400 Studio: Ever been to a Diwali festival? Here's what it looks like in Forsyth County.
As members of Sri Maha Lakshmi Temple of Atlanta celebrated at the Peachtree Parkway temple, many rang a bell to announce their presence in the temple and lit fireworks outside in celebration. Some chanted and sang songs, and all were there for a celebration growing in popularity in Forsyth County.
On Tuesday, members of the temple celebrated Diwali, the festival of lights for Hindus that symbolizes the triumph of light over darkness and good over evil.
“The Diwali celebration is basically a festival of light. That means, in our ancient Indian history, today Rakshasa – it’s called evil – our god killed him. That’s why all the devotees are having a celebration called Diwali,” said Keshava Murthy, head priest, president and CEO of the temple. “It is basically a three-day event, and the middle day is called Diwali.”
Diwali’s origin story varies, but one tradition links the festival to an epic Hindu story, Ramayana, where Lord Rama, an avatar of the god Vishnu, saves his wife, Sita, who was kidnapped by the demon king Ravana, an avatar of Rakshasa. The day they returned home to their kingdom in northern India, villagers welcomed them by lighting oil lamps, and the occasion has been celebrated ever since as Diwali, which means “row or series of lights.”
The festival is celebrated by other faiths in India, and so its rituals vary by region, but it typically lasts five days and reaches a climactic ceremony, which took place this year on Nov. 7. It’s traditional for celebrants to wear ornate clothing and decorate their homes with diyas, or lamps, and on that climactic day a service is held with traditional prayers and chants, and offerings of flowers, fruit or milk are made to Lakshmi, the goddess of prosperity.
The festival also celebrates the goddess Lakshmi, wife of Vishnu and namesake of the local temple.
“Today is a big celebration for her,” Murthy said.
Nate Natesan – a member of the temple who spreads Swacch Devalaya, a mission to bring discipline, respect and civic sense to temples – said Diwali represents the battle between darkness and light.
“This is all about good and bad within us, like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. If Dr. Jekyll can always be present and try to keep Mr. Hyde at bay, you will find peace,” he said. “Darkness is a fact of life. When the sun goes away, there is darkness. When goodness goes away, darkness takes over. As long as you hold onto the light, darkness does not attack the light.”
Prasanna Srinivasa stopped by the temple on Tuesday with his wife, Srividhya, and daughters, Pranavi, 14, and Prajna, 8.
“We come here every week,” he said. “So this being a special week, we come here and pray to the gods to give us good health, prosperity, take out all the negativities and show us good light.”
Before the local temple opened in 2015, the family went to the Hindu Temple of Atlanta in Riverdale, where Murthy also served as second senior priest for 18 years. Srividhya Srinivasa said the temple is a 10-minute drive, which is much more convenient.
“It’s really good,” she said. “The priests are very good and the way they do puja [or worship].”
Pravani said she regularly sings at the temple and enjoys what the festival brings.
“Diwali is really fun because there are firecrackers, and it’s really colorful,” she said. “We get to come here and celebrate our festivals with people, and they understand.”