Written by Phil Cerroni
By Jess Paniszczyn
Art, fireworks, an outdoor festival and delicacies were part of celebrating one of the most renowned Hindu festivals, Diwali, or the “Festival of Lights,” at the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Irving on Nov. 17.
The hall was packed for the first arti, a Hindu ritual of waving lighted wicks before the murti of Bhagwan as an act of spiritual enlightenment, which took place at noon. Throughout the day, visitors poured in to the hourly services to see the beautifully arranged lights as well as rangolis, unique floor designs made with colorful food items.
“I have been coming to this event for a number of years and every time I feel it is an event for all ages, but especially for the kids who get a true cultural experience,” said Janak Patel.
“Diwalli is a celebration of five days that marks the end of the Indian calendar,” said Shashi Upadhyaya, a Diwali organizer. “On the first day of the new year, Annakut is celebrated. ‘Annakut’ means ‘mountain of food.’ Everything is homemade. It is almost like a gigantic potluck. It is a form of devotion. Individuals get to offer the first item they make in their home as their first offering to God.
“Today people have brought hundreds of different sweets, hundreds of different savory items, and hundreds of homemade juices. All of it is an expression of devotion. There are more than 900 different vegetarian items represented here. If we count the total number of dishes, there are well over 1000.
“As a traditional custom within Hinduism, the practice of vegetarianism coincides with a philosophy of committing non-violence towards any living creature. It is a principal aspect of Hinduism to practice vegetarianism.”
The celebration is a riot of color, people, decoration, art and music that can easily overwhelm first time visitors to the Diwali celebration.
“As a devotee of BAPS, I see the culmination of thousands of volunteer hours over three months, and the end of the calendar year in the form of devotion that all these individuals have put forth,” Upadhyaya said. “As I look before me, I see the prayers of men and women, and I am just as amazed as a newcomer would be. Every single year, I am amazed by the number of items, the diversity of items and amount of teamwork that has come together for this celebration. I see joy, devotion and the culmination of good will and prosperity put on full display.
“The sheer number of community members who come out to this celebration is staggering. We expect 10,000 individuals to come to the celebration today. There are not 10,000 people who are members of this Mandir. People have heard about the celebration and they want to come, see and be a part of it.”
Standing beside a Diwali display, Vandana Patel, a Sunday school teacher at the Mandir, helped children make Play-Doh ‘sweets.’
“Being together with my community and my people feels really good,” Patel said. “We are demonstrating the different days of Dwialli and the rituals with hands on activities for the kids.
“My favorite part of Dwialli is Annakut, because I love making food, and then eating it at the end. That is the one time I feel like I am going to be making a whole lot of food just for God, nobody else. I stayed up until three o’clock this morning just baking cookies and cakes, so I could offer them to the Lord. I put everything aside and my mind is just focused for God, and trying to bring myself closer to him through my baking.”
“I was very impressed with the number of food items and decorations that were being offered,” said Nirmal Desai. “It was a true testament to the efforts of all the volunteers present here today.
Devotees gathered at the Mandir with family and friends to participate in the Chopda Pujan, a special ceremony for business owners to receive blessings for the upcoming New Year. This is traditionally the day when business owners close their existing account books for the year and open new ones in preparation for the upcoming year. Through chanting Vedic hymns and prayers, hundreds of ledgers were blessed during the ceremony.
Despite residing in India, His Holiness Pramukh Swami Maharaj continually inspires devotees all over the world to celebrate their Hindu heritage and customs. These festivals allow for families to meet and celebrate the Hindu festivals and pass on traditions to future generations.
Some information provided by BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir.