Diwali one of the most important festivals for millions of Hindus around the world, is celebrated on 12 November. It is a time when charity, goodwill, family values and the love of God are celebrated and reinforced. Diwali is also known as the ‘Festival of Light’ because devotees light rows of lamps symbolising the triumph of good over evil.
Beyond the customary fusion of light, colour, sound and food, Diwali’s values of goodwill, hope and harmony pervade across communities – these values are embodied at BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in London (popularly known as ‘Neasden Temple’).
The temple hosts the largest Diwali festival in Europe, bringing together tens of thousands of worshippers, visitors and members of the British community – local neighbours as well as many from all over the country and even tourists visiting the UK from abroad – to joyously celebrate the rich culture and devotional vibrancy of the Hindu faith.
The Mayor of London was joined by Dawn Butler MP and Barry Gardiner MP, Members of Parliament for Brent Central and Brent North respectively, at the temple celebrations this year.
“One of the things I love about coming to this temple is the diversity of people. People from all across the country and all across the world come here to celebrate Diwali,” London Mayor Sadiq Khan said.
“I am in awe of what Neasden Temple volunteers do. The most joyous thing about your work is not only serving those who are Hindu but everybody – the youth work, the work during the Pandemic, the work to help the elderly, but it is particularly important to help those struggling because of the cost-of-living crisis.”
Inspired by His Holiness Mahant Swami Maharaj’s spirit of selfless service and charity, the temple also collaborated with The Felix Project and Brent Food Bank to support their good causes, in keeping with Diwali’s spirit of helping others. Additionally, they were also joined by various other faith communities during Diwali to help promote community understanding.”
To provide a safe and enriching experience for everyone, preparations begin months in advance and involve over 2,000 volunteers who give their time generously, to make these celebrations memorable and provide something for everyone to enjoy.
The Rt Hon Sir Keir Starmer MP, Leader of the Opposition and the Labour Party, paid tribute to this volunteer effort during his visit to celebrate Diwali at the Temple: “I stand in awe of the celebrations here and the selfless seva (service) of thousands of volunteers – working with such care and commitment to make this iconic occasion a reality.
“Their extraordinary efforts do not go unnoticed. A temple of this scale and perfection and the spirit of limitless sacrifice and dedication does not come about by chance. Neasden Temple is a beacon of compassion and harmony for everyone – regardless of creed or background [and] an integral part of the religious and cultural landscape of Great Britain.”
Thousands joined for the time-honoured rituals, harmonious sounds of music and sumptuous vegetarian food during Diwali at Neasden Temple. Outside the grounds of the temple, friends and families enjoyed delicious hot vegetarian food and souvenirs at the Diwali village and the iconic fireworks display that brings a fusion of light and sound into the night skies of north-west London each year.
Lucy D’Orsi, Chief Constable of British Transport Police, was one of the visitors at the Temple during Diwali. Sharing her impressions, she said: “It is [Neasden Temple] the most beautiful building. I find the temple a very inclusive place. What inspires me today is seeing so many people from the community here. I always go away [after visiting the Temple] with a positive outlook on life.”
Following Diwali, the first bells of the Mandir sound in the early morning for the first arti (ceremonial waving of lamps) of the New Year in front of the deities, symbolising the passing of goodwill in the lives of worshippers and well-wishers. It is also an occasion for thanksgiving and is traditionally celebrated with the ‘Annakut’ – a grand offering of over 1,200 varieties of pure vegetarian food items, prepared lovingly by devotees, and artistically arranged inside the prayer hall – to thank God for his providence over the past year and to seek his blessings for the year ahead.
This visual wonder is respectfully observed by tens of thousands throughout the day. This offering is distributed to the local community, food banks, and other good causes. Outside the temple, a contagious buzz of happiness, friendship and warmth fills the air as friends and family greet each other with warm embraces and heartfelt wishes for a prosperous year ahead.