We had a Happy Diwali!
By Caru Das
In the past, we have limited our advertisements for Diwali, fearing that as the colder weather forces everything indoors, and the temple capacity is 500, we shouldn’t aspire for more attendees. This year, however, we had built an outdoor stage, the weather has been very nice (mid 60’s during the day) and we had the idea to put out patio heaters on the verandah. Thus there were three places where more than 1,000 people could congregate: The downstairs gift store and buffet, the upstairs temple room, and the out door verandah with heaters and stage.
We printed 300 color posters (about half the number we do for a summer event) and placed two ads in the BYU newspaper. Actually I had ordered only one six column inch ad for Wednesday morning. I happened to pick up a copy of the paper that day when I was at the Smith Field House for running, and was crestfallen to see no ad in the issue. I thought there will be no BYU students at the event because of this oversight on the part of Mike Siebert, our ad representative for the Daily Universe. As it turned out, when I contacted him to convey my distress, Mike told me he’d made an oversight all right. He’d mis-scheduled the ad which appeared Tuesday the day before. In order to atone for the mistake, he gave another free insertion in the Thursday paper. The result was a flood of young BYU students coming to the temple for the first time.
Vaibhavi and I cooked all day Friday and most of the day Saturday. Every festival this year, the crowds have been record breaking and no matter how much we have cooked, we have always run out. I was determined this not would not be the case for Diwali, and spent every spare moment for two days putting together as much prasadam as possible. There were about 20 gallons of mataar paneer, 10 gallons of channa, 10 gallons of gouranga potatoes, and 20 gallons of rice pillao. In addition, many guests like Brian, Minna Kumar, Pragna, Chandrika Sharda, and others brought significant quantities to augment the “Anna Kuta”. Still, lines for prasadam were across the room out the door and around the corner. We ran out of everything, with the result Vaibhavi and Minna Kumar were desperately in the kitchen cooking extra to keep up.
As we were going to use the rear projection screen on the outdoor stage, for backdrop during the drama and ambiance to the dancers programs, I airfreighted in a ceiling mounted screen to use in the temple room. It arrived overnight freight on Friday, and Jairam installed it with the help of Gilley and Jaimin, visiting from Phoenix.
The event started at 6 pm with my power point presentation on the brand new screen. I’d spent some time putting together this show, which covered, with lots of great graphics, Govardhan puja, Churning of the Ocean of Milk, Appearance of Lakshmi and Dhanvantari, return of Sita and Ram to Ayodhya after 14 years. By the time I concluded at 5:45 pm the packed temple room erupted with applause. Following this we celebrated Govardhan Puja, doing aratik, circumambulating, chanting, and eventually taking as prasadam the Govardhan Hill prepared by Pragna. By now we had 300 people in the temple room and another 300 downstairs in the buffet and gift store. Jai Krishna and I had just enough room to do our little two – man – sit – down – at – a – small – table comedy, “Down Under”.
At this juncture, I announced the performing arts program on the outdoor stage, which included what turned out to be excellent dance programs by Deepika Vijayanand and Bonhi Choudhury, as well as the fun comedy by Hayley and Zack Perry, “Dracula Gets a Gita.” I also invited anyone who wanted to stay in the temple room to join Jai Krishna, Bharat, Mekala, Jairam, Gerald, and others in kirtan. Thus though the temple room somewhat emptied out for the outdoor show, it quickly filled again with young people who were very enthusiastic about chanting kirtan.
At the end of the outdoor program in the spectacular background setting of lake, waterfall, star lit sky (temperature was about 50 – 55 degrees) and Wasatch mountains, Dhiru, AC, Patrick and Linda, brought our three pure bred Zebo cows to the fore. Gauri, Gita, and the bull Nandi regally accepted an aratik as their due and lovingly allowed long lines of reverent children and adults to anoint their foreheads with sindhoor and stroke their sleek coats. All the while Pragna, Suman and Mina enchanted with the singing of “Govinda Jai Jaya.”
By the time the outside crowd of 300 had merged back in the temple room with the 200 people who were doing kirtan (there were still another 200 people eating and shopping in the gift store downstairs), there was a great momentum for Maha mantra. What followed was the most extraordinary kirtan outside of Holi that we have ever seen. Jai Krishna, the kirtan leader was pumped full of ecstasy from having chanted with such a big crowd for two hours already, and when another few hundred merged, he started taking huge jumps high up in the air! He is a professional martial artist, has played Hanuman for the last 21 years at our Festival of India, and can really lift high off the floor! Everyone was infected by his bliss and also started jumping! Hundreds of young people, with huge ear splitting grins, rose repeatedly high off the ground, hands in the air, chanting for all they were worth. It was amaaazing! Downstairs, Sandhya, Cary, Henriett, who were doing the gift store, and Alanath at the food booth, thought the whole second floor, supported by four of the strongest, thickest steel beams in Utah, was going to come crashing down.
The aratik and garbha dancing which followed could have been anti climactic, but were not. Ramesh and Yogi lit 108 candles on the altar, Pragna and Mina, Suman led the aratik, most attendees lit candles, offered them to Damodar, with wishes for the coming year. Then the rugs were rolled up and put outside to make space for the garba and dandiya rasas (same folk dances as performed by Lord Krishna and the gopis thousands of years ago).
The only way to accommodate so many in the temple room was to arrange circles within circles. We put the most experienced dancers, the Indians, in the center circle, so everyone else could see them and take cue. It worked out well, and within minutes hundreds of westerners were doing the garba like adepts. It took a little longer later for everyone to get the rhythm of the stick dance, but once they did all moved in unison. Mekala took some video clips of the dancing, to which we will provide a link as soon as we can.
E-mail received this am.
Hello: Thanks for the wonderful Event at your Temple grounds last night. 11/10/07 It was a delightful journey with so many smiling faces and ecstatic worship. Many thanks again for all the hard work and efforts by those who helped bring this festival to the community.