The Nepalese community, settled in the Rushmoor area, are urging for monetary support from the Asian community for their first Hindu temple, dedicated to Lord Shiva.
In 2004 former PM Tony Blair announced that those Nepalese soldierswho served in Her Majesty's Gurkha regiment could apply to settle in the UK, after they have retired from the army.Many Gurkhas, who had already gone hometo Nepal, travelled back to the UK for the purpose, but without families and dependants.
Soon they realised aboutthepractical difficulties of living all by themselves, especially at old age, away from family, and campaigned to bring them over to the UK from Nepal. After much hiccups and series of protests against the government, in 2008 they finally won the rights to settle with dependant families. Actress Joana Lumley, whose father served in the Gurkha regiment, supported this campaign.
When they arrived back in the UK, they settled around Rushmoor because of the Gurkha connection with Aldershot garrison during their service. The regiment was always based nearby Church Crookham until they moved to Folkestone in 1999.
Nepalese and Gurkhas in Rushmoor
The 2011 Census showed that 6,131 people living in Rushmoor (6.5%) are of Nepalese origin, including Gurkhas, making the area the largest home for the community.
Today's Aldershot, an otherwise dying town, is a completely different picture. In the ten years since the right to settle were given, the Gurkhas and the Nepalese community have injected life into the city with their hard work and business acumen especially youngsters under the age of 30 years joined their parents when they moved the UK, have now all grown up to become successful entrepreneurs and professionals.
When the community first started settling in the area, issues were different. From basic problems such as warm homes to house helps for elderly families to jobs, now they have built a strong community around the area. From independent shops, to hotels and banquets, the Gurkhas are quite independent and flourishing in the area now. The Aldershot Buddhist Centre was established by Nepali Buddhists with the help from all the Buddhists in the UK, which is billed as UK's first Buddhist community centre. The centre was formally opened on the highstreet by the 14th Dalai Lama in June 2015.
Establishing a Hindu temple
Major (Retired) Surya Upadhya, Chairman, Nepalese Hindu Forum UK and Founder Trustee and London Representative of Shiva Mandir Aldershot, speaking to Asian Voice told how they came about establishing a temple project, planning for their own property in Aldershot. He told us,“The Shiva Cultural and Community Centre Project was set up on 25th February 2008 following the mandate from the public to build a mandir in Rushmoor to serve the Hindu Community. A committee was formed, charity status was subsequently applied for the project and granted. Once established, the centre offered Hindus a place to worship and seek spiritual guidance while also building links with the wider community. The committee also hoped that this place will not only provide a meeting place for social, educational and cultural activities, but also a place for spiritual awareness. It will also be a place to give warm welcome to newcomers to this area, which is often appreciated.”
As first generations of Nepalis settled in this country, raising fundsto acquire a temple spotwas tough. So committee engaged with Rushmoor Borough Council and Aldershot MP looking for a suitable site or premises for the cultural centre. Rushmoor council identified a place, an unused Jubilee Club in Hawley Lane, Farnborough for theirneed. But when they tried to secure a permanent spot for the temple, they failed.
“Various consultations took place”, said a frustrated Mr Upadhya. “Regrettably we were unsuccessful in our bid to provide a Shiva Cultural and Community Centre at Jubilee Social Club. While we accept the decision of the council to award the Centre to Rushmoor Healthy Living but were concerned to note the reasons why we were unsuccessful.
“Our bid was based on the business plan submitted to the council in 2008. No such concerns were expressed by any one at any of the meetings we attended. We were under the impression that after a report has been produced meetings will be held with the shortlisted groups to clarify any concern the council may have, it appears that decisions weremade without this meeting taking place. Had we known these reasons earlier when we first submitted our proposals, we would not have wasted over four years of our time in pursing this proposal and taken up other offers to meet our aim to provide a centre for the Hindus communities to meet with the local community and integrate with them. Morale of our Hindu community took a dip however the committee continue to maintain cultural traditions and organised events and pujas during all major Hindu festivals on hired and goodwill premises.”
The committee decided that a freehold property will have to be bought and developed to achieve their objectives. To show commitments all Trustees and committee members were asked to make pledges over £1000. In the meantime, mandir committee had to act swiftly to win support of the hearts and minds of the Hindus, so they hired the top floor of the Empire building, formerly a church now converted into a banqueting hall and converted the top floor into a mandir with the help of Dr Rami Ranger CBE, the director of Sun Mark Ltd, who donated £5000 to establish the mandir.
This mandir has now been running for the past three years and they monthly rent of and maintenance cost of £1000. “We now conduct most of the Hindu traditions and pujas in this mandir and to do this we bring in a Nepali pandit ji from either Reading or London on a need basis,” added Mr Upadhya.
Shiva Cultural and Community Centre committee has now finally secured a building for the mandir and community centre in Odd Fellows Hall, Queens Road in Aldershot. A deposit has been paid and full amount is due by end of January 2019. The target for fund collection is £350,000 which include renovation cost to make it fit for themandir.
Urging the Asian community to donate, Mr Upadhya said,“At present we have surpassed £135,000 in cash through donations with £90,000 unpaid pledges from our community, but we still need your help in fulfilling this dream.
“This mandir project now has fully support from Rushmoor Borough Council, and Aldershot member of Parliament. As an inclusive organisation we will accommodate anyone of Hindu faith by providing cultural/worshiping space for family or collective worshipping. All the committee members have personally given a magnificent donation and is also leading the fundraising campaign. This is going to be the first Hindu temple for the Nepalese who have settled in Rushmoor.”
In order to raise funds, they have also invited Shri Pandit Deen Bandhu Pokhrel, an influential spiritual speaker from Nepal who will recite the Bhagwat Mahapuraan centre in Odd Fellows Hall, Queens Road, Aldershot, GU11 3JU on 4, 5 and 6 January 2019 from 1000 hrs to 1300 hrs and then from 1400 hrs to 1700 hrs followed by kirtans from 1800 hrs. On 5 January from 2pm Panditji will conduct the discourse in Hindi.