Hinduism is the third most popular religion in the world, having around 900 million followers. It is the fourth most popular religion in the United Kingdom, where it had about 400,000 followers in 2006.
Hinduism originated near the river Indus and dates back 5,000 years. It includes numerous philosophies and movements from India. As a result, it cannot be declared a single unified religion. There is no single founder, teacher or prophet, or defined central authority.
Hindus believe in Brahma, the god of creation, but there are many other Gods such as Krishna, Shiva, Rama and Durga. Hindus believe existence is a circle of birth, death and rebirth governed by Karma. The aim of every Hindu is to escape this circle, which is a matter of practice rather than of belief.
The best-known modern practitioner of Hinduism is Mahatma Gandhi, who studied law in London during the late 19th century. He went on to use non-violent political resistance based on Hindu beliefs to achieve India’s independence in 1947.
Swaminarayan is the most common Hindu movement in London. It was founded in Gujarat in the 19th century and is now firmly established in London.
The origins of the Swaminarayan Hindu Mission in London lie in the early 1950s. Indians were scarce and scattered, but in 1950 some devotees began to meet occasionally. Slowly, more Indians began to arrive in London and, from 1953 onwards, followers of the mission started to meet regularly.
London’s first Mandir, place of worship, was built in Islington in 1970. The Shri Swaminarayan Mandir and Haveli, which opened in Neasden in 1995, remains the largest Hindu temple outside India.
In the 1970s, more and more Hindus came to London, as many Indians were forced to leave East African countries such as Uganda and Kenya. In 1995 this led to the biggest ever protest march by any Asian community in Britain. More than 6,000 Hindus brought London’s West End to a standstill with their message of peace and harmony.
Today Hindus from India and Sri Lanka make up London’s third largest religious group. There are over 290,000 Hindus in London, more than half of Britain’s total Hindu population. There are large communities in Brent and Harrow, where Hindus comprise over a fifth of the population, and in Wembley.