More than 500 guests crowded to witness the historic opening of the Gandhi Peace Centre at Tividale’s Shri Venkateswara Balaji Temple - the first in the UK - in a proud moment for the temple and the community.
Mrs Rajashree Birla, chair of the Aditya Birla Group, officially opened the centre with a ribbon-cutting ceremony. This is the first outside India built by Aditya Birla Group, one of only two bodies officially recognised by the Indian government to foster the legacy of Mahatma Gandhi.
Temple trustees including current chair Dr S Kanagaratnam and founding chair Dr VP Narayan Rao hosted the event with support from West Midlands Combined Authority and the Indian Consulate General in Birmingham.
Mrs Rajashree Birla, chair of the Aditya Birla Group, officially opens the Gandhi Peace Centre.
Sandwell Mayor Cllr Joy Edis welcomed dignitaries including Mrs Birla, Indian Consul General in Birmingham Dr Aman Puri, Lord Bikhu Parekh, Lord Popat and Mayor of the West Midlands Andy Street.
Mayors from around the region as well as representatives from the Gandhi Foundation and faiths across the community also joined in the event, with a viewing of an interactive exhibition of Gandhi’s life and a series of prestigious speakers.
Dr Kanagaratnam thanked everyone who had travelled to the event and who had supported the project.
He said: "I would, at the outset, thank Mrs Rajashree Birla, our co-host, for her dream, she impressed her vision and reposed her faith with Mr Gopi Hinduja and my predecessors to bring this centre to the divinely blessed grounds of Balaji temple, the first such centre in the UK.
“If today is your first visit to the temple, please do not make it your last.”
Andy Street said West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) was proud to support - 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.”
Raaj Shamji from Birmingham City University was master of ceremonies and Mrs Jyothi Ramaiah thanked everyone for supporting and being part of the event. She said: "We look forward to working together to carry forward Gandhiji's legacy of peace, humanity and non-violence - which is also the motto of the temple."
Consul General Dr Puri 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.”
Award winning author and Gandhi scholar Lord Parekh talked about Gandhi and Ahimsa as a way of life and Dr Rao said the centre opening was a dream come true for the Temple.
Following the official ceremony, the audience was treated to a packed entertainment and cultural programme, with Indian singer Mayaben performing songs specially requested by Mrs Birla.
Dr Deeraj Joshi, of the Indian Consulate, led everyone in a set of yoga and meditation exercises.
The centre features a permanent exhibition of Gandhi’s life and message – told via interactive exhibits, video clips 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, developing from a dream 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 Shri Venkateswara (Balaji) Temple site already attracts more than half a million visitors a year, including devotees, students and some 10,000 schoolchildren.