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Celebratory Lamps Light up Diwali Festivities at BAPS

December 2004
Celebratory Lamps Light up Diwali Festivities at BAPS

Color and spectacle mingled with joy and tradition, as Diwali, the most auspicious celebration in the Hindu calendar, was celebrated in spectacular style at the BAPS Shree Swaminarayan Mandir in Clarkston on November 13th. The spirit of Diwali was immediately apparent to all visitors, who were greeted by a big and colorful rangoli, a floor decoration at the entrance made from colored rice and displaying various traditional Hindu symbols.���

"Diwali, also known as the Hindu festival of lights, consists of a joyful series of festival days, with the last day continuing into the New Year (Nutan Varsh)," explained Pravin Patel, coordinator of the mandir. "Diwali is marked with devotees and visitors lighting diyas and symbolically praying to the Lord for increased love, unity, health, happiness and inner enlightenment for the New Year."

In the weeks leading up to the celebrations, scores of devotees, both young and old, spent over a month in planning and helping with decorations, food preparation and setting up the stage for the most significant ritual, the Annakut. In Sanskrit, this literally means a "mountain of food" and in reality also it consists of an elaborate mountain of over 1100 food dishes traditionally arranged in tiers or steps as an offering to God. Annakut preparation lends itself as an opportunity for teamwork and creativity. "The preparation begins at 5:00 in the morning for us," explained Amishi Patel of the BAPS youth wing, "We have a complete team that methodically arranges the various food dishes consisting of sweets, fried foods, vegetables and intricately carved fruits to confer color and vibrancy to the Annakut."

For many, the visually stunning Annakut conveys a truly noble message. "As a symbol of appreciation and prayer to the Lord for all that He has endowed upon us and to seek blessings for the coming year, a sumptuous and colorful array of food items, decoratively arranged, are devoutly offered to the deities," explained Ilakshi Patel, a Gujarati class teacher for the youth at BAPS. "On this day, we pray to better serve our family and community." Diwali is also a time when children look forward to the fun and joy it brings. It came as no surprise that the BAPS Children's Diwali Celebrations on Sunday ? complete with games, comedy, gifts and a magic show ? was a noisy and fun-filled event for the young and old alike.���

In the evening, the Asian-American Commission, under the guidance of Georgia State Governor Sonny Perdue, conducted a Town Hall meeting on the mandir premises. The commission focused on learning about the issues relating to education, healthcare and government faced by Asian Americans. The success of this meeting served as an affirmative precursor for many such forums to come.

Throughout the evening festivities, there were delightful devotional songs, and BAPS Sadhu Shantmurti Swami explained the significance of Diwali. "It celebrates the return of Lord Rama to the city of Ayodhya, after he vanquished the demon king Ravana, and for us this symbolizes our own struggle for righteousness and the defeat of our own demons," he said. There was also an exhibition on Mystic India, a forthcoming film that portrays the mind and soul, the spectacle, the rich cultural history of India through the incredible journey of a eleven-year-old child. Similar celebrations were also held at BAPS mandirs and centers across North America in cities such as Toronto, Edison, Houston, Chicago and Los Angeles.

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