The month of July has begun and brings with it new hope for the future. I sense optimism in the air and possibilities of everything good. The Shree Swaminarayan Temple Willesden is set to celebrate the Shree Hari Krishna Mahotsav and grand opening of the temple. For the uninitiated, the Willesden temple was the first temple built in true Hindu style with its domes and spires, in the West. I, myself, have a long and everlasting bond with this temple in particular and as my column proceeds, you will know why. What had begun by a couple of saints of Bhuj temple, in a disused church of Willesden Lane, the Shree Swaminarayan Temple today, is one of the biggest symbol of faith in the country. Opened on the auspicious day of Sharad Purnima, October 11, 1975, it had the pictorial idols of Shree NarNarayan Dev, Shree RadhaKrishna Dev, and Shree Sahajanand Swami, all installed by the then Acharya of NarNarayan Dev Gaadi HH 1008 Shree Tejendraprasadji Maharaj.
After a need for a bigger temple was established, the church was brought down and the temple was built. HH 1008 Shree Tejendraprasadji Maharaj conducted the invocation ceremony of divine Murtis on July 29, 1988, in the presence of thousands of devotees from all around the world. Since then, the temple has grown to become much more than a place of worship. With its community centre that catered and cared for the needs of everyone, it soon became a place of solace. From services for women, to the elderly, the centre covered all its bases for social service. New facilities now include education, arts and culture accessibility, wedding hall, accommodation and services, an area for kitchen, etc. It also has a nursery and respected facilities for mothers. There is also of course, the Bhakti Dharma (elderly residence) and child's playground.
Dear readers, taking you back in 1975, when the temple was constructed, I had visited the site along with Kanjibhai, Devshibhai, and Subhash Patel of Brent Indian Association. I was astonished, to say the least, to see young and not so young Kutchi women working tirelessly to construct the building. These women were mostly those who had migrated in recent years and were full of devotion and will to sacrifice. Their work was an offering in the form of a shram (Seva) daan. Most of the Kutchi women were from Shri Kutchi Leva Patel Community (SKLPC).
I also vividly recall that in 1965, during the Indo-Pak war, when the runway at the Bhuj airport was damaged by Pakistan bombing, Kutchi women of all ages, rushed to the airport at midnight and repaired the runway overnight so the Indian Air Force could use it the next day. While the strength and resilience of the fairer sex has always awed me, these women, will forever be heroes in my mind. Kutchi women, men and children of the SKLPC have also established another unique record by establishing a vast community centre over 20 acres in Northolt, West London. Besides their manifold community services, they have also arranged sports activities and charities. Their charity helps severed British national human services.
While Kutchi Patels in East Africa were still predominantly in the construction industry, in the UK, for the past five decades, their achievements have crossed all industries. Community members have rose to fame in education, professions, businesses, public lifes, and philanthropy. Their contribution to the society is as good as any and better than many.
To those who aren't aware, the community temple was built without state aid of any kind. It is absolutely amazing how extraordinary this community can be. They are positively religious by nature, law-abiding, and a complete no-nonsense community. The current generation have several entrepreneurs who have claimed fame in the construction industry, hardware trade, and others.
Of all Asian communities in the UK, the Kutchi community is a force in its own, and I could not be more grateful. They are nurtured by their spiritual gurus from Bhuj, and their community has embarked on a whole new path facilitated with a modern outlook.