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For this project, I decided to attend the Diwali festival celebration during the night at the Hindu Temple of Virginia in Sterling on November 11th, 2015. I come from a family that is extremely pious. Both of my parents were born in Pakistan and were raised with strict Islamic backgrounds. They were taught to pray five times a day on a daily basis and to abide to all Islamic principles. As a result, I was raised in the same manner. After learning about the Hindu faith in class and with Diwali approaching, I thought it would be a good idea to partake in the celebration to observe the festivities and compare it to Islamic rituals.
My neighbor and I arrived at the temple about 10 minutes prior to the start of the first event. The temple itself was simply inside a small warehouse. The event started off as a priest slowly walked into the room while holding the idol. Another priest fanned the idol and chanted loudly, presumably praising the deity. A man rang a bell as the priests seated the idol. At the same exact time, the participants walked slowly behind the priests and sat down in two scattered rows with space in between. Most of the participants wore traditional clothing while others were casual. The two priests who led the event continued to chant and clap with the participants doing the same. After several minutes of chanting, the priests gave a lecture on the importance of Diwali. They talked about the significance of worshipping Lakshmi as the goddess of wealth and prosperity as well as the history of Diwali, which is celebrated in honor of Rama’s victory in a war of good versus evil. Shortly after the lectures, the priests began chanting again as they placed multiple garlands around the idol. They lit more candles and incense as the tone of their chants became meditative. The priests waved food in front of the idol and turned the lights off as they continued to chant for a few more minutes. They came to an abrupt stop and turned on the lights, signaling the end of the puja. Afterwards, the priests offered sweets and snacks to the participants and led them outside as they lit fireworks. In addition, they provided toys for the children to play with as the event came to a close.
Overall, the atmosphere of the service was very joyous throughout. There were about 50 people who partook in the service and a vast majority of them were Indian, although I did notice a few people of different ethnicities as well. I realized that there was no discrimination of any kind as men and women freely sat together. Based off of their clothing, the participants seemed to be middle-classed. Personally, I decided not to participate in the service and felt more comfortable observing it from a distance. In terms of emotion, I felt a little anxious with all the noise, but essentially, by the end of the puja, I felt relieved and content. I was very surprised with how courteous all the participants were despite all the commotion. Not even the children were ill-mannered even the slightest.
During my visit to this temple, I was able to develop a better understanding of the values pertaining to the group through my observations. By attended this service, I learned that equality among the participants is a major aspect of the temples rituals. Throughout the entire event, not a single person was isolated and everyone was together at all times. When I first started to observe the group, I thought that the two of rows of participants was to separate them due to differences, but it almost seemed like it was done to diversify the group even more. Although most of the group consisted of Hindus, some people were formal while others were casual. However, that didn’t affect the participation of the group as everyone chanted and partook in the rituals. Based off of the simplicity of the temple being in a warehouse located in a suburban city, I think that this event shows how committed the community is in their worship. While I observed the service, I felt like I was in an actual temple due to the festive vibe that the community brought to the event. I personally think that the particular group of people attended the service to come together and show how their underlying differences don’t affect their worship. At the end of the day, they all follow the same faith and that’s the essential bond of their community.
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