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Thousands flock to Hindu festival at Bhaktivedanta Manor in Aldenham
Sunshine glittered on silk and sequins as thousands of people gathered to celebrate Hare Krishna in Hertsmere.
More than 30,000 people converged on Bhaktivedanta Manor in Aldenham for the annual Janmashtami festival, which celebrates the birth of the Hindu god Krishna.
This year’s spectacle was bigger than ever as it marked 40 years since Beatle George Harrison gave the mock Tudor mansion to the centre's founder Bhaktivedanta Swami.
Members of the public and devotees mingled as they enjoyed Indian food and music, watched colourful dancing and queued for hours to enter the temple and pay their respects to the god.
Temple president Srutidharma Das said: “It’s wonderful to see so many smiling faces here.
“About 30 per cent of people here come from the local area.
“I’ve spoken to Jewish families who came here for a day out because it was sunny. One man said that since he came here his mind has been at peace rather than in pieces.
“We’re very much a part of the local community here and do our best to help."
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.
Balloons filled the air and people bought manure and gigantic marrows grown in the grounds, accompanied by rhythmic singing.
Bushey resident Ravindra Patel said the festival had been “amazing”.
He added: “I bring my family every year. It’s our second home.
“It’s an exciting time. Every year it builds up to a crescendo as people expect the birth. It’s happy and joyous.”
Madhu Basu had flown all the way from Calcutta to be present at the biggest Hindu festival outside India.
He added: “It’s lovely to be here in the beautiful weather. I will tell everyone at home how wonderful it was.”
The festival was made possible by a team of 1,200 volunteers, the oldest of whom is 94.
They worked hard for weeks to carry out tasks from preparing the 10.5 tonnes of potatoes to looking after important guests including MPs and mayors.
One of the volunteers, dentist Khushboo Brahmbhatt, said she was honoured to be able to serve.
She said: “I’ve been coming here after work to help in the kitchens. It really enhances your quality of life being here.”
More than 15,000 cars queued to enter the site, causing tailbacks on the A41.
Yet the organisers said the parking and traffic had been managed as well as could be expected.
Mayor of Hertsmere Councillor Paul Morris, who was one of the guests, agreed.
He said: “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.
“Religious organisations need to take a lesson from the festival’s superb organisation.
“There were huge crowds but it did not feel threatening in the least.
“I saw only a fraction of what was on offer and it was wonderful to find out more about what goes on here and about how they enhance Hertsmere.”
The event continues on Sunday, where another 30,000 are expected.
Cllr Morris added: “I can’t wait to come again.”
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