Diwali was celebrated with grandeur at BAPS Swaminarayan Akshardham, featuring an Annakut with hundreds of food items, intricate rangoli designs, 2,700 diyas, and festive lights on Sunday, November 12, 2023.
The largest Hindu mandir in the USA, Akshardham is an iconic testament to Hindu art, architecture, and spirituality, offering profound insights into Hindu traditions and teachings.
The BAPS Swaminarayan Akshardham drew thousands of worshippers throughout the day. There was a long line to take part in the Ceremony of Light, a practice of waving a lighted wick before the sacred image of God. The food symbolizes devotion.
“Families will come together to bake what they like. You’ll see cookies and traditional Indian sweets and delicacies. Because we celebrate the mountain of food, you’ll see many items stacked like a mountain,” said Viren Shah, who is among the many celebrating the festival.
Billions of people around the world are celebrating Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights. The holiday is bringing people together across Central Illinois, too. The Hindu, Jain and Sikh faiths are the primary faiths that celebrate Diwali. The festivities span multiple days before and after the official date.
The holiday marks new beginnings for Hindus and a chance to enter their Lunar New Year with fortuitous blessings from the goddess of wealth. It’s their biggest celebration, and is akin to a mix of winter holidays and New Years.
As Indian immigrants have crossed oceans and borders for new countries, the holidays and traditions they brought with them have both endured and evolved with the next generation. Diwali – a festival with various meanings, histories and names depending on the region and religion observing it – is no exception.
Every corner of Akshardham invites everyone to embark on a transformative journey that guides them toward the radiant joy of the Divine. BAPS Swaminarayan Akshardham is a spiritual campus created by the BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha.
Over 12,500 people volunteered in the creation of BAPS Swaminarayan Akshardham. Students, parents, professionals, and more, dedicated their time and effort—for two weeks, six months, two years, or even more than a decade—to make Akshardham a reality.
The volunteers came to help build the mandir but discovered transformative experiences. Following are a few stories highlighting the devotion and sacrifice of the volunteers excerpted from the book, People of Akshardham: Stories Beyond the Stones.
Akash Patel, a 39-year-old from Charlotte, North Carolina, reflects on his upbringing and the importance of leaving a meaningful legacy for his daughter. Despite facing financial challenges, Akash worked his way up the corporate ladder, eventually joining Ernst & Young. He decided to volunteer at Akshardham, a spiritual place, during a two-week vacation. This experience led him to realize that material wealth alone wasn’t enough to provide purpose and meaning. Inspired by the spiritual atmosphere, he and his wife, Vandana, made a life-changing decision to move to NJ and volunteer at Akshardham while raising their daughter, Prapti. Akash’s journey highlights the importance of imparting moral and spiritual values to the next generation, valuing inner peace, and leaving a lasting legacy beyond material wealth.
Harmiksha Patel, a 24-year-old registered nurse from Brampton, Ontario, lost her father, Snehal, to cancer in 2020. When presented with an opportunity to serve in the Akshardham construction project, she initially hesitated but ultimately chose to volunteer, as she felt that her dad would be so happy if he knew I was volunteering at Akshardham. For nearly a year, she served in the Akshardham’s inner sanctum, cleaning, treating, repairing, and grouting stones. Harmiksha worked with a sense of reverence that expanded over time. “Every stone, every part of this mandir is touched by God, and so are the people building it: these volunteers have done so much for my guru, and we are all connected because of him. Volunteering in Akshardham has lessened the gap between me and the people around me.” She wishes to bring this attitude home and learn to recognize the beauty in all people.
Yesha Shah, 27, of Skokie, Illinois, volunteered for three days in 2019 but when she returned to pharmacy school, she missed the fulfillment she had felt while volunteering. She took a 1.5-year leave to continue volunteering to be part of this once-in-alifetime opportunity. She served as co-lead of the rebar team. Inspired by the virtues of her teammates, Yesha strove to serve humbly, accept criticism positively, and develop patience. Reflecting on the impact of her time volunteering, Yesha said, “I used to get very easily hurt if someone pointed out my mistakes. Over the last year, I stopped dwelling so much on the external factors I can’t change and chose to focus on things that I can change in myself. This has helped me feel more at peace with myself.”
As a 10-year-old,Nilkanth Rao, 40, accompanied his father, Ramesh, to Kandla, Gujarat, where artisans carved stones for the BAPS mandir in London. Pramukh Swami Maharaj was visiting, and he addressed the artisans, which Nilkanth remembers vividly. Inspired by his father’s years of volunteering in mandir construction, Nilkanth began serving on the Akshardham site in 2012 and joined full-time in January 2022, taking a year’s sabbatical from his work as a manager at Accenture Federal Service. He weatherproofed, cut, clamped, placed, and repaired stones throughout the Akshardham campus. Nilkanthʼs volunteering has taught him to imbue all his actions with spirituality. “With the right sentiments, there is no real difference between physical service on site and devotion we offer in the mandir. Every stone we place, every stone we dip, is an offering to God.” (Courtesy: News India Times)