London Sri Mahalakshmi Temple
While teaching Global Religions in a Global City in London I have visited a number of Hindu Temples. The first was the London Sri Mahalakshmi Temple in East Ham. It was a Saturday in January and the festival of Pongal, a mid-winter festival that celebrates the sun god, Surya. Since Covid-19 precautions were still widely observed in London at that time I did not go in the temple. But you can see pictures of its deities on the temple website.
The brightly painted temple occupies a prominent corner location at 241 High Street North just a block from the East Ham station. Near the temple are several stores selling statues and other devotional goods. The temple is named for Lakshmi, the consort of Vishnu. She is associated with wealth, fortune, beauty and fertility. The first Hindu temple I visited was the Sri Lakshmi Temple near Boston, Massachusetts. Like this temple it was named for her because she is a popular deity who is associated with many immigrants’ practical goals.
Conforming to the South Indian tradition, the tower (or rajagopuram) is over the entrance which faces east. Conveniently, this gives the temple a commanding presence on the high street. Most devotees, however, seemed to be using the door on the side street which was nearest to the station. The Mahalakshmi Temple, like probably most UK temples, appears to have been organized and erected by a local board of directors, independent of broader organization.
Shri Kanaga Thurkkai Amman Temple
Another temple of this type is the Shri Kanaga Thurkkai Amman located in Ealing on a residential street in a former Methodist church. It is just off Broadway and around the corner from St. John’s Church of England. In March 2022, the temple was in the process of building an additional building next door. This community was first organized in 1991 and purchased its present location in 1995, holding its consecration ceremony on June 6, 1999. This temple serves Tamil Hindus from the Indian State of Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka. The chief deity is the goddess who can be seen at the base of the tower above the door. Worship in this temple is introduced in this short documentary.
Bhagwan Valmiki Mandir
Southall is a major center for Britain’s Punjabi community. Within a few blocks one can find Sikh gurdwaras, Hindu temples, and a Buddhist Vihara. Some are in elaborate purpose built buildings, others more modest repurposed structures. The Bhagwan Valmiki Mandir is the later. Dedicated to Valmiki, the author of the Ramayana, it is part of a religious movement associated with the Valmiki caste. Since I was not previously familiar with this movement, at first I thought this building was a Sikh gurdwara because the flag looks like the nishan sahib flown outside of gurdwaras. But instead of the khanda emblem of Sikhs it features a bow and arrow.
In contrast to these independently organized temples, London’s largest temple is the product of an international guru-focused movement, the Bochasanwasi Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha. This centralized organization is led by Mahant Swami Maharaj the sixth sixth successor of Swaminarayan (1781-1830), the founder of the movement. Popularly known for its location as the Neasden Temple, the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir opened in 1995. It is entirely made of stone and intricately carved. The temple is open to the public, but has not yet resumed its pre-Covid visitor program. The building and work of the temple is documented video and websites including the recent multi-episode series The First of Its Kind. Located near the Stonebridge Park Station, the temple complex sits on a street corner. Its neighbors are a Europcar car hire lot and a primary school. A Swaminarayan school is located across the street.
Radha Krishna Temple
All of these Hindu temples are located outside of Central London in or near neighborhoods where Hindus live. The one temple located in the midst of the city is also part of a guru-based movement, the International Society of Krishna Consciousness. The temple itself is located on one floor up from the street. The rest of the building is used as residences, classrooms, and offices for the movement and as kitchen for the vegetarian restaurant on the ground level. Our class visited the temple one morning and had a very engaging presentation on ISKCON’s distinctive teachings and practices.