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Hues of blue, green and yellow illuminated the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Lilburn as thousands of Hindus came together to celebrate Diwali, the Festival of Lights, on October 26, 2011. The Mandir steps were lit with hundreds of candles, and fireworks filled the night sky with beautiful colors against the backdrop of the majestic marble structure.
“The vibrant colors of the Mandir lights combined with the fireworks and candles have created a festive atmosphere just like what we experience in India,” said Mitesh J. Patel of McDonough. “My family looks forward to celebrating Diwali at the Mandir every year.”
In front of the reflecting pond, families congregated to exchange joyous wishes and share in the celebration. They stood around a rangoli, a beautiful floor design made with colored rice and powder. The next morning marked the culmination of this five-day festival with the celebration of annakut and the Hindu New Year. While Diwali celebrates the triumph of good over evil and reminds us to dispel our inner darkness with the light of God’s presence, the New Year is a time of renewal, reflection and resolution. It is also an occasion for thanksgiving, and is traditionally celebrated with annakut. Thousands of homemade vegetarian food items were offered to the sacred images and laid out in an elaborate, decorative display. The annakut, which literally means ‘a mountain of food,’ is traditionally offered to God to celebrate the beginning of the Hindu New Year.
“We began setting up for annakut very early this morning,” said Sangeeta Patel, a BAPS volunteer. “All the food displayed here has been prepared with great care and love by the devotees.
Among the special guests who attended this year’s Diwali celebration was Atlanta’s new Consul General of India, Mr. Ajit Kumar, who addressed the gathering before the start of the fireworks.
Diwali is one of the most important, popular and colorful festivals of the Hindu calendar. It is a time when charity, goodwill, family values and the love of God are celebrated and reinforced. It is also a time of reconciliation and consolidation, to forgive misdeeds of others over the past year and strengthen community spirit. The festival of Diwali extends over five days, with each day carrying its own unique significance and form of celebration.
The first day of Diwali is Dhanteras. ‘Dhan’ means money or wealth. On this day, homes and offices or places of business are cleaned and their entrances decorated with colorful traditional designs called ‘rangoli’ to welcome Lakshmi, the Hindu Goddess of wealth and prosperity. Hindus also perform Lakshmi-pujan, a ritual to offer gratitude to Lakshmi and pray for the righteous acquirement of wealth as well as for its use in noble causes. The second day is Kali Chaudash, which is a time to reaffirm one’s refuge unto God, and ask him to free us from evil and help us become good. Diwali and New Years mark the fourth and fifth days of the festival, which ends with Bhai Bij, when sisters invite brothers and their families to their homes for a meal. Brothers come bearing gifts and the family ties are celebrated and strengthened.