Katie Hamer is on a quest to uncover her own A – Z of Cardiff. Today she’s off to Grangetown, where she’s having a look around the Shree Swaminarayan Mandir temple. Join her below!
G is for Grangetown
Just south of the city centre, and to the north of the docks is the suburb of Grangetown. Here you will find a vibrant multicultural, multiracial community. While the majority of places to worship are Christian in Grangetown, Muslims and Hindus are also accommodated.
The Shree Swaminarayan Mandir Temple
My focus for this article is on the Shree Swaminarayan Mandir, the Hindu Temple. I have a personal interest in this subject, although my own background is Christian, since my brother had a Hindu wedding ceremony at Dulwich College, London in 2002. Despite this family connection, I came to the realisation that I have very little understanding of the faith, and I decided to rectify this situation by doing some research.
Why the Shree Swaminarayan Temple is so significant
The Shree Swaminarayan Mandir is the first of its kind to be built in Wales, and remains the largest. The original temple opened in 1982, and moved to its current location, previously an Irish pub, in 1993. Devotees celebrated its Silver Jubilee year in 2007. Significant renovations took place in the years leading up to this special occasion. Most obviously, the three stone spires (or shikars, which means mountain peak in Sanskrit) were put in place, and hence the building became the recognisable landmark that it is today.
The basics of Hinduism
Hinduism is perhaps the world’s oldest religion. Originating in India, its routes can be traced back to 5000 BCE. For its 1 billion devotees world wide, it is not so much a religion, as a way of life. At the heart of Hinduism, is the belief in one God, a Divinity that manifests in all living creatures. Hinduism teaches its devotees to adopt a compassionate, unselfish, peaceful approach to life. They are taught an acceptance of other faiths, to be at one with nature, and furthermore to accept the inevitability of change. Regional variations exist, as I explain later. However, there is a universal belief throughout Hinduism in Karma, the cycle of life, and in reincarnation.
Explaining the Swaminarayan Sampraday
There are four major denominations within Hinduism. These are Saivism, Shaktism, Vaishnavism, and Smartism. The Swaminarayan Sampraday is part of the Vaishnavism denomination. The different denominations exist as a result of regional variations within Hinduism; many of the Swaminarayan Sampraday devotees in Cardiff originate from the Gujarat region of West India.
Bagwhan Swaminarayan is the central figure for the Swaminarayan Sampraday. Born on 3 April 1781, Swaminarayan lived a life dedicated to religious and social reform. Even before his passing, on 1 June 1830, he was recognised by many of his devotees as Bagwhan (a manifestation of the Supreme God). Bagwhan Swaminarayan supported the building of temples as places of correct theological worship. They allow many devotees to participate in Daily Darshan.
Darshan derives from the Sanskrit word “drush” which means to see or perceive. Darshan is the most fundamental act of worship for Hindus, and involves not only praying within the presence of images of the deities, or ‘murti puja’, but also being seen by the deities.
In Cardiff, the Darshan is observed twice daily, once in the morning, and again in the evening. Devotees arrive at the temple in traditional dress, and remove their shoes, before entering the prayer room through separate male and female entrances. They bring with them offerings in the form of fruit and flowers, and in turn gifts are handed out all who attend. As well as the offerings, there is also the burning of incense, and the symbolic pouring of water into a cupped hand, which the devotee sips, before placing their right palm on the crown of their head.
While acknowledging the images of the deities, the devotee will engage in ‘pranam’, which involves pressing palms together, and bowing the head as an expression of reverence. Other devotees circumambulate – walk clockwise around the shrines – as an act of acknowledgement that God is at the centre of the universe.
Most important Hindu festivals
Hindu festivities are guided by the lunar calendar, and thus the exact dates vary on an annual basis. Among the most significant are the New Year festivities, which take place during March/April. The Swaminarayan Sampraday mark the birth of Bagwhan Swaminarayan during August/September. The birth of Shree Krishna (Lord Krishna) and the Ganesh Chathurthi (paying obeisance to Lord Ganesha, the Elephant God) are also observed during these months. Then during October/November is perhaps the best known festival: the Diwali, or Festival of Lights.
Stories are at the heart of Hinduism
It is impossible to make an account of Hinduism without also mentioning stories. For instance, there are many stories involving Lord Krishna, who is significant for being the eighth incarnation of the god Vishnu. The epic ‘Mahabharata’, which I remember being televised, features detailed descriptions of Krishna as an incarnation of Vishnu. In the ‘Mahabharata’, he appears on the battlefield to proffer advice to warrior-hero Arjuna, as an act of divine intervention. He is also often depicted as an infant playing a flute, or a divine hero, and even as a prankster.
Involvement within the community
The Temple’s devotees have formed a close-knit community, with involvement in humanitarian activities. They have raised funds for disasters such as the earthquake that hit the region of Gujarat in 2001. Most of the funds for the 2007 renovations came from within the community, although the Welsh Assembly also provided a grant.
All nationalities/religions within the local community are encouraged to engage with the Temple. School visits are organised on a regular basis, so that pupils can have a greater understanding of the religion. Religious classes are regularly held there, and also seminars to raise awareness of issues such as diabetes. As the Shree Swaminarayan Wales website states: “May Lord Swaminarayan reside in the hearts of all Cardiff Satsangis and in the hearts of all those who come for darshan at the temple”.
Thanks to everyone who helped me with my research.
Further information on the Shree Swaminarayan Mandir can be found here:
More information on the Swaminarayan Sampraday can be found here:
Further background on Hinduism can be found here:
Thanks Katie! We’ll catch you next time on Katie’s A-Z journey through Cardiff…