The festivals of Diwali and the Hindu New Year Annakut were devoutly celebrated at BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, London, with a host of online programmes allowing devotees across the UK and Europe to participate. The iconic community celebrations usually welcome tens of thousands of worshippers, well-wishers and members of the local community each year to celebrate the glorious traditions of the Hindu faith. However, due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, and with the UK under a second national lockdown, these festivities were held online this year.
The festivities began with a musical tribute to His Holiness Pramukh Swami Maharaj – the Mandir’s inspirer and creator – on Rama Ekadashi (Wednesday 11 November). 
The celebrations continued with Lakshmi Pujan on Dhan Teras – the first day of Diwali – on Friday 12 November, when devotees offered their prayers to Lakshmi, the deity of wealth and prosperity. Swamis performed the special evening ceremony from the Mandir shrines and provided detailed guidance to enable worshippers to participate from their homes. 
The main Diwali celebrations on Saturday 14 November included the Chopda Pujan, streamed live from India in the presence of His Holiness Mahant Swami Maharaj and senior swamis. During this ceremony, Saraswati, the deity of knowledge, learning, the arts and wisdom, is revered. Business owners closed their existing ledgers and opened new ones in preparation for the year ahead. Students of all ages performed the same ceremony with their textbooks and school diaries. The online service allowed thousands to participate from the safety of their homes whilst observing the rituals simultaneously from India.
The day following Diwali marks the beginning of the Hindu New Year. The first online arti began at 6.00am, followed by prayers for world peace, harmony, protection and well-being. The ceremonial rajbhog thal and arti followed at 11.00am which included the offering of the annakut – literally, ‘mountain of food’ – artistically arranged as the first meal of the New Year and offered to God in thanksgiving for his providence. Families enjoyed the opportunity to prepare an annakut in their respective ghar mandirs and enjoy darshan of the annakut offerings from the shrines of various BAPS mandirs across the UK and Europe.
In the evening, further ceremonies to celebrate the Hindu New Year included the abhishek and an assembly that was webcast live from the Mandir. The programme included New Year blessings from senior swamis as well as highlights of annakut celebrations at London Mandir over the past 25 years. 
Mahant Swami Maharaj also shared his personal New Year’s message, encouraging everyone to remain steadfast in their spiritual endeavours, and prayed for God to bless everyone with peace, righteousness and prosperity. 
The online celebrations brought a profound sense of spiritual warmth to thousands of families across the UK and Europe. 
 

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