A record number of British Hindus have flocked to one of Europe’s largest Krishna temples as part of Janmashtami celebrations this week.
Over 50,000 people converged on Bhaktivedanta Manor in Watford, north-west of London, for the annual festival to mark the birth of Lord Krishna.
This year’s spectacle ran over two days – Wednesday and Sunday – and was the biggest ever as it marked 40 years since singer George Harrison had presented the mock Tudor mansion to Bhaktivedanta Swami as the Hare Krishna movement’s European headquarters.
The former Beatle donated the 19th century manor in Hertfordshire countryside following a trip to India in the late 1960s.
While only about 150 people attended the first Janmashtami festival at the site in 1973, over the years the festival is believed to have become the largest Hindu gathering outside India.
This year is a record-breaking year in terms of crowds attracted by a special garden opened in Harrison’s memory.
Members of the public and devotees mingled as they enjoyed Indian food and music, watched the colourful dances and queued for hours to enter the temple and pay their respects to the deity.
“It’s wonderful to see so many smiling faces here. About 30 per cent of people here come from the local area. We’re very much a part of the local community here and do our best to help,” said temple president Srutidharma Das.
According to local media reports, at least 40 young people carrying flutes and with faces painted blue joined children in saris as they carried out crafts or acted in plays about the Hare Krishna movement.
The festival was organised by a team of 1,200 volunteers, the oldest of whom is 94.
“The festival was fantastic. There were huge crowds but it did not feel threatening in the least. What I was so taken by was the peaceful family atmosphere,” said Councillor Paul Morris, mayor of Hertsmere.