The history of Skanda Vale
kanda Vale came into being in the summer of 1973 when our founder, Guru Sri Subramanium, moved his small multi-faith temple from London to Wales. Our origins can be traced back to the temples of Badulla and Kataragama in Sri Lanka, because it was in these ancient places of worship that Guruji was given the power and authority from the Lord, to help establish Sanathana Dharma in Britain.
Guru Sri Subramanium was born in Sri Lanka in 1929. His father was the highest-ranking medical officer in Sri Lanka, and his mother was an accepted seer and mystic, who embraced all religions in her devotions. When he was only eight years old, Guruji realized his own spiritual lineage, and was instructed by the Lord to adopt His Name – ‘Subramanium’.
Soon after the end of WWII, Guruji came to Europe, and settled in Britain, where he began working round the clock so that he could teach meditation, chanting and yoga (free of charge) to anyone who came to his door. This became the pattern of his life for many years – uplifting, feeding and caring for his friends and acquaintances.
In 1962, Guruji took a small group to Sri Lanka on pilgrimage. Whilst meditating in the Murugan temple at Badulla, the Lord appeared in the form of a three-headed cobra and asked him what he wanted. Guruji replied he wished to establish a place of worship in the West, completely free from commercialism.
Later, the temple priest asked Guruji what had happened. He replied, “Go and find out for yourself!” The priest went into the sanctuary, and was inspired to present Guruji with the Lord’s Divine weapon, the Vel. On arriving home, a sacred murthi of Lord Muruga was found waiting for him. These sacred artifacts became like a reservoir of spiritual power in the temple he established a year later.
By 1970, the time was right to start a multi-faith community. Guruji’s own spiritual background and experience was combined with that of the Reverend James Keeler, Moderator of the Presbyterian Free Church of Scotland, and Dr. Malalasekera, Sri Lankan High Commissioner to the Court of St. James and devout exponent of Buddhism, to found the Community of the Many Names of God.
The Lord showed Guruji the land that would become Skanda Vale in a vision; yet he was given no clue as to the whereabouts. After more than a year of travelling the length and breadth of Britain, Guruji found a small advert, in the Farmers Weekly, for a remote farm by a stream in Carmarthenshire, Wales. The freehold was for sale, so he immediately went to view the property, and upon arrival, realised his search was over.
The estate was comprised of a single, derelict farmhouse, with a few barns and twenty acres of woodland and fields. Sheep were living in the house, and the driveway was an impenetrable mass of brambles. For months on end, Guruji, with a few devotees, started to transform the farmhouse and its surroundings into a place of worship, where people could come to stay and follow their spiritual sadhana.
All this was achieved on the barest of funds; donations were given on a voluntary basis, as is the case today. Building materials and furniture were salvaged from skips – even nails and screws were reclaimed. No-one was approached for money, yet everything was provided freely to meet pilgrims basic needs. Visitors today can have little idea of the stark simplicity that the community lived in for many years.
From such humble beginnings, a small nucleus of members grew, and in 1976, the community became a monastic order, following a disciplined life of Karma Yoga (union with God through selfless service) and Bhakti Yoga (union with the Divine through worship). Monks and nuns took lifetime vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, as set out by St. Francis of Assisi. Skanda Vale was registered as a place of religious worship, and in 1980, was awarded the status of a charitable trust.
The community’s first companions were a small herd of goats that systematically helped clear the brambles and undergrowth from the driveway. Then came four pedigree jersey cows, the start of our current herd, who sustained the community by providing milk, butter, yoghurt and cheese. These dairy products were also essential ingredients in mahabishekams (the ritual purification of sacred icons).
Fundamental to the philosophy of Skanda Vale is that all life is sacred. Many of our animals have been saved from neglect and slaughter. Their welfare is seen as an important part of the community’s discipline and training – selflessly serving and learning to experience the sacred principle of Unity in Diversity.
One of our most popular animals is ‘Valli’, our temple elephant. As a baby, she had been discovered by Sri Lankan villagers, sheltering with a herd of wild buffalo. She was taken to an elephant orphanage, and a year later, was donated to Guru by President Jayawardena – in recognition of his service to Sri Lankans living in the UK.
The first temple at Skanda Vale was the Murugan temple. In 1973, it was just a small room with only enough space for six people. Over time, and in response to the intensity of devotion, the manifestation of Divine energy increased within the temple. Murthis, relics and people arrived, demanding more time and space. Finally, the temple had to be completely rebuilt, with the sanctuary taking over the entire original farmhouse. A gopuram was installed, following very precise and sacred procedures, and the temple was officially inaugurated in 1996.
In 1986 Guruji began having experiences of the Divine Mother. He would see a beautiful lady riding a tiger in the woods of Skanda Vale whilst driving his Landrover. Having been ostensibly a worshipper of the male aspect of God, Guruji was somewhat dismissive of this manifestation of Devi. This continued for weeks, until one night She came into Guru’s room, sat on his bed, and put Her knee into his back. Suddenly there were no walls, no ceiling and no floor. For Guruji, there now began a three to four year period of momentous daily encounters with the personalised manifestation of the Divine Mother.
Every day, Guruji would relate to the community his experiences of the vast primordial Shakti that is Devi; simultaneously terrifying, overwhelming, ecstatic and blissful; sometimes taking form, and other times formless energy. The Divine Mother’s warmth, sweetness and love softened the character of both Guruji and Skanda Vale as a whole. In 1991, the ground floor of Guruji’s house was inaugurated as the Maha Shakti Temple. Residing within was the beautiful image of Maha Kali.
In 1997, during a mahabishekam in the Maha Shakti temple, Guruji had a vision of Lord Vishnu, in which he was given plans for a new temple. It was to be situated in the field behind the Murugan temple. Guruji was very practical, and told the Lord that the field was necessary for grazing the cows. The Lord reassured him, and within a week, some grazing fields lying adjacent to Skanda Vale came up for sale. In the same week, the funds with which to buy them were also donated.
Sri Ranganatha (an aspect of Lord Vishnu) was to be depicted lying in the ocean, exposed to the elements, surrounded by His many incarnations in the world. Guruji perceived the significance of the new temple’s location: the Sri Ranganatha Temple is built on Vishnu Loka, where our world and a celestial realm meet. In a tremendous storm, the temple was inaugurated in October 1999, just as the millennium was drawing to a close.
In 1987, Guru had a severe heart attack. Whilst recuperating in hospital, he witnessed the loneliness of his fellow patients; frightened and confused, without family or friends coming to visit. He resolved to start a hospice movement, and create a beautiful place where people could pass away, surrounded by Divine grace. After many years of fundraising, a suitable property was purchased, and after extensive renovation, Skanda Vale Hospice was opened in March 2004. We are currently developing the building into an in-care unit, to provide a semi-residential service for the terminally ill.
True gurus are a rare commodity. Our Guru was a genuine instrument of the Divine. He carried in his body the Shakti of the Divine Mother, which he shared as blessings to his devotees. Many hundreds of people received such blessings, perhaps without realising that Guruji would also take some of the devotee’s negativity onto himself. It was the accumulation of this adopted negativity, or karma, that brought about a period of intense suffering, culminating in his bodily death.
Even in his debilitated condition, a most beautiful grace resonated around him, with the sense that here was a rare and dedicated servant of the Lord, whose life had been fulfilled to perfection. On the eve of his death, the swamis blessed Guru with a materialised Shiva lingam, amrit and water from the source of the Ganges. All of the community members had an opportunity to pay their respects, and finally, at around 1pm on the 3rd of July, his task was complete and he gave up his body.
With auspicious timing, on the day of Guruji’s death, a letter came from the Welsh Assembly confirming their intention to slaughter Shambo, one of our Friesan bullocks. Shambo had tested ‘inconclusive’ to bovine tuberculosis, and although the disease was quite easily treatable, the Welsh Assembly were determined to enforce their decision, based primarily on economic grounds. This prevented us from fulfilling our duty to uphold the sanctity of life, and so we took them to court.
After success in the High Court, the judge ultimately ruled in favour of the Welsh Assembly at the Court of Appeal. The only course of action left, was direct, peaceful opposition, and on the day of the slaughter, a special act of worship was held outside the Murugan Temple. By this time, the media had taken a keen interest in the story, and Shambo was front-page news. One by one, police officers removed worshippers from the puja, until finally government officials broke into the temple and led Shambo away.
The combined pressure from Guru’s illness and the Shambo trial provided a hugely formative experience for the community, and one that taught us to stand firmly on our own two feet. Guruji disliked the traditional model of Guru worship – placing a saint on an unreachable pedestal. He taught us how to listen and respond to the Divine ourselves. This proved to be the key to the stability, and ongoing success of Skanda Vale.
As Swami Bramananda explained in a discourse given one month after Guru’s funeral;
If Guru had, and he could have done, made himself the king-pin of the community, we would now be running around in circles like headless chickens wondering what to do without him. But that was not the Lord’s will. Who is the head of the community? God is the head of the community.
Guruji’s legacy was that of Sanathana Dharma, the Timeless Consciousness of God. He was part of a great lineage of spiritual teachers that come to revitalize spiritual consciousness in a particular time and place. Through Guruji’s example, this knowledge is now embodied in members of the community, and will doubtless, over time, prove to be a great source of comfort, reassurance and purpose for many.