Multiculturalism in Metroland

As recently as 1882, Neasden in north London was an obscure hamlet of several large houses, a few cottages, and a smithy. Then the Metropolitan Railway and, later, the North Circular Road went through and thousands of often jerrybuilt houses sprang up along their lengths, as London bit ravenously into Middlesex. Although Neasden rapidly became a location for railway depots and factories, it also gained a reputation for being synonymous with featureless, smug suburbia. "Neasden, the borough everybody's pleased in," went a comic song in John Betjeman's evocative documentary about the Metropolitan Railway, Metroland, and the humorous conceit has been raised into common parlance by the satirical magazine Private Eye.

Few events, then, could have so pointedly exemplified the eclipse of old London and the possibly terminal decline of Anglicanism as the recent opening of a vast, phantasmogorical Hindu temple in the middle of Neasden, at the end of an unremarkable residential street. Few would have been able to envision the ornate, impressive structure that has sprung up over the last two and a half years (although it does slightly resemble nearby Wembley Stadium), which is now the largest Hindu temple in the Western world.

When Pramukh Swami Maharaj, the leader of the Swaminarayan movement which has built the temple, had a vision of a Hindu edifice in Britain that would "last a thousand years," the...

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