Sri Sivagamaratnam Kamalanatha Kurukkal, Chief Sivacharya, Enfield Nagapooshani Ambaal Temple, BA (Hons) Hindu Civilization and Culture, Jaffna University: “Saiva religion is the world’s foremost religion and the oldest, starting aeons ago. Lord Siva is its Supreme Lord. From our rich scriptures—the Vedas, Saiva Agamas, Upanishads, Thevarams, Thiruvasagam—we derive the principles of Saiva Siddhanta. Reflecting on Saivism’s expansion to other countries, London is unique as it has so many Saivite temples. The affirmation of the Skanda Puranam, “May the greatness and truth of Saiva Siddhanta be spread throughout the whole world,” has manifested here. Saiva Siddhanta arrived like a unique jewel which has been staunchly protected with pride. The foundation of Saivism is to understand yourself and be loving towards others. “Praise be to Siva, Lord of people from foreign lands, who is also Supreme God of my own country,” is the key concept of our texts, for we believe Lord Siva is the Father of all. Through the construction of temples, we have been able to teach the next generation our customs and religion. Just as a cow’s body is full of milk, but only accessible from its udder, so, too, the Universal Lord is accessible with the help of temples and their Deities. Due to the daily prayers and ceremonies, the temple emanates God’s power. Hence, to purify our soul it is important to attend the temple. Our London temples all conduct pujas as per the principles of our Agamic scriptures.”

Chelliah Krishnamoorthy, 79, founding member of the Hindu Association of Great Britain, and Highgate Hill Murugan Temple trustee: “We are worried about what happens when we go. Is the next generation going to take over these temples? Will there be money to pay the priest to do the pujas? Sri Lankans need to think about this. Frequently elders or certain individuals don’t allow others to get involved because they want to be in the forefront. But if we don’t allow others to be involved, who will carry on? I also want to add that Sabapathipillai, who brought Thiruchendur Murugan to London, was a highly evolved soul, a great man and for his great sacrifices, we are forever grateful.”

Appathurai Vairavamoothy, 81, founding member of the Hindu Association of Great Britain, Treasurer, Highgate Hill Murugan Temple: “My job is to see that there are enough funds to run at least for the coming three months. Our revenues don’t meet expenditures. The temple is not run on a commercial basis. We are subsidized by rentals on properties the temple owns and by voluntary contributions. We try our best not to force people to pay for temple services. We offer annadanam (free food) almost daily. Anyone, whether they attend the temple or not, can walk off the street, eat and go. One issue with our temples is that we’re all laymen. The priests are paid people and they have other jobs like any other workmen. And there is no spiritual leader as such. That is one of the things lacking in all our temples. Everyone follows the rituals, but they are not necessarily very spiritual. Unlike privately owned temples, like those of Ramakrishna Mission, which are very peaceful, there is a certain unrest here because of internal disputes and arguments. On the positive side, we have 3,000 members. It’s not a one man show. Everybody feels that the temple is theirs. At the end of the day, they know everybody is working for the temple. The temple will never fail.”

Geetha Maheshwaran, 50, school teacher, daughter of the late Ratnasingham, a prime mover in the early London Saiva community: “My father founded the Shree Ghanapathy Temple. We held Sivaratri each year at our house for about 20 years, because we had one of the bigger houses. One of my earliest memories is enjoying Sivaratri with ladies downstairs doing prayers, men on the second floor and the kids playing upstairs. We loved that we could stay up all night. We didn’t know much about the actual festival, but it was the beginning of the community coming together. Dad was deeply involved with the Britannia Hindu Shiva Temple Trust. But there was a lot of politics. It took so long, and my father felt a temple was urgently needed. God guided him. He and my mum re-mortgaged their house, and bought the Wimbledon property in the summer of 1980. He really wanted to make sure the next generation was involved. He got us all to come here during the holidays. And within a year we built this temple. Of course, there were official contractors who got all of the walls done. But we came every day. We learned how to mix cement at the right ratios and put up plasterboard. So for us, our sweat is the very foundation of this. My father did that with every single thing that we did. With every building that we did, every new building part, he got the kids involved in it. So they really felt that this was their temple. He was a karma yogi, not attached to position, could not sit still, was always working, had that soul for service, very charming and grounded. He would sit and chat with everyone. If we had crazy ideas, he would listen and say, ‘Yes, fine, go and do it.’ His passing was traumatic for us. But there was no question. We will carry on the work.”

Devotees talk about religious life and their participation in temple activities

Krishna Ragunathan, 42, business director, trustee, Sri Rajarajeswari Amman: “I was born in 1972 and went to a Catholic school and got influenced. My dad was very worried and started telling me about Hinduism, Pillaiyar, Murugan and Krishna. He made a big effort with us. We were lucky that the Ganesha temple is built right behind my house. So, suddenly Pillaiyar came into our lives. We grew up in the temple, going there so many times. My mom and dad were mad, mad, mad Murugan devotees. And the Thiruchendur Murugan that ended up at the Amman temple was a big connection for our family. My mom and dad still go every year for Kandashasti at Thiruchendur in India. They are the big driving forces for me. To encourage young people, we need to be less critical of things like their pronunciation of Tamil songs and let them sing, carry the Deity, encourage them to take the lead role. Slowly, they will be less shy, like I was, and start getting more involved.”

Dr. Kirrija Prabaharan, mother of two: “Worship is very important. It helps us de-stress, beautify our mind and strengthen our positive feelings. As a professional, I see those from cultures where prayer is not important struggle a lot with depression and other mental illnesses. I feel better when I go to temple, hearing these Thevarams, the bells ringing, the abhishekam and the puja. When I come home, my mind is charged. I have more energy to run daily things for the next few days. That’s helpful. Then it flattens until the next temple visit.”

Vasee Nadesan Prasad, 33, banker, Shree Ghanapathy Temple Committee member: “My parents came to this country in the late 1970s. My mum jokes that during the festival in the 1981 I was in her stomach and heard Ganesha’s bell ring and that’s what’s brought me here consistently. It all started with my parents. My roles include festival organization, liaising with the local police, the local community and liaising with the priests closely on organization inside the temple to ensure the festival runs smoothly. I generally work to bring new ideas, develop the festivals, develop the temple in some way and try to be a link with the younger generation. There is a second generation of devotees coming to this temple. We offer the same opportunity that the generation above gave me, and making sure that continues down the line. A case in point: a set of boys, nicknamed ‘Ganesha’s boys,’ help out during the annual festival, whether it be setting up, carrying Ganesha around the temple, being here early to prepare or cleaning up outside. It’s amazing during the festivals. Even if they have to study for exams, they all find the time to come here and do what they can, even if only for an hour to help and leave. And it’s a constant changing mix. They come and go. But this opportunity is always available to them to come and help. It’s something that has grown and grown. I think the development of the temple has been on that basis, and that’s what’s driven us forward. It’s hard, but it’s amazing, because I think if you put 108 percent into what you do at the temple, if you surrender to Him, you just give everything to Him, then everything else just falls in place. You don’t know or realize it at the time, but it does.”

Banuja Srikantha, 20, student: “My dad has been at this Highgate temple since it was built. We have literally grown up in the temple. The more I come, the more I grow. I love coming here to find that inner peace, mental relief. It’s a spiritual journey as well, because I want to find out the purpose of life and all of that here. I try to come here every time I come down from university. I do have a little shrine in Uni where I just pray. And I’ve also started to recently meditate. I don’t know how the two go together, but it’s really, really good. Some children don’t come to the temple because things have happened to them which has made them lose that. A lot of people my age don’t actually believe in God. I also have friends who come to the temple for the wrong reasons. They are being forced to come to the temple, and I don’t think that’s right. You should come to the temple because you want to come to the temple, not because your mom or your dad are forcing you to go. It has a lot to do with how the religion is implanted in them.”

Aschani Thayaparan, 16, student: “My family is very religious, so that keeps me connected. Home is hectic, but in the temple I can leave everything behind and talk to God about my worries and problems and hope for His guidance. Only about 40 percent of my Tamil Hindu friends go to the temple. For the others, homework, exams and especially the Internet have become a distraction. They also don’t know why they should go. They feel they have no reason to go. We need education on the meaning behind the temple. What’s going on during puja? Why spend so much money on milk for bathing the Deity, when you could give it to charity? That’s what I want to know. It does not make sense to me that you can ask God for something and He will give it to you. Getting these sorts of answers would definitely encourage people to go to the temple.”

Neara Prabaharam, 13, student: “I have a lot of extracurricular activities, such as vocal, violin, dance and rowing. I go to temple at least once a week. But mainly I pray at home, because there you don’t get distracted as much. It’s just you and God. I feel that’s stronger. When I wake up, I normally do a morning prayer asking for my day to go well. I go to temple once a week, and to the festivals. I like seeing God all dressed up; it feels like God is more awake. Balancing school and spiritual life is important, because I don’t want to lose my spiritual life completely. Sometimes it’s quite difficult. But I still really want to stay connected with God. If you want help from God, you can’t expect Him to help you when you lead life without Him knowing that you are committed to Him. That’s why you’ve got to keep it up. My school day can be very tight. Connecting with God is my way of keeping on top of everything, and not falling and cracking under pressure.”

Tulasi Ravindran, 20, avid volunteer at the Sri Raja Rajeswari Amman Temple: “I have been coming here since I was a baby, so this is a way of life. On a Friday night, what would you be doing? Go to the temple! There are no two ways about it. My faith is really, really important to me. It has held my hand through life. I don’t know what kind of person I would be without it. It’s made me all that I am today, what I am inside. So I do these things, serve in the temple. I do as much as I can to say ‘Thank you’ and say how much I really appreciate it.”