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Introduction

Swamishri's presence is always a reason to celebrate.
Special days of festivals, then, are especially enriched with
joy and jubilation whenever celebrated in his divine presence.

And among all celebrations perhaps,
nothing arouses more auspiciousness and elation
than the end and beginning of a year.

This year, in the presence of HDH Pramukh Swami Maharaj, the 5-day festivals associated with Diwali, including the Annakut festival and the Murti-pratishtha ceremony in the Swaminarayan Haveli will be held in Chicago, USA.

Significance of Festivals
Diwali is the last day (Aso vad 30) of the year in the Hindu calendar, and celebrations begin two days before Diwali.

  The first festival is called Dhanteras (Aso vad 13; 24 Oct. 2000). On this day, money is worshipped (Lakshmi Pujan) as a symbol of appreciation to the goddess of wealth, Lakshmi. Lakshmi Pujan is also performed with sentiments of purifying one’s wealth and that it be utilized for noble purposes during the New Year.

  On the next day, Kali Chaudas (Aso vad 14; 25 Oct. 2000), Shri Hanumanji is worshipped to drive away all inauspicious and ill-omened elements. On this day, Lord Krishna destroyed Narkasur and released the 16,000 damsels that the demon had imprisoned.

Diwali (Aso vad 30; 26 Oct. 2000), the last day of the year, is celebrated because Lord Ram returned victorious to Ayodhya from his 14 year exile in the forest. On this day, lamps are lighted as a symbol of jubilation for Lord Ram’s return to Ayodhya and a sign to kindle the light of knowledge and divinity within one’s heart.

Chopada pujan or the ritual for the sanctification of account books for the New Year is also held on this day.

Bestu Varsh or New Year’s day (Kartik sud 1; 28 Oct. 2000) is the first day of the Indian calendar year. It was the day when Lord Vaman was granted three steps of land from King Bali. To fulfil the Lord’s third step, King Bali surrendered everything and earned His eternal grace.
On New Year’s day, Lord Krishna stopped the tradition of Indra puja in Gokul and introduced the ritual of offering fodder to cows and worship to Mount Govardhan. Subsequently, Lord Indra (god of Rain) was angered and rained mercilessly upon the village of Gokul. But Lord Krishna lifted Mount Govardhan with his little finger and provided refuge and protection to the citizens of Gokul. Hence, this day is also remembered as a reflection of God’s tremendous power and the benefit of taking His refuge.

On the morning of New Year’s day, Mahapuja is performed in Swaminarayan mandirs, where devotees participate to seek the blessings of Lord Swaminarayan and the Guru. At 12 noon, as a symbol of appreciation and prayers to remain God-centered, the Lord is offered a feast of food items - called Annakut. A sumptuous and colorful array of vegetarian items, decoratively arranged by the devotees and sadhus, are devoutly offered to the Lord.

A decorative display of lighted candles had been arranged to greet Swamishri as he arrived on stage for his morning puja. Swamishri bowed to the hundreds of devotees who had gathered as he sat down and then performed his puja as the sadhus sang festive devotional songs.

Swamishri exited his room in the early morning. Lighted lames and flowers decorated his route out of his residence. When Swamishri arrived on stage for his morning pooja, decorative arrangements of lighted candles of varied shapes and sizes greeted him. Swamishri performed his pooja while sadhus sang festive devotional songs. After pooja Swamishri bowed to the hundreds of devotees who had gathered for darshan and bid them all "Jai Swaminarayan" on this auspicious Diwali day.

In the evening, around 200 devotees filled the assembly hall of the new haveli to participate in the traditional "chopda pujan" ceremony. After the ceremony had concluded, Swamishri showered flower petals on all the books and blessed everyone for success in their business ventures.

Swamishri then arrived in the evening assembly being held in the giant tent adjacent to the new haveli.

National and state political leaders had come to welcome Swamishri and received his blessings. Swamishri also blessed the engineers and volunteers who had served in the project.

In this blessings to the assembly Swamishri said, "Everybody experiences misery and happiness at different times in their lives. But by maintaining firm faith in God, we are able to remain at peace. To help us develop this peace, we have mandirs and Satsang. We are fortunate to have the association of such Satsang, so we should make the most of this opportunity and attain peace in our lives."

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