BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, London, brought together thousands from the local community and further afield to celebrate the universal values of hope, light and goodwill of Diwali – the Hindu ‘Festival of Light’ – on Sunday 12 November 2023.
This year’s celebrations at the Mandir were held in the presence of Sadguru Pujya Tyagvallabhdas Swami, a senior swami visiting from India. He presided over the Sharda Pujan – the main spiritual assembly of Diwali – which involved blessing new account books and textbooks as families prayed for success and happiness in the coming year. This time of reflection was also conveyed during a special Remembrance Sunday
Dr S. Jaishankar
, the Minister of External Affairs for India, and his wife Kyoko Jaishankar, visited the Mandir to celebrate Diwali, and later in the evening, Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, inaugurated the iconic fireworks display that weaved a spectacular fusion of light and sound into the night skies of north-west London. Sharing his impressions of the Mandir’s celebrations, Mr Khan said, “I am in awe of what the Mandir does. The most joyous thing about the work you do is not only serving those who are Hindu, but everybody.”
The day following Diwali provides an opportunity to experience an ‘annakut’ at the Mandir, where hundreds of food dishes are lovingly prepared, artistically arranged, and devoutly offered to the deities by worshippers in the spirit of gratitude and reverence. The sanctified food was again later distributed among devotees, volunteers and visitors.
Renowned Indian actor Akshay Kumar arrived at the Mandir in the morning to offer his prayers and said: “Happy Diwali from me and my family to you and your family.”
The Rt Hon Sir Keir Starmer MP
, Leader of the Opposition and the Labour Party, also attended the celebrations and immersed himself in the Diwali festivities, joining in ceremonial prayers and experiencing the warmth of the community spirit.
Sir Keir expressed his “awe of the celebrations at the Mandir and the selfless seva of thousands of volunteers – working with such care and commitment to make this iconic occasion a reality.” He added, “Neasden Temple is a beacon of compassion and harmony for everyone – regardless of creed or background – [and is] an integral part of the religious and cultural landscape of Great Britain.”
Inspired by His Holiness Mahant Swami Maharaj’s spirit of selfless service and charity, the Mandir had partnered with The Felix Project to support the provision of fresh fruit and vegetables to local food banks at a time when the cost-of-living crisis is adversely impacting many families.
The Mandir’s contributions to Diwali extended across the country this year. A special Diwali celebration was organised at Great Ormond Street Hospital, which brought smiles to children who may not have otherwise experienced such a celebration elsewhere. Talented youths from the Mandir also performed vibrant cultural dances at three major shopping centres in the UK, which promoted cultural harmony and understanding within local communities. Several youths also presented bhajans and talks at several corporate and civic offices around London and the UK to raise further awareness about Diwali and Hinduism in general.