Amid the COVID-19 global pandemic, the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Chino Hills and Milpitas, California, focused on bringing together the Hindu community through five days of virtual Diwali celebrations.

During this period, the traditions celebrated provided an opportunity to reflect and introspect on one’s personal, professional, and spiritual growth, the spiritual organization said in a news release.

Diwali is celebrated every year on the first lunar phase of the moon, when the moon provides no light and the world is enveloped in darkness.

The ancient practice of lighting divas, or traditional lamps, during the days of Diwali not only erases physical darkness, but also symbolizes one’s commitment to remove darkness –in the form of anger, greed, arrogance and resentment – from one’s life, the release explained.

The festival’s rich traditions and rituals marked by bright colors of Rangoli (ornate designs made of colored powder), the lamps, the elaborate offering of vegetarian food (Annakut) to God, all mark a renewal of the good within and the goodwill towards all around us. Diwali presents Hindus with an opportunity to reaffirm the rich values and traditions of the religion within themselves, the release said.

Many families would generally gather at the BAPS Mandir to celebrate this festival.

However, due to the health and safety concerns this year, the BAPS organization provided live, interactive programs throughout the holiday season to bring the community together through activities that each family could partake in and share with others online, it said.

One such activity was the observation of New Year’s Day which occurs the day after Diwali. BAPS mandirs across the world celebrate this day by offering Annakut (meaning of “Mountains of Food”) to the sacred images within the shrines of the mandir, the organization said.

The hundreds of food items are generally made by followers of the faith in their homes and brought to the mandir. This year, however, families were encouraged to make fresh vegetarian delicacies and offer them to the images that are kept at home, with the same spirit and to share pictures of this and other Diwali activities online, it said.

Although no grand celebrations were held at the mandir this year, BAPS did offer limited viewings of the sacred images, during the Diwali season.

As a part of its ongoing COVID-19 response efforts, the organization’s humanitarian arm – BAPS Charities – organized a Food Drive and requested all who come to the mandir to bring non-perishable food items to help those most affected by the pandemic. The drive is on-going until the week of Thanksgiving, the organization noted.

In Milpitas, Jignya Patel, one of the BAPS Mandir youth leaders, said: “This year, Diwali looked different as we did not get to come together at the Mandir. However, it was a great opportunity to join my family and make items to celebrate at home. We definitely missed coming together; however, the silver lining was being able to celebrate in grand with my family and seeing pictures of what other families did.”

Chirag Patel, one of the devotees of BAPS, said: “My family made 101 items to celebrate Diwali and New Year at home. Not only that, but we took part in the virtual programs, as well as doing the different pujans at home. It felt like I was celebrating with the entire world.”

Janki Dubal, a mother of two and a devotee stated, “Celebrating Diwali at the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir is one way that I try to teach my children about our cultural heritage.”

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