Like many other religious events this year, the Hindu festival of Navratri and have also had to adjust to the coronavirus pandemic constraints, with temples across the UK and worldwide moving to online spaces to keep the festive and spiritual spirit alive.
in London, popularly known as the , has been facilitating several virtual activities this year, such as broadcasting live aartis and puja ceremonies.
The temple recently celebrated its 25th anniversary since opening in August 1995 and connected thousands across the globe virtually for a worldwide prayer of peace as part of its anniversary celebrations.
“It was a fantastic event, with people participating in the Vishwa Shanti mantra (prayer of peace). Families were sent pre-packaged materials from the temple to take part in the ceremony from the comfort and safety of their homes,” says Bhavik Depala, from the Mandir.
All plans are now focussed on Diwali, with the anniversary celebrations set to carry on as part of the grand festivities. As part of the latest , we caught up with Depala to share more insights on this year’s festivities going virtual.
Celebrated by , , and Hindus the world over, Diwali is popularly known as the Festival of Lights and is one of the most auspicious events in the Hindu calendar.
This year, it falls on November 14, which marks the Hindu New Year – celebrated over five days and associated with Lord Rama’s return to his kingdom of after exile and rescuing his wife, Goddess Sita, from the demon king Ravana.
Celebrated with grand opulence, the festival is marked with the lighting of candles (diyas) symbolising goodness and purity, and as a means to get rid of darkness for light to enter. Firework displays, family celebrations, and group feasts are all part of the grand celebration of this festival.
With celebrations set to be impacted by social distancing restrictions, the Neasden Temple is planning a unique special online programme to bring the opulence of Diwali alive through a virtual lens.
“This year will be totally different from what everyone would have liked for it to be, however, we are doing our best to ensure that Diwali is celebrated (within government guidelines) as it usually would have been," explains Depala.
Activities and events which are still being finetuned, include a host of online spiritual activities tailored for adults, children, and the elderly.
Depala notes: “Devotees will be sent special Diwali packages that include special prasad and the Hindu New Year calendar, which many look forward to receiving when they visit the temple. There will also be an online puja where members of the public can offer their accounting ledgers.
“These ledgers are often given by students and those in employment as a way to bless them for the New Year. For this, the temple will be sending out special packages to all devotees so they can perform this puja at home, which will be led by the Swamis who reside at the Mandir.”
With further activities and dates yet to be finalised, Depala points out that the online celebration will seek to involve everyone.
“We are encouraging people to make Diwali cards and rangoli designs for their own homes, which they can also send to the Mandir. This is a great activity for children too.”
Its popular YouTube ‘Timeless Hindu Wisdom’ web series, launched during the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic to deliver insightful teachings from ancient Hindu scriptures, will also be tailored to explore spiritual teachings and insights on Diwali.
Another major festival in the Hindu calendar, Navratri, was also celebrated in similar virtual aplomb. Navratri is derived from two Sanskrit words ‘nava’ meaning nine and ‘ratri’ meaning night. Celebrated globally, the Navratri festival celebrates the defeat of Mahishasura by Goddess Durga – signifying the victory of good over evil.
During this festival, which is also known as , many devotees fast for the course of the nine days, and gather in the temple to perform Garba and Dandiya dances. It is said that these dance forms are a dramatisation of the nine-day battle between Goddess Durga and the demon king Mahishasura, in which the Goddess emerged victorious.
The festival, held last month, was more of an intimate and personal celebration for families this year. Depala reveals: “Our day to day webcasts, aartis, and spiritual readings continue as they have been doing since the start of lockdown.”
Along the lines of the ‘iGlobal’ , the central theme revolves around unity and #InspireTogether.
Depala notes: “The message of unity is something which is very much propagated by our spiritual leader. His Holiness Mahant Swami Maharaj always speaks about this in his discourses – on staying united, looking after your friends and family.
“That very spark of spirituality, which we have seen over a virtual platform since the course of lockdown, has given many people a sense of purpose and comfort at these difficult times.
“Togetherness, especially during these difficult times is very important. Unity is the very ethos of the Mandir.”
* to join Neasden Temple and others at the ‘iGlobal’ DiwaliFest 2020