British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Home Secretary Priti Patel celebrated and the Hindu New Year with worshippers and members of the local community at BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in London – popularly known as ‘Neasden Temple’ – on November 7.
This was the Prime Minister’s fifth visit to the temple, where he was greeted in traditional Hindu style with an auspicious welcome and goodwill before being taken on a brief tour of the stone temple complex.
Johnson said: “What His Holiness [Pramukh Swami Maharaj] has contributed to the United Kingdom has been incalculable. I see it here today at the Neasden Temple.
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“I have been here many times, but I don’t think I have ever been here at a time when the Neasden Temple has been so central to the life of the whole of the London community. Happy Diwali and Happy New Year to everyone in the Hindu community here in the UK.”
The was similarly welcomed upon her arrival at the temple earlier and joined the Prime Minister to offer a fruit basket at the central shrine of the temple’s inner sanctum, where they spent several minutes absorbing the peace and intricate architecture. Here, they also observed the annakut – literally “mountain of food” – artistically arranged before the deities as the first meal of the New Year, offered in thanksgiving for God’s gracious providence and to be later shared among worshippers. They then performed the abhishek (an ancient Hindu practice of prayerfully pouring water over a sacred image) of Shri Nilkanth Varni, the youthful form of Bhagwan Swaminarayan, a popular Hindu deity.
Patel said: “We are delighted to be here today because this has been the week of Diwali. The Prime Minister and I have been joining in the religious ceremonies and participated in the abhishek.
“The temple has been at the forefront of every single activity in the local community, but also at a time of a national crisis which, of course, the pandemic was.”
Later, the distinguished guests proceeded to view the exhibits summarising Neasden Temple’s nationwide Covid-19 relief efforts – an initiative inspired by His Holiness Mahant Swami Maharaj, the spiritual leader of BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha (BAPS), the international fellowship responsible for the temple. The global Hindu leader had issued a call in March 2020 for all BAPS volunteers to serve the elderly, needy and vulnerable in local communities, and to ensure that everyone remained informed, safe and supported throughout the pandemic.
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They later met some of these volunteers, including keyworkers keeping the nation safe and mobile, men and women who prepared and delivered food to the vulnerable, and the team keeping communities connected and informed through online services.
Sanjay Kara, a trustee at the temple, noted: “It was an honour to have the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary join the local community of British Hindus to celebrate Diwali at Neasden Temple.
“We offer our prayers that they can serve the public ably and look forward to working with them in support of our great nation.”