid of Giza which took 100,000 workers 20 years to assemble its 2.3 million stones. “But the Swaminarayan Hindu Temple can stand shoulder to shoulder with it.”

Describing the sheer beauty of the Mandir, Thompson writes: “Inside, the mandir is a space of almost blinding whiteness and purity. Every vertical surface is carved with stories from the scriptures (veda) and lacy motifs. A forest of pillars fills the floor and above them soars the central dome, stepping up in wedding-cake tiers towards the two-and-a-half tonne keystone which drips downwards like a glorious stone chandelier. Soft lighting brings out the milkiness of the marble and the whole interior exalts in the intimate devotion that has gone into carving each tiny filigree. It is a labour of love and a work of art.”

The Time Out team certainly did their homework. The article contains a detailed account of how the Mandir was built, even retracing the history of BAPS from “when the current Swamiji proclaimed his vision in 1972,… that ‘the stones will inspire divinity in people.’”

“The finished building, inaugurated on schedule in 1995,” she continues, “caused a sensation. Its clean white pinnacles and domes stood proud above the residential streets of NW10. It was unlike anything London had seen before.”

Thompson and her colleagues visited the Mandir on a rigorous research tour, taking note of all the other features of the complex – including the Haveli, ‘Understanding Hinduism’ exhibition, ‘Shayona’ restaurant, and Swaminarayan School – and even stayed to participate in one of the daily rituals.

Briefly casting aside her own “deep-seated scepticism”, the author accepts the Mandir is not merely a beautiful building, but an innately spiritual one. She shares a profound experience from her tour when visiting the upper sanctum where the sacred images are enshrined. “It is impossible to stand inside here without feeling spiritually moved and inwardly contemplative.”

Thompson concludes: “The story of the Neasden mandir could have come from scripture, illustrating the triumph of the human spirit. It is humbling and inspiring that a group of ordinary Londoners could join forces and – using only their faith, hard work and business nous – pull together the money, land, materials and skills to build something so spectacular.”

The full article can be read here, and for further details about the series, please click here.

Excerpts from article by Jessica Cargill Thompson, Time Out London. External photography by Belinda Lawley, Time Out London.
All other photographs courtesy of BAPS, UK.

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