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Hindus worldwide, and in Melville, celebrate Diwali, the festival of lights

BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Melville held a Diwali celebration Monday featuring hundreds of vegetarian dishes prepared by worshippers. Credit: Kendall Rodriguez

Vegetarian dishes of all varieties were lined up in the brilliantly lit room at the Hindu temple in Melville on Monday night, as thousands of worshippers came to celebrate Diwali, or the festival of lights.

"The term festival of lights is actually a metaphor,” said Samir Bhatt, 40, of Hicksville, a temple volunteer. “It’s talking about eradicating the evil and darkness from within us, whether that evil or darkness comes from anger, greed, jealousy, envy or hatred. We want to emphasize love, compassion, family, community and spirituality.”

Congregants marked the holiday Monday at the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Melville. The five-day holiday, which ends Tuesday, centers on a spiritual cleansing, but also emphasizes different aspects of life such as prosperity in business, and the bond between family members, Bhatt said.

Monday signaled the New Year for Hindus, or 2076 on the Hindu calendar, and is the popular day for worship, he said.

Inside the temple, many Hindu men and women wore brightly-colored traditional Indian garb, called a sari for women and a kurta for men.

Each room in the temple is lit up in dazzling fashion to signify the festival and the spiritual illumination it symbolizes. The mountains of food, made by volunteers, were displayed among religious relics such as a statue of Lord Swaminarayan, the supreme god, Bhatt said.

The food was sanctified to the gods during a religious ceremony, before worshippers ate. The ceremony represented the “service, the devotion that fosters humility to understand we are here to serve the lord,” Bhatt said.

Diwali is also observed by members of Sikh and Jain faiths. The date changes each year and is typically held between October and November, depending on when it falls on the Hindu calendar.

Hitesh Patel, 38, of Mineola, a temple coordinator, said planning for the week’s festivities took about three months. He said he estimates between 5,000 and 6,000 people worshipped at the Temple on Monday night.

“Everyone comes to the temple and everyone meets, hugs, greets each other and we forget our past differences and look forward to a brighter future together,” he said.

Aditi Bhagat, 35, of New Hyde Park, was born and raised in South Africa but moved to the United States in 2000. She said Diwali celebrations in America are not much different from back home, and for that, she is grateful.

“America is the land of the free,” she said. “To be able to celebrate this in America with your own traditions, own values, it’s pretty amazing.” 

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