PARSIPPANY — Amid the COVID-19 global pandemic, the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Parsippany focused on bringing together the Hindu community through five days of virtual Diwali celebrations. During this period, the traditions celebrated present an opportunity to reflect and introspect on one’s personal, professional, and spiritual growth.
Diwali is celebrated every year on the first lunar phase of the moon when the moon provides no light and the world is enveloped in darkness. The ancient practice of lighting divos, or traditional lamps, during the days of Diwali, not only erases physical darkness but also symbolizes one’s commitment to remove darkness –in the form of anger, greed, arrogance, and resentment – from their life. The festival’s rich traditions and rituals marked by bright colors of Rangoli (ornate designs made of colored powder), the lamps, the elaborate offering of vegetarian food (Annakut) to God, all mark a renewal of the good within and the goodwill towards all around us. Diwali presents Hindus with an opportunity to reaffirm themselves with the rich values and traditions of the religion.
Many families would generally gather at the BAPS Mandir to celebrate this festival. However, due to all of the health and safety concerns this year, the BAPS organization provided live, interactive programs throughout the holiday season to bring the community together while suggesting activities that each family can partake in and share with others online. One such activity was the observation of New Year’s Day which occurs the day after Diwali. BAPS mandirs the world over celebrate this day by offering Annakut (Meaning of “Mountains of Food”) to the sacred images within the shrines of the mandir. The 100s of food items are generally made by followers of the faith in their homes and brought to the mandir. This year, however, families were encouraged to make fresh vegetarian delicacies and offer them to the images that are kept at home, with the same spirit and to share pictures of this and other Diwali activities online.
Although no grand celebrations were held at the mandir this year, BAPS did offer limited viewings of the sacred images, during the Diwali season. Due to the auspiciousness of the holiday, many Hindus come to view and pray before the images on these days. As a part of its ongoing COVID-19 response efforts, the organization’s humanitarian arm – BAPS Charities – organized a Food Drive and requested all who come to the mandir to bring non-perishable food items to help those most affected by the pandemic. Over 150 items were collected to be donated to a local food bank.
“My wife, Bijal Patel, and I have vivid memories of celebrating Diwali with great fanfare with my neighbors, family, and friends here at the local BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir Parsippany for the last several years. This past year has been unprecedented! Diwali is no different. Despite the limitations that the pandemic poses in gathering with extended family and the larger community to celebrate, my family made the most of the virtual arrangements and programs that the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir Parsippany made. From a Diwali at Home preparation kit to virtual facilitation of traditional Diwali rituals, my family and I felt like we were part of something a lot larger- right from the comfort of our homes! When I settled in New Jersey and started my family, I’ve always wanted to maintain the traditions of my culture but found it difficult to replicate many of those experiences for my children. The BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir’s virtual Diwali celebrations helped us to keep that tradition alive- even this year. My kids especially enjoyed the Kids Diwali virtual program, which emphasized the importance of making good decisions and being a good person,” said Ronak Patel.
The BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha (BAPS) is a worldwide spiritual and humanitarian organization that 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 various spiritual and humanitarian activities, BAPS endeavors to develop better citizens of tomorrow with high esteem for their roots and culture. Its 3,300 international centers support these character-building activities. Under the guidance and leadership of His Holiness Mahant Swami Maharaj, BAPS aspires to build a community that is free of addictions as well as morally, ethically, and spiritually pure. For more details, please visit www.baps.org.
About Mahant Swami Maharaj
His Holiness Mahant Swami Maharaj is the sixth and current spiritual successor of Bhagwan Swaminarayan. He has ordained a swami by Yogiji Maharaj in 1961 and named Sadhu Keshavjivandas. As he has appointed the head (Mahant) of the Mandir in Mumbai, he became known as Mahant Swami. His devout, humble, and service-focused life earned him the innermost blessings of Yogiji Maharaj and Pramukh Swami Maharaj. Mahant Swami Maharaj travels throughout the world, inspiring people through his insightful spiritual discourses and disciplined conduct. His virtuous lifestyle and profound devotion to Bhagwan Swaminarayan and gurus are ideals toward which devotees strive. Mahant Swami Maharaj became the guru and President of BAPS upon Pramukh Swami Maharaj’s passing in 2016.
About Pramukh Swami Maharaj
Pramukh Swami Maharaj was the fifth spiritual successor of Bhagwan Swaminarayan. Under his leadership, BAPS grew into an international spiritual and humanitarian organization with over 3,300 centers worldwide. He dedicated his life to the well-being of others, traveling throughout the world to foster love, peace, harmony, righteousness, faith in God, and service to humanity. With genuine care and compassion, he reached out to all members of society irrespective of class, color, or age. Recognized and respected as one of India’s greatest spiritual teachers, he lived by and promoted the principle: “In the joy of others, lies our own.”
Reprinted from Parsippany Focus Magazine, December 2020