Page last updated at 01:06 GMT, Monday, 15 September 2008 02:06 UK

First Hindu faith school opening

By Robert Pigott
Religious affairs correspondent, BBC News

The ceremony in June at Krishna-Avanti school
A ceremony marked the start of the school's construction in June

Pupils are due to start term at the UK's first state-funded Hindu school.

The Krishna-Avanti Voluntary Aided Primary School is in Edgware, north London, an area where almost a third of people are Hindu.

The school offers an education based on Hindu values and beliefs but lessons will follow the national curriculum.

The intake of 30 five-year-olds will be based in temporary accommodation in a neighbouring school while their five-acre, 11m site is completed.

Community leaders say they hope it will be the first of many such schools in the UK.

Pupils will also have the opportunity to practise meditation and yoga while school lunches will follow a strictly vegetarian diet. There will be lessons in the classical Sanskrit language.

Breaking ground

Rasamanbla Das - a student at the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies - helped adapt the locally-agreed religious education syllabus for the new school.

He says Hinduism will influence far more than simply the study of religion:

"We have tried to enhance the syllabus by looking at what Hinduism can add, such as inclusivity and the equality of all living beings,

"It recognises the agency of the individual. It's very much an interactive and experiential approach to education."

In June, Hindu monks in saffron robes made their peace with Mother Earth before breaking the ground for the Krishna Avanti school.

When the building is finished it will reflect the Hindu concern for the environment, with its grass roofs, gardens, glass buildings and ground-water cooling system.

But for all its landscaping, the school is designed to make a statement in suburban Edgware, which boasts the UK's largest concentration of Hindus.

We're hope it won't actually divide people from us, but integrate them in a different way
Bharat Pandya
Hindu Forum of Britain

The new building is rising from a muddy building site in the middle of a classic London suburb of winding roads and semi-detached brick houses.

It is a statement of Indian and Hindu identity - with the most startling feature a temple tower two storeys high, carved out of white marble imported from India.

Bharat Pandya of the Hindu Forum of Britain says the approximately 800,000-strong Hindu population of the UK has integrated so quietly it has tended to be overlooked.

"I think it is time in the 21st Century to come out, not necessarily to make very bold statements, but to come out and say here's another aspect to us," he said.

"Here's something physical which means a lot to us... see how you react to it.

"We're hoping it won't actually divide people from us, but integrate them in a different way... what is this community we keep hearing about but don't ever see?"

Respect for faith

There has been criticism from one group - the Hindu Council - that the school will exclude some Hindu children by insisting that their families worship at a temple.

Another organisation, Accord, which is a coalition of secular and religious figures set up to monitor what it claims are the potentially harmful effects of faith schools, is also concerned about the new school.

Dr Jonathan Romain, himself a rabbi, who chairs Accord, says there is a danger that pupils immersed in their own traditions will lose sight of others.

"I take faith very seriously - both the transmission of my own and respecting that of other people", he said.

One of the things we are very keen to develop is an awareness of the Hindu tradition
Bharat Pandya
Hindu Forum of Britain

"But there are many ways of transmitting faith. Yes, you can do it with faith schools, but there is a danger of only concentrating on your own faith and creating a religious ghetto."

The school says it will spend as much time studying other religions as its own.

But Bharat Pandya makes no apology for answering the call from Hindu parents for education matching their own beliefs and values.

"One of the things we are very keen to develop is an awareness of the Hindu tradition, an awareness of Hindu values, and to give people the confidence to say this is good about us... and let's show the rest of the community.

"We've done it quietly in the past... it's time to bring it out into the open."

Eventually the school will have 240 pupils.

After that, the Hindu charity behind Krishna-Avanti - the I-Foundation - intends to found more schools, including some at secondary level, confident that immersion in Hindu tradition will do nothing to harm the community's remarkable record of integration.


SEE ALSO
Hindu state school beginning work
06 Jun 08 |  Education
Faith schools set for expansion
10 Sep 07 |  Education
Faith schools quota plan scrapped
26 Oct 06 |  Education
First UK Hindu school in London
12 Oct 05 |  London

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