Objections to pounds 1.5m road plan could halt pilgrims' progress: The dispute over a controversial Hare Krishna temple has entered a new phase. Andrew Brown reports

THE FIRST two deities came from Jaipur 21 years ago. They were not, so to speak, animated until they reached Hertfordshire, where ceremonies were performed to invite Krishna to appear in their forms. That was when the trouble began.

The deities are housed in a large mock-tudor mansion in the village of Letchmore Heath. It is an idyllic place, reached down twisting narrow lanes.

Hindu pilgrims come there from all over the country; as many as 20,000 on major feast days twice a year. Many villagers find this deeply offensive.

Legal skirmishing has continued since George Harrison, the former Beatle, bought the manor in 1973 and gave it to the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, a Hindu sect founded by Bakhtivedanta Swami Prabupada, and better known in the West as the Hare Krishna Movement.

The movement planned to use the place as a theological college, which required no planning permission, since it had been a training college for nurses. But the centrepiece of the college is the deities. Tending them with offerings and devotion is an important part of what the Hindus call theological training. The more successfully they are tended the holier they become, and the more attractive it becomes as a place of pilgrimage.

Neither the villagers nor, perhaps, the Hindus realised in 1973 that permission for a theological college would entail permission for a centre of pilgrimage. Once this became apparent, Hertsmere council demanded the Hindus apply for planning permission for a change of use.

On 16 March this year, the council obtained an exclusion order banning worshippers from the manor. Tonight it will decide whether to apply to have the manor authorities fined for ignoring the order on 30 August, when 20,000 people turned up to celebrate Krishna's birthday.

The authorities claim that they did not advertise the festival, but they cannot be held responsible for the behaviour of devout Hindus and had they locked the gates, the pilgrims would have gathered on the village green.

The council must also decide whether to approve the application for a change of use, if the temple builds its own access road to the A41, thus keeping traffic out of the village. The final decision on this will be taken by the Secretary of State for the Environment after a public inquiry in January.

The temple is confident that it can raise up to pounds 1.5m to buy the land for a new access road, build the road, and fuel its legal campaign. For the Hindus, it has become one of principle, and of freedom of religion. They say their plan takes account of all the legitimate interests of the villagers; and that any further resistance can only be fuelled by a mixture of racism and religious prejudice.

However, Michael Colne, who leads the small Liberal group on the council, opposes the road plan because it would 'transfer the traffic from Letchmore Heath to a different area; one which I happen to represent. It would seem that in any church or mosque or synagogue there has to be a limit on how many people can attend. It just seems . . . unreasonable that there should be an open-ended capacity at the manor. I think that the Krishans have got to give. In return for the right to worship, they must indicate that they can control their own affairs.'

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive / Digital Marketing Executive

£26000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A luxury beauty house with a nu...

Recruitment Genius: Housekeepers - Immediate Start

£8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This company are currently recruiting new exp...

Recruitment Genius: Head Concierge

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This award winning Property Man...

Recruitment Genius: Content, SEO and PPC Executive

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has ari...

Day In a Page

On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific
In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

Dame Colette Bowe - interview
When do the creative juices dry up?

When do the creative juices dry up?

David Lodge thinks he knows
The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

Fashion's Cher moment

Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

Health fears over school cancer jab

Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

Weather warning

Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

High hopes for LSD

Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

Saving Private Brandt

A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral