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Saturday, 24th February 2024


At the Diwali Annakut festival at BAPS Swaminarayan Temple, Birmingham

I have had a fantastic visit to Birmingham, and looking back, the city has been completely transformed by the presence of migrants from all over the world. This is directly visible in the architectural landscape of the City. Balaji Hindu temple which is in the outskirts, is a beautiful 20 acre greenfield site, which is really a pilgrimage place built in Britain but full of Indian wisdom and aesthetics. I met people who had travelled hundreds of miles to come there on a Sunday, and they were all enjoying the atmosphere of unity and drawing from the nectar of wisdom. The art and architecture is breathtaking, and when we met one of the founders Dr. Rao, we discovered a group of people very passionate about retaining their values, but also open to pluralism and respect of all cultures and faiths. These are the kinds of institutions and leaders Britain so sorely needs, but sadly, they are often at the margins of society and rarely if ever, in the national media.

The Soho Road Sikh Gurudwara in Birmingham, Nishkam Centre, is an outstanding testament to equality. It is a huge building and from the moment we stepped in, we were welcomed as special guests and invited to go straight to lunch. Volunteers are sacrificing huge amounts of time and energy to build a better society, and it is shocking that they rarely get the encouragement they richly deserve. Peace is built through our hearts and minds, and it is simple everyday actions which often have more impact. The Sikh 'Langar' is an open public dining area, where anyone is welcome irrespective of culture or creed, and there is no requirement to pay for the food or make a donation. None of this money comes from the government - it is paid for and supported through anonymous donations from the Sikh community, including the working class. If someone only knows a Sikh by his turban, they completely misunderstand the rich culture that he has brought to these shores. Why is it I ask, that Sikhs are not made government advisors on equality, even cabinet ministers? Their inherent cultural strength gives them a huge advantage for working in these areas, and making a lasting difference for the benefit of all of us.

Outside the Balaji Temple in Birmingham - a beautiful and multi-faith pilgrimage place which is so welcoming

Our hosts in Birmingham, Mr. Dhiraj Shah, Mrs. Sarla Shah and Dipvandana Shah are all outstanding leaders in their own right, but the hospitality and humility they showed is another unique testament to the wisdom that is so alive and real in Britain today.  They have transformed many lives through their community service (sewa) and continue to share their experience with whoever enquires about it. And in terms of nourishing their minds, you only have to listen to their conversations to know how curious they are, and well-read and informed. It puzzles me that such an educated and 'civilised' society is so blind to its timeless truths. This can only be because our elites are very proud of their own culture, in fact often arrogant, and ignorant about other sciences and cultures that have enriched the world for millenia. This is slavery of the mind, if it is used to exploit and enrich. It is time that this is seriously questioned as we are all paying the price for this 'colonisation of the mind'.

Atul K. Shah

Article added on 10th November 2010 at 7:12am
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