Radha and I with some friends from Aldershot undertook a pilgrimage to Wales, deep in the heart of the United Kingdom. We took the M4 motorway from Reading driving through the lush countryside of Wales. Although it rained during the middle part of our journey, when we reached Wales – by the grace of God – the weather was fine. We were on our way to the Skanda Vale temple, one of the many Hindu temples dotted in the United Kingdom.
Our mission was to seek solace in the cradle of a Hindu temple and a monastery covering over 100 acres of nature, known to hundreds of thousands of devotees who flock there regularly.
UK is fast becoming the home of Mandirs catering for 700,000 Hindus; India, Nepal, Mauritius etc. settled here out of an estimated 1 billion Hindus living worldwide.
Since 2004 Nepalese Hindus, largely the ex gurkhas, have started to settle in the UK. The development of Hinduism in the UK took place largely in the 1960s and 1970s with a large number of Hindu immigrants mostly from Africa and India who have made their home here.
The Hindu population in the UK consists majority of Gujaratis, followed by the Punjabis, with the rest being from other parts of India, Nepal, Sri Lanka and other countries. The bulk of the Hindus in the UK speak one or more languages apart from English. These include: Nepali, other Nepalese dialects, Gujarati, Hindi, Punjabi, Bengali and Tamil. Sanskrit, greatly used in the religious texts, is understood by mostly the senior members of Hindus. However, Hindu Swayam Sewak Organisation does teach Sanskrit to children from a very young age during their summer camps or weekend meetings. There are 140 temples scattered all over the UK and Skanda Vale is one of them.
The Skanda Vale temple at Carmarthen county of West Wales near Lampeter is called “Community of the Many Names of God”. In 1973 Guru Subramanium visited the place, and is known to have realized the existence of God at the tranquil location. In co-operation with Rev. James Keeler, intermediary of the Presbyterian Free Church of Scotland and Dr Mulalasekera, the then High Commissioner of Sri Lanka, they decided to form the Community of the Many Names of God, and later buy a farm to form a monastery for all religions.
In 1978 the monastery bought a vast 115 acres of bordering land. In taking the custom of the Hindu religion, the Guru established a multi-faith Temple making sure that people of all religions and denominations could worship there.
In 1981, then the Head of State of Sri Lanka, President Jayawardena, presented the Skanda Vale temple with a baby elephant which is still alive. Today a large number of animals are cared for. In 1996, Subramanium Temple (also known as the Lord Skanda or Lord Murugan) was built and in 1999 a temple dedicated to the Lord Narayana was completed.
Today Skanda Vale receives thousands and thousands visitors from Wales and around the country a year. It provides free food and there are plentiful accommodations for visitors. In 2002 the temple established a day care hospice and an In-Care unit at Llandysul in Carmarthenshire. The aim currently is to convert the establishment into to “Residential Care Centre” available to all, regardless of geographical place. Besides the main murthis of Lord Shankukha and Lord Murugan, there are murthis of Lord Ganesh, Maha Lakshmi, Lord Vishnu, Maha Saraswati, Maha Kali and Lord Shiva as well as a Christian and Buddhist shrine. Images from each of the world’s major religions are also assigned equal prominence throughout the temple. Although the mode of worship follows a predominately Hindu tradition, Skanda Vale recognises all faiths as equal, and celebrates the major Buddhist and Christian festivals throughout the year. Every Sunday evening at 9pm they also hold a Christian Service in the Murugan Temple.
Weaving through Llanpumsaint village community, we reached the entry to Skanda Vale pointed by a lone road sign showing a path to the temple through a one-way road narrow enough to allow only one vehicle to pass at a time. Unlike the very rigorous, road-rage inflicted, driving on roads these days, here motorists learn to exercise extreme patience in driving – a lesson to be learned by all of us travelling on the fast lane of life. Our visit to Skanda Vale fell at a busy and popular month, as a result of which we did not get the free accommodation and therefore had to book a Bed and Breakfast which was about 5 minute’s drive away.
The moment you enter the precincts of the temple, a kind of calm transcends upon you and you leave behind the hard pace of life to serve the Lord. The temple is dedicated to Lord Subramanya, who is also known as Skanda, Karttikeya, and Muruga.
Skanda Vale is located in the valleys of West Wales, about five miles (8 km) from the town of Carmarthen, on the way to Lampeter, the nearest village is Llanpumsaint. There are three temples: The Murugan Temple, The Maha Shakthi Temple, and the Ranganatha Temple. If you have eaten meat, poultry or fish three days before coming to Skanda Vale then you will be asked to remain at the back of the temples where the monks will bring to you the aarthi, vibhuti and prasadam. The highlight of the visit is understood to be the daily Puja (prayer) at each temple.
The Community of the Many Names of God was founded on the worship of God in his universality, in accordance with the spiritual teachings of Lord Krishna as in the Bhagavad-Gita. It was established as a monastic centre in Wales in 1973. The present 115-acre (0.47 km2) site was originally three adjacent farms and a small block of woodland, which were separately purchased and amalgamated by the community as the grounds of Skanda Vale Monastery. Its first temple, dedicated to Lord Subramanya, was registered as a place of public worship in 1975. A variety of animals are kept on the grounds of the temple including the Sri Lankan elephant. It was very interesting to mingle with hundreds of devotees at the various puja (prayer) sessions and being part of the volunteer force that makes the temple and the monastery tick along smoothly.
The Maha Shakti Temple is 800 metres up the hill. While the fit are encouraged to walk up there for the puja, transport is provided for the frail and those with medical conditions.
The Lord Ranganatha Temple is open throughout the day for personal worship, while The Subramanium and Maha Shakti Temples are locked outside pooja hours as the monks and nuns engage in their daily work.
We were very lucky to have arrived in plenty of time to gather for the procession of Mata. We all joined the procession and followed the holy men of Skanda Vale, singing and clapping as we descended to the temple of Lord Subramaniam . At midday a ceremony for Mata was conducted by the Order of monks who take care of Skanda Vale. The atmosphere became filled with such Divine vibrations that they were almost tangible. A Satvic lunch was served to all present at the main Hall to cater for all the additional devotees who come during this period. The next ritual for Mata was to be held at 1800 hours at an outside venue so that all could have Darshan/blessings of Mata. Since it was an auspicious occasion, the crowds were large. The holy ceremony in the evening proved again to be charged with divine vibrations, with the holy men chanting and singing the Glory of Mata with much devotion and sincerity. In the end, the Swami of the Order conducted an aarati to the divine principle no matter what form you choose. Apparently the monks and Swamis of the Order come from all over Europe to dedicate their lives to God and to give selfless service to Skanda Vale thus making it what it is today – a true gem hidden in the depths of this land. It was humbling to see that those Swamis that had piously performed rituals and sung the glory of the Lord earlier, were also engaged in the fundamental daily upkeep of the temple and its surroundings – not to mention the cooking and feeding of the pilgrims that had come from all over. Their worship of Mata was a continuous expansion of selfless love and a life directed toward the omnipresent Shakti. I have never seen pujas and the rituals conducted so meticulously and with so much passion and love in any other temple in the UK.
God is one, though His names are many. The Community in Skanda Vale does not seek to convert others – rather, the aim is to enhance the original faith of each individual by encouraging personal spiritual experience. The day ended for us with Prasadam in the temple hall served to all, and at 1500 hours our long journey ended back in Farnborough. The entire trip was like a ‘journey from us to ourselves’.
For more information about the Skanda Vale Monastery and temples please visit: www.skandavale.org
Author rt. Maj. Surya parsad Upadhya, is a Chairman, Nepalese Hindu Forum UK and Secretary, Shiva Cultural and Community Centre