Hindus do it more respectfully

In Others
August 12, 2009

I have two things to say today. One is: if anyone tells you writing a novel isn’t a huge amount of work, you are to rap them smartly over the head and call them a liar. I am still working on copyediting changes and it is making me crosseyed.

The other thing is: I feel fully justified in my opinion of Westminster Abbey. All those signs and announcements saying “please respect the sanctity of this place” are as nothing compared to *being in a place where people are clearly worshipping*. It’s not the place that’s sacred, it’s being around worship. As I discovered today.

Today I went here:

Yes, it’s a surburban street in Neasden. But wait, what’s that in the distance?

It is *an enormous Hindu temple*. I first saw it one day when I got lost on the way to IKEA (good idea, you might be thinking, stay lost), turned a corner on a suburban side street and suddenly… confronted by a temple that looks like it ought to be on top of a hill in a sacred grove somewhere. Today, I went back to go inside. Unfortunately I don’t have many pictures of it because a) my camera ran out of batteries and b) you’re not allowed to take pictures inside anyway. But here’s a picture of the outside:

It was lovely inside. Tranquil, meditative, with soft music playing and people sitting or lying prostrate in prayer and contemplation. I walked around an exhibition about Hinduism, then went upstairs to the Mandir, with its lacework ceilings (somewhat reminiscent of Westminster Abbey actually) and quiet prayer.

It was strange to be in a place where I so clearly don’t fit in. It’s not just the fact that my skin colour made me stand out, although that was interesting. My secular education has enabled me to sit quietly in a Christian service and give the impression that I know what I’m doing, but I had no such education for Hinduism. So I just walked slowly, followed the signs, and hoped I wasn’t accidentally doing something very profane.

But even though I wasn’t familiar with the religious vernacular, I left the Shri Swaminarayan Mandir feeling more calm than when I’d arrived. Which must surely be the point of a religious place. Plus, entrance is totally free at all times. Westminster Abbey, please take note. (Can you tell I’m still annoyed about that?)

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