Saturday, 10 March 2012


Sixth stage on the Holi Yatra Sponsored Walk with Leicester Friends of Oxford Centre for Hindu StudiesShree Hindu Temple & CommunityCentre, St Barnabas RoadThe goal is to visit 15 Hindu places of worship in Leicester on foot today. Six down ...

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.)

After leaving Radha Krishna Temple in Cromford Street (stage five) and becoming separated from the rest of the party due to over-zealous tweeting, I take a number of wrong turnings before realising exactly where I should be heading. I think the group has already become used to me being at the back – but not this far back! Or maybe they thought I’d had enough and given up and gone home – not yet though! I’m determined to stay the course; well, more of the course than I’ve stayed so far.

On this solo part of the Yatra (does that increase its merit for me? or does losing touch with the group decrease it?) I take comfort in the virtual company of my frequent and reliable companions Fraser Cain (publisher of Universe Today) and Dr Pamela Gay (a professor at Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville). I'm working my way through the back catalogue of Astronomy Cast, a podcast which describes itself as a "weekly facts-based journey through the cosmos, where we help you understand not only what we know, but how we know what we know." I downloaded these en masse a while back and have been mainlining them, sometimes three or more per day for ages now. The first podcast dates from 10 September 2006 and I make a point of listening to every single one, all the way through - even if it goes way over my head (and it often does, believe me).

Each specifically themed podcast alternates with one addressing questions sent in by listeners, so there are a lot of podcasts to get through. While en route to Shree Hindu Temple, I listen to episode 140 (1 June 2009) on the subject of quantum entanglement. This is precisely the sort of occasion Astronomy Cast was meant for.

I think I'll reach the next stage only to see the little yellow rucksacks disappearing into the distance - if I'm lucky. More likely, I'll reach it after they've left and will be struggling to get a steer on their next destination. But my luck is in: I arrive at Shree Hindu Temple not only to find that the group has spent all the time so far in the worship hall, but also that I've arrived just in time for lunch! And just before eating, I get the call I've been waiting for from Suleman Nagdi at the Federation of Muslim Organisations, in case there's been any misunderstanding about our group walking through Highfields with placards held high. He says he hasn't heard anything in the hour or so since I left my message, but he'll keep his ear to the ground and take care of any rumours that he might hear.

Our hosts serve us a very welcome vegetarian meal, give us a lovely glossy colour booklet about the temple and the various celebrations that take place there. Shree Hindu Temple describes itself as the first Hindu place of worship to be opened (in 1969), not only in Leicester, but in the United Kingdom. I wonder how that squares with the claims made for Radha Krishna Temple on Cromford Street, the previous stage on our yatra. Certainly, they're very different buildings. Another mystery I'd like to resolve sometime. Oh, and have a look at Shree Hindu Temple's YouTube channel.

I leave some fliers and A4 posters for the upcoming REDP event Choice Unlimited (after asking permission, of course). I also leave information about the Council of Faiths next open meeting, a panel presentation entitled "God in my faith" coming up during the week.

Then we set off for our next port of call: Mandir Baba Balak Nath Ji on Uppingham Road. I fall in at the back of the group again. This isn't some false display of humility on my part; I really am this slow, compared to the rest of them. Thankfully, there's always someone who hangs back to chat.

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