As the UK went into another lockdown at the start of 2021 to control the rapidly spreading new variant of coronavirus, places of worship were permitted to remain open under strict Covid-secure guidelines. Like most public places, face masks, hand sanitisers and social distancing has been the norm in an effort to keep infections low.
But, just as in the previous lockdowns of 2020, technology has proved a boon when it comes to connecting with the congregation and keeping the community’s spirit lifted.
Since the very first lockdown in March 2020, the Neasden Temple has been facilitating a number of uplifting spiritual workshops, events as well as live streaming aartis and pujas.
Bhavik Depala from the Mandir shares: “In the interest of the health, care, safety and well-being of our devotees and visitors, the Mandir will remain closed during the period of lockdown and we will reconsider opening once lockdown restrictions have eased and when it is safe to do so.
“Currently London has a very high number of Covid-19 cases and we would get visitors from a number of boroughs, so we have decided to close.”
However, it has meant an intensifying of the temple’s community service drive, through a number of activities and its volunteer network led “Connect and Care” programme. Till date, the multi-faceted initiative has reached 61 areas and 21,000 calls of support across the UK and Europe, served over 12,800 families and 210 hospital and key workplaces have also been supported. This has now been expanded to support the National Health Service (NHS) through its vaccination programme.
Meanwhile, the temple has ensured that the community feels connected to the Mandir with the help of tech, be it through live streams or video messages, in Gujarati and English.
Established in 1968, Oshwal Association UK (OAUK) is the largest Jain organisation in the UK with four centres across the country. In 1974, it registered as a charity and has gone on to become known for its charitable work, raising funds for animal welfare, education, and healthcare for those in need.
Trustee Tushar Shah shares: “When the initial pandemic was announced in March 2020, we just had a big celebration that weekend as we finished the extension of our temple at the Hertfordshire Oshwal Centre.
“We had to shut everything down until the government allowed us to re-open, and when we were allowed to welcome visitors in July 2020, we did re-open.”
During the current lockdown, while the guidelines allow for reopening again, the organisation took a call to remain closed.
Shah explains: “There are two reasons, the first being because of where we are in Potters Bar is quite remote and people will not go out of their way to go there, especially in this poor weather. So, we took a tough decision to shut it down.
“However, if somebody does come unexpectedly and they want some spirtual comfort, or do some prayers, if the caretaker is there, he will open up the temple for them.”
This is all done under strict health and safety guidelines, with risk assessments in place and only six people from one family are allowed to enter.
“If people from different families arrive, we tell them to stand outside, until members from the same family are done praying and then they can go in.”
Meanwhile, the uptake within the congregation of virtual events, workshops, and prayers remains high.
“Twice a week on Thursday and Sunday, we do a satsang (prayer ceremony), which is a spiritual discourse on Zoom. This has been ongoing for the last eight months, and we have had hundreds logging on. That is more than what we would get with a physical event at our centre,” explains Shah.