Diwali festival commemorates Paris massacre victims

Crackling fireworks burst into the sky as the enormous Mandir flashed vibrant colors. The rhythmic beat dropped as the white stone glowed a deep red, then burst into a rainbow of light. Hundreds of families cheered joyfully, watching as the light cut through the darkness.

On November 14th, BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, a Hindu temple in Atlanta, celebrated Diwali,  the “Festival of Lights.” The festival represents the triumph of good over evil, love over hate, and light over darkness, something that gained new meaning after the attacks in Paris on Nov. 13th.

The Atlanta BAPS temple is located in Lilburn, Georgia and is constructed from 34,000 individual hand carved pieces shipped from India. BAPS is a volunteer-run humanitarian Hindu organization with over 3,850 spiritual centers throughout the world.

Nagesh Singh, Georgia Consul General of India, spoke before the light show about the meaning of Diwali and its relevance to the tragedy in Paris.

“The message is relevant for all of us, whatever race, religion or continent we belong to,” he said. “I hope after what we saw yesterday in Paris, the senseless brutal killing of innocent people all over the world, in some way we can all have a thought for those who have lost their lives… that we can pray for them in our own way so that these people get some solace.” IMG_7665

Having attended 50 years of Diwali celebrations, Rachana Patel explains that the “Festival of Lights” is one of many holidays within the week long celebration of the Hindu new year. According to her, Diwali celebrates the victory of powerful deity Rama over evil demon-king Ravana. The Hindu people welcomed Rama home from battle with many lights, which are represented today with fireworks.

Patel describes the “Festival of Lights” and new year as a time of rejoicing, but also reflecting on the past year.

“You have to look deep down inside and search. You enjoy your life, forget about all the ill feelings and start a new year over,” she said. “It’s more than Christmas to us.”

Prayers dedicated to Hindu gods, known as Aartis, are chanted before the light show. Oil lamps and candles are lit and a prayer for world peace is said.

Jennifer Gorell, experiencing her first Diwali, shared her thoughts on the celebration from a non-Hindu perspective.

“I wish more people would consider Hindu holiday celebrations to attend even if it’s not their religious path,” she said. “They’re really special, colorful, friendly and always interesting. It’s a life experience worth having.”