Thousands of worshippers gathered at Bhaktivedanta Manor in Aldenham this week for the annual celebration of Janmashtami.

The manor's festivities, which celebrate the Hindu God Krishna's birthday, are said to be the largest gathering of Hindus outside India.

Each year around 60,000 people, including leaders from other faiths and political dignitaries, descend upon the Hare Krishna Temple, to mark one of the key dates in the Hindu calendar.

Radha Mohan Das, spokesman for the Hare Krishna group, said: "It is the busiest time of the year for me but it is always worth it.

"It is a spiritual experience for everybody and it is wonderful seeing everybody enjoying the surroundings.

"It is my favourite time of the year."

In 1973, Piggot's Manor in Aldenham, which was being used as a nurses training college, was sold to former Beatle George Harrison.

He donated the property to the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, who renamed it Bhaktivedanta Manor after the founder of the movement.

In the temple's first year, 250 people attended Janmashtami, and two years later the figure had risen to 3,000.

By 1998, the figure peaked at 60,000, which is the average number of people now seen at the festivities.

In 1985, Hertsmere Borough Council received complaints from residents about the increase in traffic. The council placed an enforcement order on the manor, meaning it had to close its doors to the public in March 1994.

Following the order, a ten-year campaign was started by the temple owners which saw them take their case all the way to the European courts.

After a string of unsuccessful appeals the deadline for the order was reached. On March 16, 1994, 36,000 supporters gathered at Westminster to protest against its closure, to no avail.

Despite the order, loyal worshippers continued to visit the temple and even attended the Janmashtami celebrations in full force.

Another appeal went to the Government in 1996 when it ruled the temple was unique in the UK because there is no comparable alternative place for teaching, worship and meditation'.

Since this victory, the temple has gone from strength to strength. As well as an access drive to divert traffic away from the village, the temple grounds include a shrine, shop and bakery, farm with working oxen, college facilities and an ashram. It is also a popular venue for civil weddings.