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MPs join thousands in Ealing to celebrate Hindu festival

Politicians joined tens of thousands of Hindu devotees last Sunday (August 14 2022) to celebrate a religious festival in west Ealing. Zara Qureshi finds out more about the annual Chariot Festival.

The Shri Kanaga Thurkkai Amman temple hosted around 15,000 devotees for the first time since the pandemic hit, with people travelling from as far as France and Germany.

Minister of State for Local Government, Faith and Communities Paul Scully and MP Virendra Sharma were present among local councillors including Mayor of Ealing, Councillor Mohinder Midha, Deputy Mayor of Ealing, Councillor Hitesh Tailor,  Councillor Monica Hamidi and London Assembly members including Dr Onkar Sahota.

The Chariot Festival is an annual festival held in August by the temple, celebrating the goddess after which the temple is named who is said to bless the local community in spirit on this day.

The secretary of the temple, Karunaligam Sockalingam, said: “We were worried that not many people would come because of the effect of the pandemic. But we were glad to see so many people coming from all over. We had a lot of guidelines to follow, as Ealing Council were concerned with both the safety of people and Coronavirus. Thankfully, with the help of three medical teams, our volunteers, the local police team and with the support of the council, the day ran smoothly.”

The chariot progression started off at 10am on Chapel Road, where the temple is situated, and moved through the streets of Ealing and returned to the temple in the evening.

Hindu priest at the temple Ganesh Krishna Moorthy explained, on the day of the festival, Hindus first pray at Ganesh’s shrine in the temple, as he is the god responsible for removing obstacles and having fresh starts.

Then, worshippers pray to the most powerful deity, Durga, who is responsible for 16 different aspects of life, including wealth, relationships and beauty. It is at her shrine where worshippers receive blessings, such as fruit, from the priest. Finally, devotees travel around the temple visiting shrines of other gods and godesses.

The day is finally sealed off with a shared evening meal.

The festival marks the 24th day of a wider 27 day-long festival called Mahotsava. Throughout this period, worshippers come to the temple to pray and make offerings. Mahotsava ends with a celebration called Vairavar Madai.

Temple committee member Sarva Jaijam explained young people lead this day of the festival each year.

Sockalingam added: “We like to place an emphasis on young people because they are the ones who will take over the temple and our traditions, so it is important they play a leading part in our ceremonies.”

Jaijam said there was a particularly high turnout this year of young people because of A-Level results day. She said: “Lots of young people came to pray in hopes of doing well in their A-Levels, including my grandson. And he did do very well!”

The Shri Kanaga Thurkkkai Amman temple’s focus on the youth extends to a youth forum comprising of 18 to 24 year olds.

19 year old templegoer from Hayes Abi Vijayakumar said she attends at least once a week with her family.

The medical student at the University of Manchester explained the 27-day long festival is very important to her spirituality and for others her age.

According to clerical staff, most templegoers here are from the Sri Lankan Tamil community and the temple caters for this.

There are signposts in the area of the temple in both English and Tamil and staff are bilingual.

Both Scully and Sharma, also former chair of All-Party Parliamentery Group for Tamils, visited the British Tamils Forum’s stall on the day of the Chariot Festival.

The British Tamils Forum is an organisation seeking to raise awareness around issues affecting the British Tamil community.

Their stall sought to raise awareness against genocide against Tamils in Sri Lanka.

Money donated on the day of the Chariot Festival will be donated to the temple’s education project in Sri Lanka.

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