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CHICAGO, IL- – The celebrations of culture, spirituality, and community that began with the opening of BAPS Swaminarayan Akshardham in New Jersey continue to resonate in all BAPS Mandirs throughout North America this Diwali. The BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Chicago, IL hosted a grand Diwali celebration on November 13, 2023, allowing the local community to immerse themselves in the deep-rooted traditions of this beloved Festival of Lights.
Diwali, the revered Hindu ‘festival of lights’, celebrates the triumph of light over darkness, and good over evil. It’s a time for reflection, rejuvenation, and celebration for millions across the world. This year, the local BAPS Mandir presented an experience that seamlessly wove age-old traditions with contemporary expressions of faith, culture, and community.
“I just love the fact that this is such a family and community-oriented space. I think that oftentimes when you are out in the world, you can feel disconnected or that you do not belong anywhere. Spaces like this bring people together and remind them that they are connected, and that there are people out there that share the same traditions and values. That is really important especially for the youth,” shared Karina Villa, IL State Senator representing the 25th District.
Devotees and visitors were welcomed with a vibrant and traditional reception at the mandir’s entrance, where colorful decorations, including a beautifully intricate rangoli, an ornate floor design crafted from colored powder. This artistic display not only added to the festive atmosphere, but also served as a fitting introduction to the rich cultural heritage celebrated locally and nationally at the BAPS Swaminarayan Akshardham in Robbinsville, NJ, a landmark of Hindu architecture and culture.
Another awe-inspiring feature was the ‘Annakut’, where hundreds of vegetarian dishes were offered as a token of gratitude to the divine, symbolizing abundance and the community’s unwavering devotion for God and for the New Year, celebrated by some Indian-Americans from the northern and western regions of India. Devotees, young and old, had poured weeks of preparation into ensuring the Annakut was a feast for both the eyes and the soul.
“The annakut preparation begins very early in the morning for us,” explained Jasmine Patel, a BAPS youth volunteer. “The vegetarian food is traditionally arranged in tiers or steps in front of the sacred images of God. Today over 1,000 food items have been offered on this day of celebration and appreciation.”
For families, volunteers organized an array of children’s activities, allowing younger generations to bond with their cultural roots while partaking in the festivities. These encompassed storytelling sessions, craft workshops, and traditional games to engage all that took part in the celebrations.
Similar to this local community celebration, BAPS mandirs across North America welcomed visitors with the glow of lights, bright colors, and a festive ambiance as they took in the colorful and joyful spirit of
Diwali. The multiple days of Diwali are steeped in traditions and rituals that symbolize new beginnings and a renewed commitment to family.
The spiritual head of BAPS, His Holiness Mahant Swami Maharaj sent blessings to all devotees and well-wishers for Diwali. He encouraged all to find the light within them and make it shine brighter by incorporating unity, values, spirituality, and a spirit of giving.
Reflecting on the day, the spirit of Diwali was palpably felt not just in the surroundings of the mandir, but in the hearts and souls of every visitor. The celebration marked a renewal of finding the good within and maintaining goodwill towards all around us. The BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir remains a pillar of culture, community unity, and spiritual enrichment. As the lights of Diwali continue to glow within our memories, the mandir extends its deepest gratitude to all who made this celebration a cherished moment in time.