Europe's Biggest Hindu Temple Gets To The Roots Of 5,000-Year Old Religion

By Shruti Ganapathy. | 23 October 2005
photo shows hindu temple neasden

The Neasden Hindu Temple - Shri Swaminarayan Mandir.

Physics teaches us that energy can neither be created nor destroyed, it can only be converted from one form to another. All matter is composed of energy and everything in this universe is made of matter. That is what Hinduism says as well.

Hinduism is perhaps the world’s oldest surviving religion. Its roots lie in the Indus Valley civilization in the Indian subcontinent that had around 300 advanced settlements as early as 5000 B.C. The people were living around the river Sindhu (Indus) and hence came to be known as Hindus.

The exhibition Understanding Hinduism at the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir at Neasden is an attempt to explore the intricacies of this religion. The temple inspired by His Holiness Pramukh Swami Maharaj is Europe’s first traditional Hindu temple and the largest outside Asia.

photo shows schoolchildren on large circular mat

School party visiting the mandir.

Made out of 5,000 tonnes of Italian marble and Bulgarian limestone and hand-carved, this temple represents the ancient Indian traditions, arts and philosophies.The temple is open to everyone. You do, however, need to take off your shoes before entering the prayer area.

The exhibition quotes the American journalist J Miller: “In those ancient days even China had not worked it all out practically, and even Egypt inherited much of its sacred knowledge from India, subsequently to pass it onto Greece and then Europe still sunk in sleep. India held the palm of civilization and soon spread it all around her.”

Whilst most people in the West have heard of Hinduism, there’s not a general awareness of its central tenets as there is for Christianity or Buddhism.

photo shows head of hindu leader

His Holiness Pramukh Swami Maharaj, the spiritual leader of Shri Swaminarayan Mandir.

Hindus believe in one supreme all-powerful God. (Parabrahman) He is the Creator, has a divine form, is immanent, transcendent and the Giver of Moksha, ultimate liberation. The exhibition does not talk of the millions of demi-gods and goddesses that are mentioned in the scriptures. It rather is a semi-discourse on what the religion actually stands for.

Hinduism promotes a civilization founded on spiritual principles and not just reason and enquiry. It is more than a religion and is therefore called the Hindu Dharma – meaning “that which sustains”. The truth in the religion aims to sustain the whole creation, not just a particular species or group.

Hinduism was a central part of the Vedic civilization which flourished around three major rivers in India from around 2000BC. Beginning on the shores of river Sindhu, it then migrated down south onto the banks of river Saraswati and then river Ganga. The holy Ganga (Ganges) became the ultimate source of intellect and illumination.

Vedas, the holy Hindu scriptures are extensively referred to throughout the course of the exhibition. It is said that the Vedas are the reservoir of all wisdom in the universe. They contain knowledge on arts, music, linguistics, literature, economics, religion, weaponry, space science, geometry, logic, technology, hypnotism, mathematics, philosophy, rituals, health, medicine, magic, architecture, aeronautics, etc.

The exhibition also looks at some of the discoveries made by Hindu many hundreds of years ago. It describes how the zero was invented around India and brought to the western world by Arab traders. Hence the numeric system followed today in most parts of the world is called the Hindu-Arabic system.

Hindus are also responsible for the earliest recorded plastic surgery. Rhinoplasty (ie.nose jobs) was performed in the Vedic era by Sushruta. He used cheek skin to surgically restore or reshape the nose, ears or lips.

More recently the German physicist Werner Heisenberg commented on the impact of Hinduism on his thought “After conversations about Indian philosophy, some of the ideas of Quantum Physics that had seemed so crazy suddenly made much more sense.”

So it could be said that Hinduism is not just a religion. It is more a way of understanding life. It believes that every form of life is derived from the cosmos and therefore it is one with God. At the least it teaches you to respect nature and realise that you are part of it. At its best, it enables you to see the universality in it all.

The exhibition is a great introduction to this complex religion, and the surrounding mandir looks remarkable against the grey commuterland of Neasden. Hindus and non-Hindus are both welcome – just remember to take off your shoes!

More on the venues and organisations we've mentioned: