#22 of 49 – Attend Diwali – The Indian New Year

I’m so grateful for all the friends I’ve met at the Indo US Chamber of Commerce. And this week specifically, Kamlesh Darji, the President of the organization, and the founder of Winning Karma. Kash (his nickname) invited me to his temple for the celebration and what a great experience I had!

Diwali, also known as the Festival of Lights, is celebrated on Aso Vad Amas and is the most widely celebrated Indian festival. Diwali signifies the victory of good over evil and is not just a Hindu festival as it is celebrated by all Indians.

For five days, children and adults come together wearing their finest clothing and celebrate this occasion.  Hindu families start preparing for Goddess Lakshmi’s arrival weeks in advance by decorating their porches with colorful designs, or rangoli, preparing sweets and savories, and lighting divos. On the night before Diwali, devotees light divos, symbolically asking Bhagwan to expel their ignorance and enlighten their souls. Lights, candles, and fireworks are an integral part of the decor and festivities. The festival starts on Dhan Teras, when devotees pray to the Goddess Lakshmi for ethical economic prosperity and success in their careers. The festivities then continue with Sharda Pujan, when businessmen and students purify their accounting ledgers and academic books.

BAPS mandirs around the world celebrate Diwali. Thousands of families gather at the mandirs to celebrate the festival in a traditional fashion. The celebrations include delectable vegetarian cuisine, cultural programs, and forms of traditional entertainment. Special Diwali celebrations are organized for children and youths to preserve the true spiritual import of the festival.

When I arrived Kash greeted me with open arms and escorted me into the temple where we sat together and experienced one of the hourly services. I was given a silver platter with a candle (divos) to hold with both hands and move in a clockwise circle while listening to the chanting.  This is called Aarti.

Aarti is the symbolic waving of a lighted wick in a clockwise motion in front of the murti of Bhagwan while singing a prayer. It symbolizes the removal of darkness by true spiritual enlightenment. Aarti is a tradition dating back thousands of years. In ancient times, there was little light inside the mandirs, and even less light actually reached the garbha gruh, or the inner sanctum of the mandir where the murtis are located. The only way to have darshan of the murtis was from the light cast from a divo, a clay lamp with a cotton wick dipped in ghee. During aarti, this lamp was held near each part of the murti so that devotees could properly see all the parts of the murti. Today, millions of Hindus devoutly perform aarti in their homes or attend aarti at mandirs everyday.

In the Swaminarayan Sampraday, the aarti was written by Sadguru Muktanand Swami 200 years ago. After his guru Ramanand Swami passed away and appointed Bhagwan Swaminarayan as his successor, Muktanand Swami was reluctant to accept Bhagwan Swaminarayan as the present form of God. Ramanand Swami gave him divine darshan and explained the true greatness of Bhagwan Swaminarayan. Muktanand Swami rushed to Bhagwan Swaminarayan and seated Him on Ramanand Swami’s asana. From his heart flowed the words to the aarti, singing, “Jay Sadguru Swami….” Since then, this particular aarti is performed daily in Swaminarayan Sampraday mandirs and devotees’ homes.

Devotees visit their local mandirs and participate in this sacred ritual on a daily basis. In shikharbaddha mandirs, aarti is performed five times a day, while in hari mandirs, aarti is performed two times a day.

It was magical. I didn’t understand a word of course, but I clearly felt the vibe. It was pure love. Like the kind where you have to hold back joyful tears kind of love.

After the service, we walked up to the mandir which was adorned with what I can only guess was over 1000 plates of food, from savory to sweet. Every hour, the volunteers replace some of the foods which need to be chilled, and the food is taken from the mandir and given to the attendees.

From the alter, we exited the temple to the back and were served some delicious Indian food. I’m not sure what I ate, but it was very good. One dish in particular, looked suspiciously close to nachos – because they were nachos. But other than that, it was all traditional Indian food with just the right amount of spice. If you haven’t tried Indian food, you’re missing out.

Topher, Kash, and Bawa
Topher, Kash, and Bawa

The highlight of my night though was when Kash introduced me to Bawa Jain, the Secretary General of the World Council of Religious Leaders of the Millennium World Peace Summit. Here’s a man who works to bring religious resources to support the work of the United Nations in our common quest for world peace. Just being in his presence you could sense his wisdom and influence that he has made around the world in helping to share the message of peace through Hinduism. I look forward to getting to know him more over the years to come and feel grateful to have sparked a new friendship with such an amazing person.

The night culminated in a fireworks celebration accompanied by Indian music. I felt honored to be standing beside Kash as his guest and experiencing such an important day in his culture. If you have the chance next year to attend Diwali, I highly recommend it. You’ll be received with open arms and delicious food!

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