Celebrating Shiva in Wales
Chandrika was a little girl when her family fled Uganda for Wales
Chandrika Joshi from Cardiff had wanted to emulate her father, a Hindu priest, ever since she was a little girl.
She followed his example by leading the Shivaratri celebrations, celebrating the god Shiva, at her Hindu temple.
Keshavlal Monji Joshi was an orphan from India who settled in Uganda and became a priest.
He married and began to raise a family before they fled Idi Amin’s murderous regime in the 1970s, arriving in Wales as refugees and settling in Penrhys.
Chandrika tells us more:
“When I was a little girl, in Uganda, I wanted to be like my father. I loved his big shoes and his priestly attire. God in Hinduism has no gender and is sometime depicted as a combination of male and female energy. Shiva is one of those Gods.
A statue of Shiva underneath Chandrika Joshi’s magnolia tree
“The festival of Shivaratri took place on 23rd February 2009 and the Cardiff Sanatan Dharma Mandal asked me to do the Puja (service) for the congregation at the temple in The Parade, Cardiff.
“We celebrate Shiva, the God who is depicted as a yogi with matted hair, decorated with a crescent moon, tied in a knot from which flows the sacred river Ganga. The source of the Ganga, the Himalaya, is the home of Shiva.
“His blue throat is wrapped by a venomous snake and he carries the trident and the drum which beats the beat of creation and destruction. Shiva, the father with three eyes, the lord of destruction sits covered in ash on a tiger skin in deep meditation.
“There is a statue of Shiva under the magnolia tree in my garden. This is where my father used to sit in the summer. The statue reminds me of my father; my father who now lives in Shiva and once Shiva was in my father’s beating heart. Sacred Sanskrit chants, thousands of years old, resonated in my small urban garden in Cardiff.
Chandrika’s brother Pankaj (right) followed his father into the priesthood
“We scattered my father’s ashes in river Ogmore, our local Ganga, near the stepping stones, six months before my brother’s ashes were also scattered in the same place. Two priests, a father and son, one following the other into the great sea.
“At the end all lives flow into God as all rivers flow into oceans. God is the mountain from where rivers start their journeys and God is the ocean in which they all flow.
“My father’s journey started in India. By the time he was five or six, he was an orphan. In his teens he worked in a boarding school for Hindu priests in return for an education. He was adamant not to work as a priest when he got on a dhow and went to Africa, but a priest he was meant to be. He was a philosophical man and open about other religions and gave us exposure to them too.
“He brought books for us about Jesus and did not object my mother fasting on the 27th day of Ramadaan. After a stroke at the age of 46, my father initiated my 12 year old brother into priesthood.
Chandrika’s father Keshavlal Monji Joshi settled in Penrhys
“The cycle of creation and destruction is ongoing throughout the Universes and also in our little lives. So at the age of 54 my father lost everything, when in Uganda, Idi Amin had a dream. So, he came to Britain as a refugee. They housed a Shiva worshipper right on top of Penrhys Mountain in the Rhondda valleys – Shiva’s abode we called it.
“Soon word went round in the early 1970s, that there was a priest in the valley and my father was invited to bless babies and carry out religious services in Hindu homes through out South Wales. When he was too old and too disabled to carry on, my brother Pankaj carried out the spiritual services. Now he is gone too, so it is my turn.
“I was honoured to be asked to take the service at the temple. I am not sure whether there are any female Hindu priests in Britain, I have not encountered any but there is one here in Wales.
“I smile to myself some times when I think I am now wearing my father’s shoes just like I did when I was two.”