Everyone celebrates the new year differently. Some of us clean our rooms. Others make a resolution with the full intent of of keeping it.
For her new year, which occurs every autumn, freshman mechanical engineering major Shruti Bhatt puts on her favorite punjabi, grabs a plate of pani puri, and celebrates a festival of light and prayer, which is shared with hundreds of millions of people each year.
This university’s chapter of BAPS (BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha) hosted a Diwali celebration in the Grand Ballroom of Stamp Nov. 5. The event broke the previous record for a BAPS college event’s attendance with more than an estimated 500 people who attended.
Diwali (pronounced “dee-vah-lee”), the festival of lights, is the start of the Hindu new year and the most important event on the Hindu calendar. According to Ameek Patel, the MC for the event and a BAPS member from Johns Hopkins University, Diwali is a time to, “celebrate the transcendence of darkness and the victory of light.”
Of the many traditions associated with Diwali, perhaps the most famous is the lighting of the candles. The holiday is also a time for people to reflect on the past year and prepare for the year ahead.
“It’s through celebrations like these we remember Hinduism not as a relic of the past but a rich tradition and culture we have the joy of carrying on,” said Patel.
The first speaker of the night was Kush Patel, a graduate of this university and CEO of Relative Dynamics Inc., an aerospace engineering firm. He spoke about the active choices everyone must make each day to combat the light and dark sides within us all.
Throughout his presentation, Kush would often refer to pop culture such as Disney and Star Wars to get this point across. He also tied in his own personal experiences with his wife.
“I didn’t even know what TOMS were before I got married,” Kush joked during one part of his talk about compromising with others.
The next speaker, Saint Pujya Ghanshyamsevadas Swami, a highly esteemed member of BAPS who is responsible for more than 10 temples, spoke about forgiveness and what it means to truly work for the betterment of other people.
“That’s what we must do – understanding every person we meet in our lives [and] the potential they had for greatness,” Saint Pujya Ghanshyamsevadas Swami said during his speech.
There were also presentations on the real meaning of Diwali and songs and prayers led by a live group of musicians.
On the stage behind the speakers was a red altar filled with several dozen different dishes. This is called the annakut, which literally translates to “mountain of food,” and is meant as an offering to God.
After the speakers, the food was given out to the hundreds of attendees. Before receiving their meals, womentied red and gold bracelet known as “Nada Chadi” around the wrists of female attendees as a sign of good luck. They also gave out the book Transcendence: My Spiritual Experiences with Pramukh Swamiji, a book by the 11th President of India Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam about what he learned from the current spiritual leader and inspirer of BAPS, Param Pujya Pramukh Swami Maharaj.
According to its website, BAPS is a “spiritual, volunteer-driven organization dedicated to improving society through individual growth by fostering the Hindu ideals of faith, unity and selfless service.”
Being a part of BAPS means very different things to each of its members.
Rohini Brahmbhatt, a BAPS member from George Washington University and a double biology and anthropology major, works with younger girls to teach them about Hinduism while they’re going through a transitional period in their lives. She’s been involved since she was very young.
Haley Patel, a freshman chemistry major at this university, has had a different relationship with her religion. When she was younger, she didn’t understand what her parents were trying to teach her.
“At first I didn’t like it,” Haley said. “What kid wants to spend their Sunday at temple?”
However, as she got older, Hayley started to gain a new appreciation for her faith. She now works closely with the chapter here on campus by organizing blood drives and other humanitarian efforts.
Though she said being a part of BAPS has limited her in some ways socially, she said that her religion has shaped a very positive path for her life.
“It’s such a universal common experience that can be enjoyed by so many different people,” Haley Patel said.
This university’s chapter of BAPS spent more than two months preparing for the Diwali event. According to Havya Patel, the president of the UMD BAPS chapter, the event ended up, “bigger and better than [they] could’ve imagined.”
Havya, a sophomore aerospace engineering major, is from Kenya. He moved to the U.S. last year for his studies and said thanks to BAPS, he has never felt homesick due to having a built-in family as soon as he arrived.
“It’s a family, not an organization,” Havya said. “ … our goal is to make other people happy.”
Though the UMD celebration happened on Nov. 5, the actual day of Diwali is Dec. 11. This university’s chapter of BAPS will be going to the larger BAPS Swaminaryan Sanstha Temple in Beltsville to join and aid in those celebrations.
Until then, the group will continue to meet on Tuesdays, all meetings are open to anyone who would wish to join. Like the MC said to a family of 500 strong that night,
“Peace, peace, and peace be everywhere.”
Feature Photo Credit: Speaker Kush Patel addresses the audience using pop culture references, including references to Disney and Star Wars, as he discussed the choices we have to make as individuals. He discussed the dark and light within each person, while also tying in his personal life. (Julia Lerner/Bloc Reporter)
Rosie Brown is a junior journalism major and can be reached at email@example.com.