While the aged P’s were in town, I decided to go check out this Neasden Temple which I have heard and read about so much. It is an extraordinary piece of engineering and sculpture and logistics and management and and and. But was God there? I am afraid I did not find him there. But I jump the gun as usual.
You pull into the car park and then have to hand over all you have in terms of cameras, bags everything to this cloakroom. Very strange concept, i have heard of people storing shoes before entering a temple but all bags to be stored before entering the temple? There are two entrances, one formal and one semi formal. The formal one had this richly carved gate. It was closed so we entered from the semi formal gate where a volunteer directed us to go into the temple. We went inside, through a metal detector, then in separate men and women’s sections, took off our shoes.
Why separate men’s and women’s shoe places? No idea. But it was very nice and clean inside. Turned left into a corridor which lead us to a small landing, on the left was a small temple where a lecture was going on, turning to the right was an exhibition hall on Hinduism and then up the stairs to the temple proper. It was a great hall, with statues in niches around the walls and the central section had a dedicated set of statues. Here is a link which shows the deities. So we did a circumambulation of the inner shrine gawking at the richly carved pillars and ceiling, went out on the balcony and then went back down. Checked out the shop inside the temple. There is a sort of covered courtyard covered with the most extraordinary wooden carvings. But then finished it and went outside. So went back outside and got the camera and took the following photographs from the courtyard.
Turning back, you can see the temple in its entirety. A rather dramatic backdrop to the glowering lowering skies. Also you can see the difference between the Italian Carrara marble and the Bulgarian limestone. It makes it look a bit strange, I have to admit. But i was quite chuffed to read about the fact that Italian Carrara marble was used, the same marble which was used by Michelangelo to carve his David and other statues. Fascinating.
When you reach up to the first floor, you see a platform with even more richly carved pillars, more on which later on.
Here’s the view of the lower entrance which is opened up during large ceremonies.
Now this is such a beautifully carved door. I really really liked this door. The conceptualisation is brilliant. Mind you, the door is under the stairs, so one could have expected the door to be plain but no, they made this fantastic door. Just look at it, the panels, the different coloured wood, the framing in marble, the brass handle, flowers, fine carvings. Just beautiful.
The outside of the temple contains a whole bunch of statues of various deities and they are conveniently named at the bottom. But I have to admit, I couldn't recognise most of them. For example, the top right hand side deity is Tasa Vadak who is banging on a drum. No idea, Google didn't help nor did my university library search. The bottom right deity is Adhokshaj. I had never heard of this but Google helped, it is another name for Lord Vishnu. It means, “He who is beyond the reach of the material senses.”. Incidentally, here’s a great very short list of Vishnu’s names.
श्रीकेशवाय नमः | नारायणाय नमः | माधवाय नमः |
गोविंदाय नमः | विष्णवे नमः | मधुसूदनाय नमः |
त्रिविक्रमाय नमः | वामनाय नमः | श्रीधराय नमः |
हृषीकेशाय नमः | पद्मनाभाय नमः | दामोदराय नमः |
संकर्षणाय नमः | वासुदेवाय नमः | प्रद्युम्नाय नमः |
अनिरुद्धाय नमः | पुरुषोत्तमाय नमः | अधोक्षजाय नमः |
नारसिंहाय नमः | अच्युताय नमः | जनार्दनाय नमः |
उपेन्द्राय नमः | हरये नमः | श्रीकृष्णाय नमः || ||
Although in the link, the translation is given wrongly I think, it says Adhokshaj means one who resides in the nether regions. Still lets move on to one of the most wonderful sights in this extraordinary building.
Turning right, one sees this wooden porch with a raised balcony. But to call it a wooden balcony would be like saying that the Himalayas are a raised part of the Earth. The wood carving is absolutely out of this world.
See what I mean? This is wood and it has been transformed to marble. The level of detail is simply extraordinary and this extends across the entire porch and balcony. Supreme skill has been illustrated here. The Gujarati artisans have excelled themselves and I would call this level of wooden artistry perhaps at the top level. In any case, one usually does not see wooden carvings of this ilk but of what exists, this is simply gobsmacking. What made it even more beautiful was how there was carving and then severe flat highly polished glowing wooden planks and pillars and then suddenly you will have a burst of intricate flowers, lions, elephants and then again polished surface. Very nice.
Each of the temple Sikharas was topped with a set of golden kalashes (or what looked like them or brass pots) and then on the side were golden staff’s with red and white striped flags. The staffs were topped with flat rectangles which had bells hanging from them. The Sikharas were carved in detail as well with small murti’s going right up to the top.
More statues of deities. The top photo is that of Vishnu with four humans and children in his arms in a big fish. The middle row right hand side photo shows Sugandha on the right of ShivNarayan. Very fragrant. Hanuman on the bottom right.
Then you come to the extraordinary carvings on the pillars. Every pillar was a temple in its own right, Just look at the work, I was stunned at the level of detail and artistry shown, these were topped by more statues although on a platform which was inclined. Looked a bit strange, but well, ok.
The pillars were connected with this fantastic series of S and U shaped sculptures which are seen as emerging from two fishes on each pillar.
It had started to spot so we went back to the car park and then noticed that the temple had an Indian grocery shop, sweet shop and a vegetarian restaurant attached. So we dived in.
The sweets were looking delicious although the food was ok, actually a disappointment. Not impressed, but as we drove out, I was ruminating on the temple. It is technically brilliant, the artistry is superlative, the architecture and design brilliant. But I did not feel God was there. He did not talk to me at all there. It was too structured, too bland, too technically perfect, too much. It was like a showroom for God. Somewhere where you can point to and say that that’s where God can be assumed to live but he actually lives elsewhere. It was a museum rather than a living breathing temple. Usually when I go into a temple, I feel the passion, I feel the devotion, the waves of faith and the eyes of God upon me. A deeply personal experience is to be had. Doesn't matter if its a huge temple or a small local neighbourhood temple under a tree with a vermillion coated blotchy statue of Hanuman. You feel the presence of divinity. But here? Disappointed indeed but then this is a personal matter, your mileage might vary. Definitely go check it out if you get a chance, extraordinary building indeed.
The slideshow with more photographs and bigger resolution is here.