Dr. Nazneen Ahmed
On Sunday we attended the Shree Jalaram Mandir Greenford’s Holi festivities, the Indian festival which celebrates the coming of Spring with the spectacular throwing of powdered, coloured pigments, music, dancing, and of course, food.
This year, the festival was held at the Shree Kutch Leva Patel community centre and grounds in Ruislip. The throwing of colour took place in a grassy field, surrounded by hedges and trees, the sky above a dull, English grey. It was quite the contrast to the vivid colours being thrown about, the Hindi pop coming from the sound system and the zingy vada pao snacks available for sale, even if they had to be shielded from the weather under that staple of British outdoor events, the ever wonky green and white gazebo.
The temple’s youth wing, Bapa’s Youth, organise the Holi festivities every year, much in the way that the SKTA Temple’s youth section also is in charge of running its outdoor chariot festival. Bapa’s Youth manfully battled against the dismal, drizzly weather, clingfilming the cultural centre’s carpet so that it was protected from the combination of colour and mud. Luckily the rain cleared before the actual throwing of the colours began, otherwise the effect would have been a lot less vivid!
The Shree Jalaram mandir is dedicated to the Hindu saint, Shree Jalaram Bapa, who came from Virpur in Gujarat, known and venerated for introducing the “sadavrat,” a centre where the poor and needy of all faiths, castes and backgrounds are given food. He has a special significance and is a source of pride for Gujaratis, so the temple’s worshippers are predominantly Gujaratis hailing from Stanmore, Wembley and the Greenford/Ealing areas.
Jalaram Bapa’s mission that temples should offer food to whoever needed it informs the Greenford mandir’s activities. The temple offers bhojan or prasad twice a day to whoever comes to the temple, free of charge. The mandir works with the local charity the Felix Trust to make sure that unused supermarket and restaurant supplies are used rather than being discarded. In addition, the temple cooks, transports and distributes food to the homeless in central London every week.
The Greenford temple is currently based in a temporary building while it raises funds for an ambitious redevelopment project on its Greenford site. It worships in a warehouse for which the mandir community applied for change of use and planning permission to adapt into a place of worship. This redevelopment involves the demolition of the synagogue building that the temple has been using since it moved to the premises in 2000. In its place, the mandir has planning permission to build an eco-friendly two storey building which it describes in detail in an information video on its website.
It does not currently have outdoor space for its public events, so has had to find different locations for these over the last few years. Both the temple and its worshippers have had to be mobile and flexible in terms of outdoor festivities since the temple began its redevelopment project.
Last year, Holi took place in Ravenor Park. This year the mandir community wanted to build a bonfire as part of its festivities, and so had to look for a private, rather than Council-owned park, to hold Holi. The has held other events such as fund days at Shree Kutch Leva in recent years.
The Jalaram mandir and its devotees are on the move in several different ways. Some of these journeys have required the mandir to build links and connections with other organisations – the Shree Kutch Leva community centre, the Council and the Felix Trust, for example. Even when urban and suburban religious groups have permanent premises, they often have to travel beyond the bricks and mortar of their own buildings into other public and private spaces, for worship activities and during redevelopment projects.