Dipavali Puja: Celebrations Lit with Chinmaya Spirit

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Acaryas Gaurangbhai and Darshanaben Nanavaty, the priest of Sri Saumyakasi Sivalaya, Sri Ganeshji, perfoming Laksmi puja. Photos by Jayesh Mistry

 By Padmashree Rao

HOUSTON: Dipavali has a greater meaning to the Indians who have left the shores of India. Beyond the sparkling lights, the smiling faces, the colorful Indian clothes, the weekend get-togethers, the enthusiastic wishes, and all the joyful celebrations, the immensely popular festival is a symbol of cultural and spiritual identity in lands foreign and adopted.

Where it is not that easy to place rows of oil lamps around the homes, where it is difficult to light firecrackers out on streets, where the workaday routine tends to overshadow the popular Hindu festival of lights, the Dipavali puja becomes a significant event every year. Transporting the glowing spirit of Dipavali across the oceans, the annual Dipavali puja in many mission centers of North America is a cherished Chinmaya tradition.

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True to that, at Chinmaya Prabha Houston, on Oct.19, the magic of Dipavali unraveled with greater meaning to become a luminous celebration of social and spiritual cheer. From months before, the volunteers of the festival committee had begun preparations for the puja that united more than five hundred families in two sessions. The announcements, emails, and e-brochures, invited all the Chinmaya families to gather together that Sunday morning in their beloved Chinmaya family home, Chinmaya Prabha.

And, the young and the old came with eagerness. They came dressed in their festive best, carrying their beautifully decorated puja plates, the colorful flowers, their shining lamps for arati, and other puja essentials. When more than a thousand people sat together in rows inside Chinmaya Smriti hall and Saraswati Nilayam that morning for the Dipavali puja, it was not just the external aesthetic beauty of the whole celebration that captured the imagination. What arrested everyone’s thoughts was the way in which the puja filled hearts with light and love.

In his annual address, Acarya Gaurangbhai Nanavaty welcomed everyone to reflect on the true meaning of the varied traditional celebrations of Dipavali. On Dhan Teras, and during Lakshmi puja later in the week, while praying for material prosperity, the Acarya asked all to also pray for the wealth of good values to enrich all life. On Naraka Chaturdasi, when the darkness of evil is destroyed by the light of goodness, we must recognize that Dharma always brings meaningful victory. Celebrating Dipavali as the victory of Lord Ram over the unrighteous Ravana brings to light the symbolism that pure joy is the very essence of a dharmic life. And, family is celebrated on the occasion of Bhai Dhuj in some communities.

The Acarya brought attention to the prayers done during the Dipavali puja – every year, the Lakshmi Ashtottra Shatanamavali (108 names of the Goddess Lakshmi) endows devotees with both material and spiritual upliftment; and Visnu Sahasranama (1000 names of Lord Visnu) is a divinely effective way of recognizing the Omnipresent, Omnipotent, and Omniscient God in the world of names and forms.

Along with ardent prayers, Dipavali is also a time to give thanks and usher in a new year of hope and new resolve. It is the tradition of Chinmaya Mission Houston to offer heartfelt gratitude to the Chinmaya Guru Parampara, which has given spiritual direction to secular lives, especially far away from the native soil of India.

Thus, selfless prayers and deep gratitude pervaded the entire Dipavali puja which was expertly performed by Sri Ganeshji, priest of the Saumyakasi Sivalaya. At the end of the puja, every family walked to offer pranams to God and Guru; each family exchanged a moment of affection and gratitude with the Acaryas Gaurangbhai and Darshanaben, in the presence of the exquisitely adorned idols of Sri Mahavisnu and Goddess Mahalakshmi. It was then that central theme of Dipavali shone bright, the theme of shared happiness, high ideals, and hearts filled with love and hope.

The Dipavali celebration this year in Houston was tuned to greater heights because of a special musical presentation by Chinmaya Nada Bindu, the Chinmaya Gurukul of Performing Arts, on the evening of Oct.19. Sri Himanshu Nanda and Smt. Pramodini Rao, the directors of Chinmaya Naada Bindu, accompanied by Sri Anutosh Degaria, elevated the Houston audience; art, artist and audience were transported to a divine realm where the ‘sneharanjani’ of Himanshuji’s bansuri and the soulful bhajans of Pramodiniji entranced and enchanted; it was no mere entertainment. To revel in such music was truly a memorable Dipavali gift.

“Between the routine and the urgent, one should not forget the important,” says Pujya Guruji Swami Tejomayananda. Every year, the importance of Dipavali shines brighter when illuminated with the Chinmaya spirit!

For further information on Chinmaya Mission Houston and Sri Saumyakasi Sivalaya and,  its activities visit www.chinmayahouston.org or Call Jay Deshmukh 832 541 0059 or Bharati Sutaria 281-933-0233