But it was no less important, said Brahmamdam, one of the founders of the Hindu Temple of Greater Springfield and its temporary voluntary priest.
“I would say it’s a reinforcement of the culture and tradition in our Hindu religion,” said Brahmamdam. “Children especially will ask about the significance (of Diwali), so it’s an opportunity to teach them so that culture and tradition can continue.”
Close to 400 local Hindus, along with some Jains and Sikhs, gathered at the temple on Chatham’s west side Wednesday night, although there are now about 500 Hindu families in the area, along with about 500 students from India at the University of Illinois Springfield, according to Brahmamdam.
Festival-goers offered ritual pujas, or prayers, including those to Lakshmi, the deity of wealth, happiness and prosperity, before retreating outside for fireworks.
Beforehand, those gathered burned in effigy a figure of Narakasura, a demon king who imprisoned thousands of inhabitants of southern India, where he ruled. Narakasura was defeated by Lord Krishna, in Hindu legend, and the battle is celebrated as part of Diwali in some parts of India.
Temple president Dr. Nimavat Dharmendra said Diwali also commemorates the victory of Lord Rama over Ravana and in general signifies “the triumph of good over evil.”
Another tradition for Hindus, he said, is house-cleaning. Lakshmi, who is depicted with four arms and sitting in a lotus flower, is known to visit tidy homes where she showers blessings, said Brahmamdam.
Brahmamdam said his family made a special prashad, or offering of food, to Lakshmi.
Light is an important part of the festival, added Brahmamdam. Many local Hindus light diyas, or clay lamps, at their homes.
But light is also shakti, or divine energy, explained Brahmamdam, and Diwali also commemorates that energy triumphing over darkness, or ignorance.
Brahmamdam acknowledged that there is difficulty when Diwali here falls on a weekday.
“We don’t celebrate as much as we do back home,” said Brahmamdam, who is originally from southern India and works for the State Board of Education. “There we would visit local family and friends. It’s an all-day-long celebration. We miss that.
“(Diwali) happens to be the most popular festival that people attend here. It’s the one with peak traffic (at the temple).”
In some parts of India, Diwali is celebrated as the beginning of the New Year.
“This is the time, the end of the year, when we reflect on our shortcomings,” added Dharmendra. “We ask ourselves what we have achieved? Are we accomplishing our goals?”
Here, many pujas and meals are contained to home, though Brahmamdam said it’s important for local Hindus to gather communally.