First Gandhi Peace Centre outside India opens in Black Country

Hundreds turned out at a Black Country temple for the opening of the first Gandhi Peace Centre outside of India.

Mrs Rajashree Birla, chair of the Aditya Birla Group, officially opens the Gandhi Peace Centre
Mrs Rajashree Birla, chair of the Aditya Birla Group, officially opens the Gandhi Peace Centre

More than 300 people were welcomed to the Shri Venkateswara Balaji Temple, in Tividale, near Oldbury, for the centre's grand opening.

Sandwell Mayor councillor Joy Edis welcomed Mayor of the West Midlands Andy Street to witness the historic event.

Mr Street said the West Midlands Combined Authority was proud to support the opening and that the West Midlands was the perfect location for the first Gandhi Peace Centre in the UK.

He said: “It is so right that it should be here in the West Midlands – it couldn’t have been anywhere else.

"The Mahatma talked of peace, reconciliation and harmony – exactly the principles by which we are trying to live and build a community that is for every faith."

The Mayor also delivered a personal message from Prime Minister Theresa May, who said Gandhi’s legacy had a particular poignancy in the UK, where he had made his second home.

Mrs May wrote: “His values continue to resonate and we are very fortunate to now have an exhibition of his life and lessons at the Gandhi Peace Centre.”

The centre is one of only two bodies officially recognised by the Indian Government to foster the legacy of Mahatma Gandhi.

Mrs Rajashree Birla, chair of the Aditya Birla Group, cut the ribbon alongside guests Indian Consul General Dr Aman Puri, Lord Bikhu Parekh, Lord Popat, and representatives from the Gandhi Foundation.

The event, hosted by temple trustees chair Dr S Kanagaratnam and founding chair Dr VP Narayan Rao, saw a viewing of an interactive exhibition of Gandhi’s life and a series of talks about the historical figure given.

Those delivering talks included award-winning author and Gandhi scholar Lord Parekh and Dr Puri – who said Gandhi’s legacy belonged to the whole world.

He said: "It is our collective obligation to ensure future generations learn about his life and teaching.

"I am certain that the Gandhi Peace Centre will enable that light of knowledge to be passed on – for the minds to be ignited and the souls to be illuminated."

The centre features a permanent exhibition of Gandhi’s life and message – told using interactive exhibits, video and rare photographs, yoga and meditation teaching resources and a library.

There are facilities for meetings, seminars and practical activities to spread the message of peace and non-violence and foster community relations.

It is the latest addition to the temple complex, which opened in 1999, developed by the Hindu community to create a spiritual centre, through public support and a Millennium Fund grant, into one of the biggest places of worship in Europe.

The 27-acre temple site already attracts more than half a million visitors a year, including devotees, students and some 10,000 schoolchildren.

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