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BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Chino Hills, CA


Diwali Celebrated at BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, Chino Hills, California

Los Angeles, Oct. 20, 2009
Dilip Butani

People of all ages eagerly look forward to the festival of lights known as Diwali. Diwali is the mostly widely celebrated Hindu festival and signifying the victory of good over evil and marks the beginning of the Hindu New Year. People clean their homes and illuminate them with colorful lights and divas. New clothes are worn, traditional Indian sweets are shared and good wishes to family and friends are sent.

The festivties leading up to Diwali included various rites and rituals beginning with Dhan Teras, in which ones wealth is purified and offered to God. It is followed by Kali Choudas during which Hanuman puja is performed to ward off evil. On Saturday October 17, devotees participated in chopda pujan, a special prayer ritual during which account books are purified and prayers are said for a prosperous New Year.

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BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Chino Hills, CA was buzzing with joy and excitement on Sunday October 18, 2009 as devotees congregated to celebrate Diwali. As visitors entered the brightly glowing mandir, they were greeted with an elaborate rangoli, a beautiful floor design made with colored rice and powder. Explaining the spiritual significance of Diwali, Pujya Sarvadarshan Swami said, “Just as everyone experience joy today, every day would be Diwali, if we rid ourselves of the ignorance that we are this body and if we believe ourselves to be Atma. Diwali is a festival to be aware of the inner light of God, and once we understand this, we will experience joy in every moment of our lives.”

This past Sunday marked the culmination of weeks of planning and preparation, setting the stage for the most significant ritual of the Diwali events, ‘Annakut’. Annakut, which literally means ‘a mountain of food’, is traditionally offered to God to celebrate the beginning of the Hindu New Year. "The preparation begins at 5.00am in the morning for us," explained Krupali Patel of the BAPS youth wing. "The vegetarian food is traditionally arranged in tiers or steps in front of the Murtis of God. The sweets are placed nearest. 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 1500 food items have been offered to God,” said Chandrika Patel, a BAPS volunteer.

Devotees arrived continuously from early morning dressed in new shervanis and colorful sarees to behold the beautifully adorned deities in the Mandir. The atmosphere was filled with festivity and divinity as devotees greeted each other. The young touched the feet of the elders and sadhus, receiving their blessings. The first aarti (Hindu ritual) of the New Year was performed at 7:00 am followed by prayers for world peace and well-being.

“Diwali is my favorite festival because of the excitement that fills the air when the festival nears. But having recently migrated to US, I did not know what to expect.” said Heena Prajapati “But after coming to the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, Chino Hills, I felt like I was in India. I experienced Indian culture while getting a taste of fine Indian cuisine. Every person I met had an expression of warmth and happiness on their face. I truly felt at home.” Many brought their American friends to the celebration. Robin Darie from La Habra said, “I thought it was a great cultural experience for the whole family. It was a great way to educate the community about Hinduism. I learned in a presentation here about the impact of a vegetarian diet on the environment. I am really astonished.”

“Diwali is that time of the year when family, friends and relatives get together and strengthen their bonds through various festivities. Being away from India should not cause a lapse in our traditions”, said Ravi Patel “Preparations for the festivities begin months in advance. Devotees, young and old, sacrifice their time to help in creating decorations, food preparation, children’s Diwali celebration arrangements, as well as decorating the stage for the most significant ritual of Diwali, the Annakut,” concluded, Ravi Patel.

Diwali is also a time when children look forward to the joy it brings. On Sunday October 18, 2009 beginning at 9:00 AM the Children’s Diwali Celebration took place, which included a carnival and exhibition exhibiting the various occasions that lead up to Diwali such as Bhai-Bhij and Dhanteras. The celebration was as much fun as it was educational. The atmosphere was filled with joy and celebration. The children learned the history and origins of this festival, played a variety of exciting games, and were given an assortment of gifts and goodies.

This year His Divine Holiness Pramukh Swami Maharaj celebrated Diwali and Annakut in Gondal, Gujarat, India. He blessed the devotees on the New Year day. In his blessings he said, “Everyone’s devotion could be seen today. If we develop Dharma and Bhakti in our hearts, God becomes pleased, and thus He graces us with His blessings.”
The BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha (BAPS), a worldwide socio-spiritual organization in Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations, is dedicated to community service, peace and harmony. Motivated by Hindu principles, BAPS strives to care for the world by caring for societies, families and individuals. Through a number of social and spiritual activities, BAPS endeavors to produce better citizens of tomorrow who have a high esteem for their roots - their rich Hindu culture. Its 3,300 international centers support these activities of character-building. Under the guidance and leadership of His Divine Holiness Pramukh Swami Maharaj, BAPS aspires to build a community that is morally, ethically and spiritually pure, and free of addictions.

His Divine Holiness Pramukh Swami Maharaj, the fifth spiritual successor of Bhagwan Swaminarayan, has inspired millions of people across the world to lead a God-centered, morally pure life. As the present leader of BAPS, Pramukh Swami Maharaj travels from village to village, continent to continent, emphasizing the importance of family harmony, community service and spiritual progress. He embodies the essence of Hindu life. His compassion for humanity, universal wisdom and striking simplicity have touched many world religious and national leaders.




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