Diwali: A festival of light

At the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir and Cultural Complex the local Indian community is once again gearing up for its annual Diwali celebrations. It is the biggest celebration for Hindus around the world and over a thousand visitors are attracted to the Avondale celebration each year.

Diwali symbolises the spiritual “victory of light over darkness, good over evil and knowledge over ignorance.” It marks the start of the New Year according to the Hindu calendar. During the celebration, temples, homes, shops and office buildings are brightly illuminated.

Through such festivities, Hindus not only have an opportunity to deepen their connection to their traditional roots, but also to share their culture and faith with their friends, family and neighbours.

“It is a spectacle unlike any other,” says BAPS member, Jignesh Patel.

The five-day celebration ends with an Annakut, which means “mountain of food.” Around 1,000 different vegetarian dishes, including sweets, savouries, desserts, drinks and condiments, are offered to the idols of God before being shared amongst the visitors and devotees. [The temple’s impressive commercial kitchen (strictly vegetarian) is designed to cater for up to 3000 people at a time.]

BAPS, aka Bochasanwasi Akshar Purushottam Sanstha, is a religious and social organisation within the Swaminarayan branch of Hinduism. At last count (i.e. the 2013 census) there were 90,000 Hindus in New Zealand, making it the fourth largest religion in the country. Iinterestingly, 858 of them are Maori – the Maori language remarkably sharing 185 Sanskrit words.

With nearly 4,000 temples around the world, BAPS devotees engage in a range of endeavours aimed at spirituality, character-building, and human welfare.

As part of its efforts towards community outreach, BAPS engages in a host of humanitarian and charitable projects locally and abroad. The BAPS Charities non-profit aid organisation has spearheaded a number of projects around the world in the arenas of healthcare, education, environmental causes, and community-building campaigns.

What’s it all about?

Hindus believe in the revealed scripture (the Vedas) and one Supreme God. All paths lead to a common goal of salvation, of the soul’s freedom from a temporal body. Hindus also believe in the sacredness of life, compassion, service, reincarnation, and the laws of karma and dharma.

The objective behind all of BAPS’ activities is to become closer to God, one step at a time, with the added benefits of their lifestyles being mental stability, peace of mind, reduction of stress, and, most importantly, lasting happiness.

The organisation encourages a lifestyle rooted in spirituality and purity. Followers are strictly vegetarian, do not partake in drugs, alcohol or tobacco, and refrain from stealing, violence, slander, fraud and adultery.

Today, a million or more Swaminarayan followers lead upright, honest lives and donate regular hours in serving others.

The mandir hosts a variety of weekly activities: spiritual forums for children and adults; courses in ethnic language, music, and dance; and events which cultivate personal talents and interpersonal skills. It provides instruction on how to strengthen family relationships and improve the communities in which the mandir sits. Beyond all else, mandirs are a centre for spiritual growth and a place of worship.

The ornate 2,500m² Shri Swaminarayan Mandir at the end of the Barrhead Place cul-de-sac, has been part of the Avondale landscape since it opened in 2002.