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Temple to change temper of our times

The heat was sub-tropical, the earth made brown by the scorching sun and thousands of sandalled feet: a fitting context.

But for all that, the white-domed Swaminarayan Hindu Temple remained a truly surreal spectacle amid the factories and battered suburbia of Neasden, north-west London.

This was the fifth day of celebrations to inaugurate the largest Hindu temple in Europe. It was also the first national Hindu youth festival - held in a nearby marquee the size of a hangar.

The temple was put together - intricately hand-carved from Italian marble in India and stuck together here like giant Lego - in just three years; a minor miracle in its way.

Part of the same religious foundation, the Swaminarayan Hindu School across the road, is hoping for something similar.

"We believe that in years to come we will be one of the best schools, certainly in Brent, and eventually in the UK," said the head, Nilesh Manani, a physics specialist who has previously taught in state secondary schools.

Parents pay fees of up to Pounds 4,5000 a year at the school, which after only three years has begun to take pupils by academic selection. Without academic excellence, said Mr Manani, one of Britain's only Hindu schools will never gain the prominence it deserves.

But the school also sees itself in the van of the fight against moral and cultural decline as Indian families in Britain become progressively Westernised.

Hinduism, Gujerati, Indian cultural studies and a large amount of strictness are key parts of education for the 320 pupils aged from three to 18.

"Moral values have slowly been declining," said Mr Manani. "This is the beginning of our fight to ensure that the standards of our children are not destroyed."

It is a fight now joined by seven saffron-robed priests, in a glistening white temple, just off the North Circular Road.

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