This massive, fairy-tale-like marble temple of BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, located in the London suburb of Neasden, holds the record for being Europe’s largest Hindu temple. The construction began in 1993 on the initiative of BAPS (Bochasanwasi Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha) a worldwide Hindu spiritual organisation. It was necessary to use 2000 tons of Indian and Italian marble to decorate its interior and exterior. These stones were finely carved into more than 23,000 pieces by Indian sculptors and then shipped to London where they were delicately assembled. The BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir is not only a place of worship, but a complex dedicated to the cultural promotion of Hinduism with numerous activities and exhibitions throughout the year.
Despite the dominance of churches, synagogues and mosques throughout Europe, other religious communities have taken root in the continent. The Hindu community has more than 100 temples, some of which are marvellous monumental and vivacious constructions built by Tamil emigres between the 90s and 2000s. Have a look at these precious examples of Dravidian architecture on European territory.
Hard as it may be to believe, Europe’s second largest Hindu temple humbly started in a basement where a reduced Tamil community from Sri Lanka used to gather for spiritual guidance. Over the years, the community collected money to build a temple on the outskirt of Hamm. The current building is a faithful replica of the Kanchi Kamakshi Temple in Tamil Nadu, an important worship place for the Tamil community in southern India. Its more than 200 statues of Hindu deities make it today one of the most richly adorned and colourful temples on the whole continent. No less impressive than the Gopuram Tower and its figures is the granite statue of goddess Kamadchi, to whose worship the temple is dedicated. Every year Kamadchi is carried in procession to bless the city and its people in a large-scale festival.
The oldest Ganesha temple in the Netherlands was built in 1991, by the initiative of a group of Sri Lankan Tamil migrants fleeing the ethnic conflict that broke out in this country. The community had to overcome various financial and administrative hurdles, but in 2011 it finally obtained the necessary support to build the splendid gopuram tower and redecorate the interior, giving the temple the beautiful appearance it has today. The figures that embellish the temple were carved by a group of 17 artists from a sculpture studio in Chennai, India. Specialised painters from India arrived in Den Helder to finalise the decoration of the interior.
The Hindu temple of Wembley is completely built out of Indian limestone. The temple opened its doors in 2010 after 14 years of work to delicately carve and ensemble all the pieces. No metal or steel was used in its construction, according to the design rules of Dravidian temples. The temple has two main domes and eight smaller inner temples. The interior has 210 masterly carved pillars depicting Hindu legends and scriptures with mesmerizing mirror-like marble floors.
The style of the Shri Swaminarayan Mandir departs from traditional models of Tamil architecture with a design that blends in better with the urban landscape of the London suburb of Willesden. However, the Dravidian-style dome and the two smaller domes on each side, reveal the presence of the Tamil community that has here its space for worship and meditation. The temple was built in the late 1980s. Although the Tamil community was initially established in an old disused church, the growth of the community led to its demolition in order to construct a larger building.
The last Hindu temple on this list can be found overseas, on Reunion Island. This temple has its origins in a modest wooden temple built in the 19th century by Indian labourers who worked in the sugar cane fields. Located a little further outside the town of St Pierre, not far from the sea, the present Temple Tamoul Narassingua Perournal was completed in 1972 and later adorned with more than 1,000 Indian carved figures. The temple is a hive of activity for the Tamil community in the south of the island and is one of the few Tamil temples where groups of visitors are allowed.