Growing up as a Hindu in the cosmopolitan capital, a young woman shares a heartwarming tale of cultural discovery
By Gajanani Ganeshu, London
It is with joy and love that I humbly report on the wonderful visit of my guru to London, his first official tour of our city in over ten years. I am told that his predecessor held me as a baby and, while peering deep into my eyes, remarked, “What big eyes she has!” From this point onwards I am sure a deep inner connection was made, and it is truly through his blessings that I find myself fifteen years later reflecting on the journey.
London is rich with Tamil Saivite culture, which permeates my life. I have grown up immersed in these eternal truths, while adjusting to life in the West. Sprouting from the abundance of Tamils in London, temple culture has flourished, with some 23 Saivite temples in the city alone. Barely do I have to travel half an hour before arriving at my local temple, the London Sivan Kovil, which feels like Jaffna in London.
Though we have no lack of temples, it has been challenging for me, as a youth growing up in the West, to understand my religion completely and apply it to life outside my immediate family. For example, when at school, how does one explain their home life, filled with sadhana, prayers and temple visits? My family are my world—they have inspired me to stay deeply connected, and we live together, three generations as one. To some in the West, this may be an alien concept, and to speak of spiritual matters may be considered controversial or at best not relevant. This is why my guru’s visit was so important to me, an opportunity to be in the presence of a realized soul where I can simply “just be.” My guru knows my heart without my having to say a word. This was a wonderful opportunity to reaffirm the eternal question, “Who am I?”
Excited and expectant, we traveled to the airport to meet our spiritual preceptor, bringing flower garlands and flowers aplenty. Welcoming him to the UK was an opportunity not to be missed! Then, immersed in a bubble of love, we set out from the airport with him on a joyful journey which started with my own home, the first of many glorious satsangs and temple visits. Our home has been the venue for London’s monthly satsangs for about two years now, but this time it was different. The monthly pada pujas are usually quite vibrant, as we feel our guru’s presence during the invocation through chants, but this time he was actually there in his physical form. It was a scintillating experience, though preparation was a little nerve wracking!
My grandfather performed the puja, and our home felt alive with energy. It was out of this world! A particular highlight was hearing words on Saivism, my sect of Hinduism, straight from the mouth of one with immense wisdom. Somehow even though I had heard the words before, they seemed to permeate deeply when heard so sweetly and directly from my guru.
We visited six of London’s most established Saiva temples. At each one we attended elaborate pujas and enjoyed wonderful musical performances, with melodic flute, violin, mridangam and thavil recitals.
Our first public event, the welcoming ceremony at London Sri Murugan Temple, left me speechless. As soon as Satguru placed his feet in the temple, it resonated with Sivacharyas chanting our Guru Mantra. It was such a powerful and uplifting experience that I had to take a step back to find my balance. Our next stop was Enfield Nagapoosani Amman Temple, which was celebrating its annual festival (thiruvilha). We felt the beauty and loving motherly grace deeply. This was equally felt when we went to Sri Rajarajeswari Amman Temple in Stoneleigh. Here for the first time I saw three pujas performed at once—that was awe inspiring!
At Shree Ghanapathy Temple I attended a workshop on Saivism, presented by my guru. This was an immense boon, as I learned about Saivism in English alongside seventy or so other participants. Some were youth like me, while others were young at heart, which shows religion connects with an essence deeper than our physical form.
During my guru’s previous official visit to London, when I was just five years old, I sang to him at Highgate Hill Murugan Temple. Looking back, I wonder where I found the courage. He gifted me with lemon rice as prasadam, and since then lemon rice has been a favorite of mine. Ten years on, I stood with him again in Highgate Hill Murugan Temple, reflecting on how much had changed yet stayed the same. A guru is a friend for life and my constant.
The last public event was at my local temple, London Sivan Kovil, which has a traditional oduvar, a singer of sacred songs. He captivated our hearts with his rendering of the Tirumurai hymns in praise of Siva. I felt I had been transported to Jaffna!
Jaffna is the place of my origin, and visiting there on pilgrimage feels in many ways akin to going home. My lineage of gurus passes through Jaffna; and one in particular, Siva Yogaswami, appeared to be leading us around London. It was wonderful to hear stories of Yogaswami from elders, true affirmations of how a guru can change one’s life forever through selfless guru bhakti. His presence was most clearly felt in our visit to Shanti Nilayam, a hall dedicated to him. We were delighted to locate Yogaswami’s paduka, his sandals. This was such a boon! I felt I was witnessing a historical puja as my guru performed puja to his guru’s guru! It truly felt as though Paramaguru Siva Yogaswami was standing right next to me.
Another memorable moment was strolling with Satguru through the grounds of Kew Royal Botanical Gardens. I especially enjoyed the Palm House, filled with tropical and exotic plants from around the world. It led me to contemplate on the simplicity of nature, so beautiful at the same time, much like the soul which abides within. I felt I was being transformed from inside out, coming closer and closer to my guru. Our teachings emphasize a positive self concept, and being in the presence of my guru, even when no words were spoken, brought out the most refined essence that lay in me.
It was a great blessing to be present for my guru’s entire visit, and I feel I have undergone an inner transformation. I cannot quite describe it, but something has changed. The visit is, without a doubt, a highlight of my humble fifteen years. Just one simple sweet glance from his eyes says more than one could ever write.