BY MAHADEV DESAI
Atlanta, GA, December 2016: BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha under the leadership of H.H. Mahant Swami Maharaj hosted a joyous and colorful 2nd annual Diwali Celebration at the Georgia State Capitol, on Wednesday, November 2, 2016. The event was graced by Honorable Nagesh Singh, accompanied by his wife Pragya Singh, D.V. Singh, and Timothy Jetty from the Consulate of India in Atlanta; GA State Senator Steve Henson; GA State Representative Pedro Marin; Executive Director of the Georgia Commission on Equal Opportunity Melvin Everson; NAAAP-Atlanta’s Bao Ky Vu; representatives of the BAPS Mandir and Atlanta’s Indian community leaders of various organizations.
The guests began arriving around 10am and after cheerfully exchanging greetings, Happy Diwali and New Year wishes, stood admiring the colorful rangoli and artistic and decorative miniature annakut elegantly set up in the atrium of the south wing of the Capitol, and posed for photographs.
Jigar Patel explained the significance and message of Diwali; “It is certainly an honor to bring a festival that dates back 5,000 years to our own GA Capitol here in the great State ofGeorgia,” he said. “Diwali celebrated around the world with immense spirit and enthusiasm is composed of a joyful and beautiful mosaic of color, pageantry, beauty, delicacies, music, dance and ritual. And it is our honor to bring a part of that joyful and beautiful mosaic to you today. But beyond the excitement of all this, there is a deeper meaning in the festival. We are all on a daily quest to celebrate the good, light and love in us. Today’s symbolic décor and diyas represents: Enlightenment over blind faith; Prosperity over poverty; Knowledge over ignorance; Good Health and well-being over disease; and Freedom over bondage. It is an honor to celebrate Diwali here and we are extremely thankful to the State ofGeorgia, to the members of the community who are here today, members of the media and to the members of theGeorgialegislature and its staff.”
Akshar Patel, Pinkesh Patel and Daxesh Patel fervently recited the Shanti Path mantra from the Vedas for world peace.
Kunj Pandya echoed the wishes expressed on Diwali day by President Obama, “Today, Hindus, Jains, Sikhs and Buddhists – some of the world’s oldest religions – light the Diya with family and friends. You celebrate life’s blessings — the triumph of knowledge over ignorance and good over evil.” Kunj invited the gathering to light two symbolic‘diyas’in the community.
The first light that our community must ignite comes in the form of a voice. A light that removes the darkness of silence that our community has lived in while our parents built such a sturdy foundation. He stressed the importance of the vote in the current election and all upcoming elections, and to participate in the affairs of the government in order to share some of community’s best practices with others in need.
Kunj quoted then President George Bush’s words, “By celebrating their beliefs, ancestry, and culture, Hindus inAmericaand around the world enrich communities and ensure that important values and customs are passed on to future generations.” He urged all not merely to sustain the foundation of values built by their ancestors but also serve other communities with the lessons we have learned to uplift the nation. “Beyond any religion or nationality, let us light a Diya internally which not only removes the darkness of ignorance but defeats an even greater enemy, the darkness of ego. The light is of course, the gentle flame of humility. As much as Diwali is a festival of celebration, it is even more so an opportunity to serve God with a beautiful offering Annakut or literally ‘mountain of food’ and to commit to serving our fellow men and women with mountains of kindness”
Ritesh Desai warmly welcomed all and introduced Hon Nagesh Singh who has an illustrious career with outstanding academic and extensive international diplomatic experience in various Indian Government assignments. Hon.Nagesh Singh, in his address said: “It feels very special to celebrate Diwali in the temple of democracy and for that I thank the State ofGAfor allowing us to celebrate Diwali here. The message of Diwali is eternal and it is universal. What President Obama said is very telling. Because in every culture and every society, human beings aspire for—that light prevails; knowledge prevails; goodness prevails. It is important to know the relevance of Diwali especially in current times when there is so much discord in various parts of the world. The Indian American community’s immense contribution in building bridges between two countries cannot be overstated, and for which I am extremely grateful and on behalf of the Government and people ofIndiaI express my gratitude. We can set an example for those who have fear of the other and fear of the unknown and show that we can live and prosper peacefully together. I congratulate BAPS for hosting the Diwali celebration here.”
Desai recognized Pragya Singh, D.V. Singh and Timothy Jetty from the India Consulate and introduced Senator Steve Henson, a DeKalb resident for over 30 years, who represents Senate District 41. Senator Henson exhorted the gathering and community members to interact with the senators to discuss issues affecting them and to work together to find solutions.
Desai also introduced Melvin Everson, who has been appointed by Governor Deal as Executive Director of GA Commission on Equal Opportunity. Everson lauded the contributions of the Indian American community inGeorgia. “When we work together, there is no obstacle that we cannot overcome. I consider you as Americans in this State ofGAand in this country and I look forward to working with you. The Governor, Lt.Governor and the Senators champion your cause,” he said.
Bao Ky Vu is one of the founding members of NAAAP—Atlanta. Bao Ky Vu thanked BAPS Mandir for giving him an opportunity to celebrate Diwali and diversity. “We are part of a large mosaic I urge you all to spread this message of light and peace throughout the country. In this day and age, it is important to spread knowledge as opposed to ignorance.”
GA State Representative Pedro Marin (D), GA Gwinnett Dist. 96 said, “I represent one of the most diverse district in GA State. For me it is an honor and pleasure to represent and interact with different races and ethnicities at several events I am invited to attend.”
Dov Wilker, who is Regional Director at AJC, said, “I am proud to be with you today. This ability of us to celebrate together, to welcome each other at festivals makesU.S.a wonderful place. There is great similarity between Judaism and Hinduism. While the Jewish community inIndiais quite small the number of Jewish tourists travelling toIndiais quite large. It is very important for us to celebrate together, and to continue and grow our friendship.”
All attendees then posed for a group picture. At the end of the proud and rousing and memorable Diwali program, packets of Diwali sweets were presented to all.