Annakut Celebrations at Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, London
Saturday 13 November 2004 heralded the start of the Hindu New Year. Devotees arrived at the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, Neasden, from early morning to behold the beautifully adorned deities in the sanctum sanctorum. The first arti - the Mangala Arti - of the New Year (Vikram Samvat 2061) was performed at 5:30am. After the Shangar Arti, a special Mahapooja ceremony was held in which prayers for world peace were offered.
As the clock edged towards midday, the shrines of the sacred deities and the Haveli were filled with one of the largest annual offerings of vegetarian food in the world. The Annakut offering included some 1,500 items of food, snacks, sweets, pickles, spicy dishes, salads, fruit drinks and various other items prepared by volunteers. The items offered consisted of dishes from various countries of the world in line with theme of 'Unity in Diversity'.
Through the inspiration of Param Pujya Pramukh Swami Maharaj, over two months of preparations and sacrifice of volunteers saw the huge Haveli transformed into India - the home of beautiful festivals. A tri-coloured model of Mother India in the centre of the Haveli was flanked by four giant screens displaying different aspects of this fabled land. The serene background of the Himalayas and the undulating river originating from the model of Mount Kailas at the entrance of the Haveli was bordered by a replica rainforest of trees and vines through the centre of the hall. Stunning scenes depicting India's people, places, architecture and wildlife encircled the Annakut offerings to the sacred deities - creating an aura of Indian culture and beauty witnessed by Neelkanth Varni during his travels across the land two centuries ago.
The ceremonial arti was performed at noon in this heavenly setting as thousands of devotees, visitors and well-wishers flocked to observe the majestic displays, and experience an atmosphere which would take them back to the glory of their wonderful homeland - India! A joyous day concluded as each visitor left smiling, gifted with a calendar and prasad as part of the festivities.
Throughout the day refreshments and snacks were provided by SAYA for the many devotees and visitors travelling from far and wide to attend the festival.
Everyone also had the opportunity to view the trailer of 'MYSTIC INDIA' - an large format film on India's priceless culture, traditions, festivals, architecture, landscapes and facescapes with the powerful message of 'Unity in Diversity'. The 'MYSTIC INDIA' film is soon to be released in UK in early 2005.
Diwali Celebrations at Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, London
The last day of the Hindu year is considered to be one of the most auspicious and is celebrated with Diwali - the 'Festival of Lights'. Today, business owners open new books as their existing accounts are closed during the Lakshmi Pujan - Chopda Pujan -ceremony. This year's festival was celebrated with great splendour and tradition on Friday 12 November 2004 as devotees and visitors streamed into the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, Neasden from early morning for darshan.
The sacred deities in the Mandir shrines were beautifully adorned with rich clothes and ornaments. Following the evening ãrti at 6.30pm, devotees and well-wishers gathered in the Haveli for the Chopdã Poojan ceremony, which commenced at 7.00pm. Hundreds of new account books were sanctified through the showering of flowers petals and rice grains, amidst the chanting of Vedic hymns and prayers to Bhagwan Swaminarayan and Param Pujya Pramukh Swami Maharaj.
The highlight of the evening for both young and old was the annual fireworks display which commenced at 9pm. For thirty minutes, countless spectators, including local residents and passers-by, were stunned by the spectacular display which illuminated a cold, dark November night with the light and beauty of Indian culture.
As the crowds dispersed, the volunteers continued their preparations for the following day's New Year's Annakut.