Chicago IL: A glittering array of twinkles filled the night as traditional candles were lit by devotees. The ancient tradition of lighting candles, or divos, during Diwali symbolizes the transition from darkness to light. While the divos lit on Diwali erase physical darkness, the festival’s rich traditions and rituals go deeper – inviting individuals to make efforts in removing darkness in the forms of anger, envy, greed, arrogance, and resentment. Diwali presents a time to reflect and introspect.
The five days of Diwali (including the Hindu New Year) are rich in cultural traditions and rituals that symbolize new beginnings and a renewed commitment to family. The bright colors of Rangoli (intricate designs made of colored powder), the lighting of divos, and the elaborate variety of vegetarian foods offered to God (in a display called an Annakut), all mark a renewal of the good within and the goodwill towards everything around us. Diwali presents Hindus with an opportunity to connect with and celebrate the traditions of their roots with great fanfare.
Offering his prayers to Bhagwan Swaminarayan, His Holiness Mahant Swami Maharaj, guru and current spiritual leader of BAPS, prayed for devotees around the world for continued personal, and professional growth in this new year. Mahant Swami Maharaj took the occasion of Diwali to remind individuals and families about the importance of leading spiritually-centric lives, grounded in strong values and increased attachment to God.
This year, BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandirs across North America marked the auspicious festival of Diwali and its associated five days of celebrations with an elaborate Annakut, lighted divos, fireworks, and even a special children’s Diwali celebration.
For many visitors, the most popular attraction and a highlight of the festivities is the Annakut festival on the fifth day. As practiced by BAPS Swaminarayan Mandirs, the Annakut is a unique and awe-inspiring sight of devotion where hundreds of different traditional Indian foods and even some fusions with western cuisine are prepared by devotees in the community and arranged in front of the Mandir’s sacred images. In the evening, the offered dishes are served at dinner to everyone.
Vandan Shah said, “Diwali is all about good food, family gatherings, crackers, and I love it because of the excitement that fills the air when the festival nears. After coming to the Diwali Celebrations at BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, Robbinsville, I felt like I was in India. I experienced Indian culture while getting a taste of fine Indian cuisine. I truly felt at home.”
“Being away from India, I brought my children to the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Edison, NJ so they can learn about Diwali and our rich tradition”, said, Dinesh Prajapati.
In addition to the Annakut, the BAPS’ Diwali celebrations featured spiritual and cultural themed events, which engaged both children and adults, in order to bring positive energy into the New Year. Furthermore, visitors and members learned about scriptural events related to Diwali, and observed traditions such as rangolis and other traditional forms of decorations. Finally, all children were invited to participate in a children’s fair and Kids Diwali Celebration which included food, games and fun activities. Attractions included a fireworks display.
The celebrations were open to all. Visitors participated in celebration activities, offered prayers for new beginnings and had the opportunity to taste in the delicious offerings of the Annakut.
The BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha (BAPS) is a worldwide spiritual and humanitarian organization that 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 various spiritual and humanitarian activities, BAPS endeavors to develop better citizens of tomorrow with high esteem for their roots and culture. Its 3,300 international centers support these character-building activities. Under the guidance and leadership of His Holiness Mahant Swami Maharaj, BAPS aspires to build a community that is free of addictions as well as morally, ethically and spiritually pure. For more details, please visit www.baps.org.
His Holiness Mahant Swami Maharaj is the sixth and current spiritual successor of Bhagwan Swaminarayan. He was ordained a swami by Yogiji Maharaj in 1961 and named Sadhu Keshavjivandas. As he was appointed the head (Mahant) of the Mandir in Mumbai, he became known as Mahant Swami. His devout, humble and service-focused life earned him the innermost blessings of Yogiji Maharaj and Pramukh Swami Maharaj. Mahant Swami Maharaj travels throughout the world inspiring people through his insightful spiritual discourses and disciplined conduct. His virtuous lifestyle and profound devotion to Bhagwan Swaminarayan and gurus are ideals toward which devotees strive. Mahant Swami Maharaj became the guru and President of BAPS upon Pramukh Swami Maharaj’s passing in 2016.
Pramukh Swami Maharaj was the fifth spiritual successor of Bhagwan Swaminarayan. Under his leadership, BAPS grew into an international spiritual and humanitarian organization with over 3,300 centers worldwide. He dedicated his life to the well-being of others, traveling throughout the world to foster love, peace, harmony, righteousness, faith in God, and service to humanity. With genuine care and compassion, he reached out to all members of society irrespective of class, color, or age. Recognized and respected as one of India’s greatest spiritual teachers, he lived by and promoted the principle: “In the joy of others, lies our own.”