The joyous sound of hundreds of voices raised in prayer and gratitude Friday filled the Hindu temple on Oak Ridge Road as the congregation, dressed in vibrant holiday clothing, raised flames aloft.
At the front of the room were mountains of colorful vegetarian food and drink given as thanks to images of the deities and with hope for peace, prosperity, good health and happiness in the year ahead.
The festival, called Annakut, was the culmination of an annual five-day celebration known as Diwali, the festival of lights. It was held at BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, the largest of about a dozen Hindu temples in Central Florida, members said.
“This is a joyous day,” said Jyoti Patel, who got up early to bake a cake for the occasion made of grated cabbage, zucchini, corn, chili peppers, ginger, yogurt, semolina and chickpea flour.
Hindus don’t eat meat, fish or eggs. Their faith stresses nonviolence and respect for all creatures and rejects smoking, drinking and drugs.
Annakut was a riot of primary colors that featured tiers of elaborately decorated cakes, an intricate temple made of cookies, carved fruit, bowls of vegetable dishes and tall canisters of grains, all against a backdrop of cascading flowers and images of four gods.
In the front was a train made of red, green and yellow peppers, cucumbers, carrots, celery and broccoli. Next to it were big bowls of chocolate-covered strawberries and bananas and two elaborately carved papayas flanked by a globe crafted from a melon.
The colors were echoed in the hot pink, crimson, bright green, regal purple and royal blue saris of the women and girls. They glowed during the ceremony of light, arti, when devotees wave lighted wicks in prayer to infuse the flames with the deities’ love, energy and blessings. Gongs, bells and drums accompanied the rising tide of voices.
The theme of the celebration was samp, or unity.
“We’re able to accomplish anything if we work together,” said Krisha Amin, 21, a University of Florida student who plans to become a dentist.
Dr. Jamin Brahmbhatt, 36, a Clermont urologist, said Diwali is a time when Hindus think of how they can unite personally, spiritually and as families and a community. Their faith, with its emphasis on a daily morning and evening prayer ritual called puja, is a way of life, he said.
“All religions have pretty much the same thing: How can you be a good person? How can you be a good citizen and how can you make the best of the time you have here?” Brahmbhatt said.
Diwali, he said, is “the victory of good over evil, light over darkness and knowledge over ignorance, and that’s what we’re celebrating.”
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