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This summer I had the pleasure of being invited to the Shree Ram Mandir Temple and Community Centre on Walford Road, just off Stratford Road in Sparkbrook.
Originally a cinema that was opened in 1913 by Mr J.W.Atkinson, this building has changed hands several times and was even bombed by Germans during WW2, causing damage that resulted in its closure until the 1950s. In 1973 it was taken over by Avatar Singh Randhawa, which along with the Imperial cinema on Moseley Road, was one of the main forms of entertainment for the emerging Pakistani and Indian communities, with most residents visiting it at least once a week. Sadly the rise of the video industry in the early 80s started to have a negative impact on the amount of people who visited the cinema, which eventually led to Mr Singh Randhawa closing the Waldorf for good in 1983 for financial reasons.
The building is now a popular and established temple, with a very welcoming and friendly atmosphere, as it is the spiritual home for many of the local Hindu community. On my arrival I was met by the delightful Sochan Kukadia who gave me a brief overview of the history of the Mandir. The growth of the Hindu community in Birmingham after 1965 was exponential, with many Gnati Mandals forming, and on Friday 25th March 1983, the ‘Shree Sorathia Prajapathi Community (SSPC) UK’, became a registered charity. As part of this charity, the Birmingham Mandal was set up, and until 1983 celebrated its major Navratri festival at ‘Digbeth Hall’.
However, during this period of time it was decided that instead of hiring a hall , a property should be acquired. Therefore when the opportunity to buy the old cinema for £50,000 appeared in 1983 , many members of the community contributed their time and money in a mass effort to acquire the old cinema as a permanent base for their faith and followers. The campaign was a success, and the SSPC Birmingham ‘Declaration of Trust’ was created to facilitate the legal purchasing of the cinema.
On April 2nd 1984 the property was officially purchased and it was registered as a place of worship a few weeks later. The cinema was given the new name of ‘Shree Ram Mandir’, and the committee started to work together to renovate the cinema into a functioning temple and community centre. The temple officially opened in 1986 as Birmingham’s second Mandir (the first being in Handsworth). It now plays a significant role in providing spiritual and physical well-being for its community and is looking to extend its education and external relationships with local residents and community centres.
To conclude my visit I was given the opportunity to watch the beautiful aarti (fire) service and meet some of the regular attendees. It was an extremely interesting visit, and I look forward to working with the Mandir and its congregation as part of our oral history work, with our first planned interview being of Mr Singh Randhawa and his memories of working in the cinema history.