Fireworks lit up the clear Lilburn sky as families from across the Southeast came together to celebrate Diwali, the Hindu Festival of Lights, at the BAPS Swaminarayan Mandir Tuesday.
Decorative lights illuminated the Mandir complex during the week when hundreds of followers, dressed in traditional Indian attire, attended ceremonies commemorating the most prominent Hindu holiday of the year. The atmosphere was festive as young children received blessings from their elders and families greeted each other.
“Diwali is my favorite festival because the atmosphere in India during Diwali is so exciting,” said Pankaj Patel. “Having recently moved to the US, I did not know what to expect. But after coming to the Mandir, I felt the same excitement and joy I used to experience in India.”
British Consul General Martin Rickerd and Deputy Consul General Peter Wickenden were among the special guests who attended the Diwali fireworks.
"My wife and I greatly enjoyed our visit to the Lilburn Mandir to share in this year's Diwali celebrations,” Consul General Rickerd said. “We were welcomed most warmly by the community. The Hindu community makes a great contribution to society in the United Kingdom and it was a pleasure for us to be able to learn more about Hindu culture, and to see it so vibrantly represented here in Metro Atlanta. The Lilburn Mandir is a truly exceptional building."
On Wednesday, October 29, the Mandir hosted its annual Annakut, where hundreds of food items were elaborately laid out as offerings to the sacred images. Also displayed was a Rangoli, a floor decoration made from colored powder and rice that depicted various Hindu symbols and designs. The Annakut aarti was performed at 11:30 a.m. followed by prayers for world peace.
“I am so overjoyed to see this wonderful Annakut,” said Yogini Patel, a high school student. “I feel like I am in the middle of India rather than here in Lilburn.”
Diwali and Annakut ended a week-long series of events that began on Saturday, October 25 with a meditation seminar by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, founder of the Art of Living Foundation and a prominent spiritual and humanitarian leader.
Diwali represents a core Hindu belief that one must dispel darkness, or ignorance, and find an inner light, or truth. It is a time when followers pray for wisdom and guidance in becoming good human beings and members of society. It is also a way to remember Lord Rama, who returned home victorious after fighting evil in the world.
Wednesday marked the culmination of weeks of planning and preparation, setting the stage for Annakut. Annakut, which literally means, ‘a mountain of food’ is traditionally offered to God to celebrate the beginning of the Hindu New Year.
“We began arranging the food at 5:00 a.m. on Wednesday, but spent most of the previous night preparing,” explained Sheetal Desai of the BAPS youth wing.
The vegetarian food is traditionally arranged in tiers or steps, in front of the sacred images, with the sweets placed closest to them. As the tiers descend, other foods such as vegetables, pulses and fried savories are arranged. A mound of cooked rice, symbolic of Mt. Govardhan, is placed in the center.
Today over 900 food items have been offered to God,” said Rishma Patel, who helped organize the food. “Everyone really came together to make this Diwali truly memorable.”