With its origins stemming from a handful of people searching for a place of worship in a new country, Shree Swaminarayan Temple, Willesden has today become much more than one of the biggest Hindu Temples in Europe. From humble beginnings, it has grown to become an inspiration to thousands, keeping our culture, music and language alive with the hint of the British lifestyle we have grown up with. It continues to teach the core foundations of our religion; compassion, thirst for knowledge, morality, and respect for all human beings. As an important part of the local community, Willesden Temple has become a place where lifelong friendships have been made.
However, it was a long journey to make the temple what it is today, a journey which has been made easier and far more enjoyable with the hard work and devotion of thousands of people across the years. It is a story which started with our ancestors back in India.
During the British rule in India and along with their growing presence in East Africa, the British sought workers to develop this part of the world. As the climate in Kutch had become arid and difficult to survive; people took up the opportunity to seek work in these countries. Before the 1960s, due to political changes in these countries and other parts of the world, most of our elders had acquired British Nationality. Many Swaminarayan devotees migrated from East Africa to the UK. As they were religiously devoted to the teachings of Lord Shree Swaminarayan, they joined together for prayers at each other's homes whilst hiring communal halls to celebrate festivals.
With the growing number of devotees in London, it was important to continue religious practices and build a source of inspiration and guidance for the younger and future generations. Upon the guidance of the late Mahant Swami Dharmajivandasji, the head priest of Shree Swaminarayan Temple, Bhuj (India), the devotees in London began looking for a central place of worship. In 1975, a disused church on Willesden Lane was bought and renovated, which was the physical beginning of the great temple that exists today.
The temple was officially opened to the public on the auspicious day of Sharad Purnima, 11th October 1975. His Holiness Acharya 1008 Shree Tejendraprasadji Maharaj (the head of the Swaminarayan faith), personally installed the murtis (idols) of Lord Shree Swaminarayan, Shree NarNarayan Dev, Shree RadhaKrishna, Shree Hanumanji and Shree Ganeshji; and gave his eternal blessings to the Temple.
Through the blessings of the holy saints, the congregation grew further and the building next door was acquired. To accommodate the increase in number of devotees, in 1986 a proposal was put forward to demolish the two existing buildings, and in its place build a three storey Temple complex, which would combine traditional Hindu Temple architecture with a modern British design.
The two buildings were demolished and construction of the new temple began, with the ceremonial stone being laid on 12th October 1986, in the presence of holy saints from Bhuj Temple and the Mayor of Brent. The new complex would consist of a large traditional prayer hall on the ground floor, and a social and community hall on the first floor including rooms for Gujarati classes.
The building of the temple was only possible because of the labour put in by devotees; they volunteered their skills and took out time after work and at weekends. In addition, vast amounts of donations were made to build a new home for our Lord Ghanshyam Maharaj.
On Friday 29th July 1988, the new Shree Swaminarayan Temple, Willesden, was officially opened by His Holiness Acharya 1008 Shree Tejendraprasadji Maharaj, when he installed the first marble murti
outside India of our beloved Ghanshyam Maharaj. The celebration was an amazing nine days of festivities in the presence of saints and thousands of devotees from all over the world. The past 25 years has brought many celebrations of a grand scale to the temple and every festival is celebrated with great splendour and unity.