The clocks are turned back the last Sunday in October as winter begins to grip London. And as I contemplate the depressing reality of afternoons in darkness, I find something to keep my spirits high – the Indian ‘Festival of Light’, Diwali, brings with it a tremendous sense of enthusiasm and occasion.
This is one of the few days of the year – besides my birthday – when I don’t mind waking up before the sun. The day begins with a family trip to the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Neasden, famously known as the ‘Neasden Temple’, where the bubbling atmosphere and energy attest to the significance of arguably the most important date in the Hindu calendar. One of the things I truly appreciate about this day is that people of all levels of faith take time out of their busy lives to pay their respects to God.
As I look around at families of up to three generations together bowing down to the deities, I am reminded what Hindu culture is all about. Coming together as a family, upholding noble values, and keeping God at the centre of everything you do is never demonstrated as strongly as it is during Diwali.
The afternoon is usually spent with relatives, where there is something for everyone to enjoy. The kids are kept occupied with their numerous presents, and the grown-ups with their food, of which there is a seemingly endless amount and variety.
The evening, however, is reserved again for a ceremony at the Mandir. “Chopda Pujan”, as it is called, is a time for businessmen and women to close their account books for the current year and open new ones in readiness for the New Year the following day. It is also an opportunity for us devotees to take stock of our personal account with God.
As thousands of people visit the Mandir, several of my friends and I volunteer to help out. It isn’t a chore. Indeed, the time spent with friends contributing to the cause provides me with an enormous sense of satisfaction.
The day’s events are rounded off with a spectacular fireworks display, which is always enjoyable and a fitting end to the Festival of Light. It is not a day to stay up too late, however; the following day is the Hindu New Year, and with it comes more excitement, more festivities, more traditions, and yes, more food.
Divyang Patel, 21, graduated with BSc. Economics (First Class Hons) from the London School of Economics. Currently working at Barclays Global Investors, he volunteers at the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Neasden.