While Americans of all stripes celebrate Thanksgiving — which historians say has origins of giving thanks and sacrifice for the blessing of the harvest and of the preceding year — local people of the Hindu faith recently celebrated a similar holiday.
Sanatan Mandir, a Hindu temple in Smyrna, drew 2,000 devotees for the celebration of Diwali in late October. The festival is commemorated by people across the world and is India’s biggest celebration.
“The most common significance of Diwali is the celebration of bountiful harvest following the monsoon season in the Indian subcontinent,” said Lekha Sengupta, a devotee of Sanatan Mandir.
“Going by the mythological and historical interpretations respectively, Diwali is essentially a celebration of prosperity, fertility and good fortune on one hand and the victory of good over evil on the other. Thus, though it originated as a Hindu tradition, the festivities have transgressed the limitations of religion today. The spirit of love and brotherhood that add glory to the celebrations, have united people from all cultures and strata of life with that one cord of universal camaraderie,” Sengupta said.
Diwali is a celebration of good over evil commemorating the return of Lord Rama, who was soon to be coronated, along with his wife Sita and brother Lakshmana from the 14-year-long exile he was sentenced to by his father, King Dasharatha.
“While in exile, Rama vanquished the demon-king Ravana in a fierce battle. In joyous celebration of his return, the people of Ayodhya, the capital of Rama’s empire, illuminated the kingdom with earthen diyas (oil lamps) and set off firecrackers,” Sengupta said. “In reminiscence of this event, people in India still celebrate the auspicious day that falls on the new moon day in the Hindu calendar month of Kartika.”
Like Thanksgiving, Indian customs and festivals are passed down from one generation to the next as traditions.
“Diwali is one such festivity, which is celebrated across the country and by all Indians around the globe. This event, commonly known as the Festival of Lights, has both historical and mythical significances that have added to the rituals associated with it,” Sengupta said.
All the rituals related to Diwali have a significance and a story behind them, Sengupta explained: “Homes are illuminated with lights, and firecrackers fill the skies as an expression of respect to the heavens for the attainment of health, wealth, knowledge, peace, and prosperity.”
Dr. Yogesh Joshi, a trustee of the Sanatan Mandir, gave some background about the Smyrna temple.
“The real name of our religion is Sanatan Dharma. Sanatan means eternal. Dharma is religion. Mandir in Sanskrit means temple, hence our name ‘Sanatan Mandir.’”
“The Mandir started in 1986. Our community was relatively small at the time, but as it grew, we realized we needed a new and bigger facility. ... In 2005, devotees began fundraising and the 22,000 square foot Mandir was completed in April 2017. The Mandir has garnered excellent support from the community and participation has grown in leaps and bounds every year,” Joshi said.
Sanatan Mandir is at 1281 Cooper Lake Road in Smyrna.