Saturday, 10 March 2012


Fifth stage on the Holi Yatra Sponsored Walk with Leicester Friends of Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies: Radha Krishna Temple Shyama Ashram, Cromford StreetThe goal is to visit 15 Hindu places of worship in Leicester on foot today. Five down ...

Holi (Hindi: होली) is a religious spring festival celebrated by Hindus, also known as the Festival of Colours. It is primarily observed in India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Nepal and in countries with large populations from India or of Indian descent who follow Hinduism.

Yatra (Sanskrit: यात्रा, "journey", "procession"), in Hinduism and other Indian religions, means pilgrimage to holy places and is generally undertaken in groups. One who goes on a yatra is known as a yatri. It is desirable, but not obligatory, for a Hindu to go on a yatra. One can go on a yatra for a variety of reasons, including festivals, to perform rituals for one's ancestors, or to obtain good karma. To traditional Hindus, the journey itself is as important as the destination, and the hardships of travel serve as an act of devotion in themselves. Visiting a sacred place is believed by the pilgrim to purify the self and bring one closer to the divine. (Thanks to Wikipedia for these definitions.)

Halfway down Melbourne Road, Shaunaka Rishi Das, Director of the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies, and I are chatting together when he asks me if Highfields is mostly a Muslim area. When I reply that it is, he wonders aloud about the wisdom of a group of 50 or so Hindus striding along carrying aloft placards. All of a sudden, we look like a demo. What with the recent visit of the English Defence League and the fact that there's been a widely reported arson attack on a mosque just last week by an Asian man, we decide that it would be wise to move along the group, asking those holding placards to put them down for the moment. Most comply, but not all. There are some anxious and concerned faces on local people in shop doorways, in cars - people stop in twos and threes on the other side of the road and stare at us. Being at the back of the group as we turn into Cromford Street and walk uphill, I see people come out of their doors as we pass their houses, making calls, photographing us on their mobiles. Those walking ahead of me are oblivious to this. I decide to put in a call to my friend and colleague, Suleman Nagdi, Spokesman for the Federation of Muslim Organisations, just in case word gets around that there's some sort of Hindu-led protest march through Highfields this afternoon. He's not available right now, so I leave a message for him to call me as soon as he can. There's no sense of being threatened here - indeed, most of my fellow walkers proceed blithely on - I should make that clear. Better to be safe than sorry, though.

Radha Krishna Temple was the first Hindu place of worship in Leicester, having been established in 1968 and it has been in continuous use since then. To call it unpretentious would be an understatement. It's clearly held in great esteem by the worshippers here today - as is the elderly lady who is the temple's custodian. I must find out more about this place and its history.

When we leave the temple, I'm so intent on getting a decent photo and spelling the name right on my tweets that I let the others move off without me (again). But this time I lose sight of them and can't pick up their trail. This part of Highfields is a bit of a warren and there are no clues as to which way they've gone. I look up on my iPhone the list of temples on the walk today. There's no schedule as such, but there is a list - and next on the list is Shree Hindu Temple in St Barnabas Road. Even knowing that, I manage to take a wrong turn, down through Spinney Hill Park, on to East Park Road toward Evington Road: precisely the opposite direction from the next stage on the walk. Now read on ...

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