Chicago IL: The BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Bartlett celebrated Diwali and the Hindu New Year on November 11th and 12th. Diwali is one of the most important and colorful festivals celebrated by Hindus, where friends and family gather together to welcome the New Year and reflect on the past year. It is a time when charity, goodwill, family values and the love of God are celebrated and reinforced. Diwali is often referred to as the Festival of Light, and is traditionally marked by placing decorated oil lamps (called a ‘deep’) in rows (‘avali’). Diwali celebrates the triumph of good over evil and is a reminder to dispel inner darkness with the light of God’s presence. The festival of Diwali is celebrated over five days, with each day carrying its own unique significance and form of celebration.
Celebrations began on Sunday, November 1st, as children learned about cultural traditions at the Kids’ Diwali Celebration. The program included skits and fun-filled games to engage a younger audience. Arts and crafts stations were set up to illustrate traditions and teachings of Diwali. Reflecting on the scenes of the day, Sapna Jadav, a mother from Hanover Park said, “It’s extremely prideful to see my two young sons learn more about their culture and traditions and how they celebrate them as young Indian-Americans.”
The five-day celebration continued the day after Diwali with the beginning of the Hindu New Year. As a time of renewal, reflection and resolution, it is also an occasion for giving thanks, and is traditionally celebrated with the Annakut – literally meaning, ‘a mountain of food’. This is a grand offering of over a thousand different vegetarian food items, prepared lovingly by devotees, to thank God for His providence over the past year and to seek His blessings for the year ahead.
Each year, the BAPS mandir in Bartlett also holds a themed exhibition to showcase important values that inspire Indian-Americans. This year’s exhibit, ‘Mandir…Transcending Above,’ drew inspiration from a book written by the late former President of India, Dr. Abdul Kalam, about his encounters with His Holiness Pramukh Swami Maharaj, spiritual leader of BAPS. In his book, ‘Transcendance,’ Dr. Kalam, explains how through his interactions with Pramukh Swami Maharaj he was able to transcend above all the obstacles in his life and experience spiritual peace. The mandir represents a place of paramount peace where everyone, regardless of ethnicity or creed, can experience tranquility and spirituality. The idea of spreading peace to everyone and getting involved with community and charity work to become a better person inspired many to change their lives as they started the new Hindu year.
Dressed up in traditional, colorful clothes, families and friends wished each other sentiments of prosperity. Adults, community members, and young children eagerly visited the mandir to view the colorful décor, various food dishes, creative fruit carvings, and imaginative artwork. Mr. Ashfaq Hussain Syed, senior banker, was among those in attendance on Thursday. Visiting the mandir for the very first time, he was awestruck with the magnificent carvings of the white marble mandir, the Annakut displays, and the educational exhibition, saying, “It’s one of the best I’ve ever seen.” He was also extremely impressed with the organization, contributions, and cultural knowledge of the youth of BAPS, saying “having that knowledge at this young age is amazing.” He was delighted at how many friends he had also run into at the mandir, “never thought I’d meet with a lot of my friends here today but I was able to celebrate this wonderful occasion with a lot of them.”
The community from all over the Chicago area gathered to offer prayer, express their wishes for the year ahead, and partake in the Annakut offerings. The dedication and tireless efforts of the volunteers was evident in every aspect of the celebration. The Mayor of the Village of Bartlett, Mr. Kevin Wallace, expressed his gratitude to BAPS and its volunteers saying, “I know as I look over the years passed, I am filled with appreciation for the many contributions that the BAPS community has made to Bartlett. We continue to be grateful for the opportunity you give us to learn from each other. We are thankful for your social service, for the generous gift with which you share food, joyous music, & colorful traditions. When I look forward I see good neighbors, valued neighbors, with whom we hope to celebrate many many more years to come.”
Similar celebrations took place at BAPS centers across the globe. On November 4th BAPS also co-hosted the Diwali in DC at the Jefferson Hall in the Library of Congress. Over 1,200 prominent Indian Americans and their Congressional representatives from across the United States attended the event hosted by the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans.
The Diwali celebration continues Sunday, November 15th, with a special cultural program at 4:30 pm, followed by a grand fireworks show at 7:00 pm with music, videos, and traditional dances. Community members left the mandir on Thursday with the hope that the coming year will bring joy and peace to their family.
The BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha (BAPS), a worldwide socio-spiritual organization is dedicated to community service, peace and harmony. Motivated by Hindu principles, BAPS strives to care for the world by caring for societies, families and individuals. Through social and spiritual activities, BAPS endeavors to produce better citizens of tomorrow who have a high esteem for their roots. Its 3,300 international centers support these character-building activities. Under the guidance and leadership of His Holiness Pramukh Swami Maharaj, BAPS aspires to build a community that is morally, ethically and spiritually pure, and free of addictions.