Suburban Hindus usher in New Year with colorful feast

urlgetBinal Amin scrubbed the marble pillars, inch by inch, with a toothbrush.

This was a decade ago when Bartlett’s ornate Hindu temple was built, the product of some 2.5 million volunteer hours. And Amin had the task of ridding the white marble of wet cement.

Her devotion to BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir — part temple, part community center — has clearly stuck 10 years later.

On Friday, she admired the result of another meticulous job: what looked like a shimmering piece of fabric draped across a table at the mandir off Route 59.

It really was sand — dyed, baked and strained before Amin and fellow suburban Hindu women poured the grains into a pattern of blue peacocks, the national bird of India.

They worked through the night Wednesday on the Rangoli, one of the traditions uprooted from the home to the temple for Diwali. The five-day festival of light ushers in the Hindu New Year and reinforces a spirt of service, Amin said.

“We celebrate all these big Hindu festivals in a grand fashion because they’re important to us,” the West Chicago woman said. “There’s such great meaning behind it.”

Amin acted as friendly tour guide to an exhibit on the quiet campus of the mandir — translating to “where your mind becomes still” — welcoming thousands of worshippers and buses of students who learned about Indian customs.

“It’s an excellent way not only to romanticize our past but also to come back to the present and see how colorful our culture is,” said Harish Patel, who lives in Bartlett. “There’s all this pomp and gaiety going around with it.”

The exhibition’s centerpiece was the Annakut — a “mountain of food” — all vegetarian delicacies. It was a feast for the eyes: columns of whole pumpkins and watermelons with delicate carvings rose above savory and sweet dishes.

“Because it’s the first meal you’re offering God, it’s also the most sacred for us,” said Amin, who baked raspberry almond short bread cookies.

The public room, Patel noted, was “conceived, created and displayed” by the mandir’s younger generations. Many are Indian Americans who can better understand their heritage and one of the holiest festivals on the Hindu calendar, marking the triumph of good over evil.

“It’s about celebrating that devotion,” said Kirtan Thakkar, 26, of Hanover Park. “Taking a look back on your life. How did you improve your life to better help the community?”

The mandir helps answer those questions with regular blood drives, donations to food pantries and health fairs, Amin said.

“This is true Hinduism,” she said. “This is what we learn here in this beautiful mandir that everybody has put so much time and effort making.”

Source: Daily Herald