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Why you should know more about the Hindu festival of Diwali
FCN Diwali Karthick Dixit 110418
Sri Karthick Dixit, the founder of Shiva Durga Temple in west Forsyth County, prepares for an evening service on Friday, Nov. 2, 2018. - photo by Brian Paglia

It was almost 6:30 p.m., and Sri Karthick Dixit, the founder of Shiva Durga Temple, greeted the first devotees for an evening service on Friday, four men who had called Dixit asking for directions to the temple just minutes earlier.

“Namaste,” Dixit said.

The Shiva Durga Temple is hard to find. Activities started last month in one unit of a small warehouse off Bethelview Road in west Forsyth County, but it won’t be hard to find for long. Across the street is a sign designating the temple’s future home, the plans for which hang on the wall inside the current location.

That will be the fourth Hindu temple in Forsyth County and another indicator of the area’s increasing diversity, fueled in part by a growing Indian community in southern parts of the county.

FCN Diwali Shiva Durga Temple 110418
Shiva Durga Temple, in west Forsyth County, is ready for devotees for an evening service on Friday, Nov. 2, 2018. - photo by Brian Paglia

According to Data USA, the most common birthplace for a foreign-born resident in Forsyth County in 2016 was India (6,604), followed by Mexico (5,208) and Korea (2,085).

Before moving to Forsyth County five years ago, Dixit served in Raleigh, N.C., but he traveled to the Atlanta area at least twice a year to meet with other devotees. Talk began of wanting to start a temple, so Dixit moved to the county five years ago to begin the process. Last April, they held a groundbreaking ceremony for their temple’s future location.

“The followers wanted something we can give for the next generation,” Dixit said.

On Friday, the temple was making preparations for Diwali, the festival of lights for Hindus that symbolizes the triumph of light over darkness and good over evil.

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. 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 takes place this year on Wednesday, 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.

For Dixit, he cherishes the festival’s ability to bring together different faiths. Diwali is also observed by Sikhs, Jains and some Buddhists, and so Dixit likens the festival’s unifying quality to that of an ocean that brings together many rivers of different names.

“The rivers have so many names, but when they come to the ocean, they lose their names,” Dixit said. “Same thing when Diwali comes. When the Diwali celebration comes, there’s just one (people).”