Visitors crossed through the doors of the BAPS Swaminarayan Mandir (Hindu temple) in Edison, New Jersey, to celebrate Diwali and the Hindu New Year of the Vikram era. Though the actual dates of Diwali and New Year’s Day were November 14th and 16th, they were combined into one large festival. Diwali, often referred to as the “Festival of Lights”, signifies the triumph of good over evil. In particular, it commemorates the Hindu God Lord Rama’s return to His kingdom of Ayodhya after defeating evil forces.
In adherence to one of the traditional manners of celebrating New Year’s Day, the members of the BAPS Mandir prepared Annakut, a feast of various vegetarian foods and non-alcoholic beverages, and was placed before the idols installed in the Mandir. This year’s Annakut contained over 1,250 items, creating an inspiring display. The offering of Annukut was opened by the singing of Thaal, which are hymns specifically sung to offer the food dishes to the idols. Thaal was sung at 11:30 a.m. and was notably attended by New Jersey Senator Jon Corzine and the Edison Township Mayor George A. Spadoro.
Upon entering the Mandir, the visitors were first guided to an exhibition illustrating the significance of the days leading to and including the Diwali festival, as well as other Hindu festivals and rituals. The exhibition strived to impress on the visitors a need to introspect oneself to attain a more peaceful and better life. Many of the visitors walked away from the exhibition with a better understanding of Hinduism as a whole, through displays, videos and interactive experiences that allowed the guests to perform the rituals associated with this time of year. One guest commented, “The exhibition was excellent. It made learning about the various Hindu practices easy to comprehend.” The exhibition was prepared by youths and teenagers of BAPS, who worked tirelessly for three weeks in its preparation. Upon leaving the Mandir, every visitor was given sweets, which serve as a reminder that we must leave behind any and all bitterness.
Diwali also signifies the end of the business year. People assembled at the Mandir on November 14th to perform special rituals and prayers, known as Chopda Pujan, for prosperity in the coming year.