This October, lights and candles will be lit, sweets will be prepared and shared, and warm greetings and well wishes will be exchanged as millions of Hindus around the world celebrate the festival of lights, Diwali. Diwali presents Hindus around the world with an opportunity to renew the rich traditions of their roots with great fanfare.
Diwali is an ancient Hindu festival commemorating many historical events including the return of Bhagwan Shri Ram to the kingdom of Ayodhya after fourteen years of exile. His return brought about a period of enlightenment within the kingdom and its people. The tradition of self-enlightenment continues today as Diwali presents an opportunity for self-improvement and progress through reflection within.
In marking the season, volunteers of all ages came together to organize a Diwali celebration at the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Bartlett, IL on October 31, 2016. Colorful intricate designs called rangoli, decorative oil lamps and Annakut offerings of vegetarian food before the sacred images of God filled the atmosphere with a renewed spirit of the festival. Over 11,000 attendees experienced the culture and traditions of the auspicious holiday as they offered prayers, well wishes, and resolved to mark the New Year with spiritual enlightenment.
A beautiful exhibition entitled ‘In the joy of others’ was prepared by the youth of BAPS to celebrate the inspiring life and legacy of Pramukh Swami Maharaj. Throughout his life, he has untiringly remained in the service of others restoring villages from natural disasters, building new schools, hospitals and community centers, and strengthening societies on the foundation of compassion and peace. His humanitarian efforts have garnered widespread international respect, while his personal spirituality has been an inspiration for millions around the world. He has guided many youth on brilliant career paths, while keeping cultural values intact.
BAPS youth take great measures to organize and conduct this annual event for the younger participants. Children enjoyed the Diwali fare filled with games, activities and sweet treats during the Kid’s Diwali Celebration on Sunday, October 16. Arts and crafts stations were set up to illustrate traditions and teachings of Diwali. A spectacular light and sound show also took place on the steps of the Mandir on the evening of October 30 to commemorate the selfless life of Pramukh Swami Maharaj, who lived by the words of his life motto, “In the joy of others lies our own”.
Hundreds of devotees and well-wishers alike relished the divine atmosphere of Diwali as they immersed themselves in the traditional songs and delicious cuisines of the holiday. Many distinguished guests were also in attendance for the Diwali celebrations, impressed and personally touched by the inspiring messages portrayed in the exhibition. “The impression made upon me is mostly compassion,” said Tom Cullerton, IL State Senator. “The caring, the selflessness, the fact that there is a mission beyond just a self-serving mission or just getting people to believe in him, but actually expanding out into entire communities. And not focused on one single sect of people or one single basis but really trying to empower others to be better people, empower others to help other people which is something we don’t always see in today’s culture. And to have somebody who not only embodies that but preaches it, and tells everybody to do that, and has a large group of people who follow and believe everything about that, and tries to live that same mission is absolutely wonderful to be a part of.”
Similar sentiments were conveyed by the Lieutenant Governor of Illinois, Evelyn Sanguinetti. When asked to describe Pramukh Swami Maharaj in one word she simply said, “Servitude. That’s what he was about. Service first. Never putting himself first. But God and the people first, and that’s a big deal.” Also impressed with his humility and meekness she paralleled those qualities as a public servant stating, “That’s what we have to be, we have to be humble, we have to be meek, and help others.” Particularly emphasizing his inspiration to the youth, she believed his legacy to be timeless. “I see that these volunteers are incredibly young which leads me to believe that it’s timeless because our very young are putting in work and paying it forward.”
The exhibit invoked a personal connection with Pramukh Swami Maharaj for Raja Krishnamoorthi, Candidate for the IL House of Representatives (8th District). Pointing to a panel referencing the over 700,000 letters Pramukh Swami Maharaj has spent time personally reading and replying to, Mr. Krishnamoorthi said, “I’m proud to say I’m two of those letters.” When describing Pramukh Swami Maharaj’s legacy, IL State Senator, Michael Connelly also offered his thoughts saying, “An amazing man. There is an exhibit where people were allowed to write something to him to thank him, and the first thing I saw was ‘thank you for making me a better person.’ And at the end of the day, that is what his message was, that is what his life was. And if we can all dare to follow his example the world would be a very better place.”
The Diwali festivities brought devotees together to serve a common purpose, develop spiritually, and please their guru His Holiness Mahant Swami Maharaj and inspirer, His Holiness Pramukh Swami Maharaj. Pramukh Swami Maharaj inspired the celebration of Hindu festivals at BAPS centers worldwide to keep the rich traditions and culture of India alive with emphasis on the true historic and spiritual purpose of Hindu festivals.
The BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha (BAPS) is a worldwide spiritual and humanitarian organization that is dedicated to community service, peace and harmony. Motivated by Hindu principles, BAPS strives to care for the world by caring for societies, families and individuals. Through various spiritual and humanitarian activities, BAPS endeavors to develop better citizens of tomorrow with high esteem for their roots and culture. Its 3,300 international centers support these character-building activities. Under the guidance and leadership of His Holiness Mahant Swami Maharaj, BAPS aspires to build a community that is free of addictions as well as morally, ethically and spiritually pure. For more details, please visit www.baps.org.
His Holiness Mahant Swami Maharaj is the sixth and current spiritual successor of Bhagwan Swaminarayan. He was ordained a swami by Yogiji Maharaj in 1961 and named Sadhu Keshavjivandas. As he was appointed the head (Mahant) of the Mandir in Mumbai, he became known as Mahant Swami. His devout, humble and service-focused life earned him the innermost blessings of Yogiji Maharaj and Pramukh Swami Maharaj. Mahant Swami Maharaj travels throughout the world inspiring people through his insightful spiritual discourses and disciplined conduct. His virtuous lifestyle and profound devotion to Bhagwan Swaminarayan and gurus are ideals toward which devotees strive. Mahant Swami Maharaj became the guru and President of BAPS upon Pramukh Swami Maharaj’s passing in 2016.