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Diwali At Governor's Mansion in Utah, Arizona

Aug 17, 2007
Saturday evening Vaibhavi and I attended the second annual Diwali celebration and dinner (vegetarian) in the Governor's mansion. This year Dinesh was present with Kalpana, Governor Jon Huntsman and First Lady Mary Kaye (radiant in a sari), Congressman Chris Cannon, and Scott Anderson (CEO of Zion's Bank).

Others present were Lalit and Bobby Kumar, Bhaskar and Sanchaita, Jagdish Gil, Jayaraman and Rukmini, Joe and Panna Goff, Srinivasan, Sneha Kasera, Jaya Prakash and Satya, Ranjan and Deepa Gupta, Ed and Missy Ekstrom, Ashok and Surekha Joshi, Krishna Shenai, etc. There were about 75 present, with a slightly higher percentage of Indians than Westerners.

It is noteworthy that though the Indian community in Salt Lake City, spearheaded by Dinesh, numbers only 500 families, it has contributed so importantly to the quality of life in Utah. Opening up the mansion for this celebration each year is a measure of Governor Hunstman's great appreciation and thanks for all that they bring to the state.

Beyond even this, Governor Huntsman and Mary Kaye are in the process of adopting an orphaned Indian girl, one and a half years old. Dinesh has been helping them with this for a year and they expect to fetch her from Gujarat by Xmas. They have renamed her Asha (Hope) Bharati (India). As soon as the Governor and Mary Kaye return to the US with her, they want to bring her to the Spanish Fork temple for a blessing ceremony.

Vaibhavi and I, with the help of Satish Kumar, priest of the Ganesh temple, and Surya, set up an altar in the upstairs dining room with Deities Ganesh and Lakshmi. I was asked by Dinesh to provide the commentary ( * as below) and organize the puja. Satish expertly chanted much of the Sanskrit.

While Satish intoned verses from Sri Suktam, I anointed the foreheads of Gov. Huntsman, Dinesh, and Ashok Joshi. These gentlemen did the same for their wives: Mary Kaye, Kalpana, and Surekha. Their husbands tied the "rakhis" onto their wives' left wrists and the ladies performed the ceremonial lighting of the lamps. We did Shoda Sadupachara, or the 16 offerings to Lakshmi, the goddess of fortune, who is none other than Sita, Rama's consort. Of the 16 offerings Kalpana offered the akshita symbolic of "padyam (washing the feet), "arghyam (washing the hands), "acamanam" (rinsing the mouth), "snanam" (bathing) etc. and then all three ladies offered flowers a number of times to the chanting of "Mantra Pushpam". Finally , an offering of sweets, the atonement verses (prayascitta), and the releasing of the Deity.

After the puja, Ed Ekstrom introduced the Governor, who praised the Indian culture and shared the excitement of Asha Bharati's impending arrival. Chris Cannon spoke and Ashok Joshi wound everything up with a few remarks. Dinner. Home by 11:30 pm.

* "Diwali means 'row of lights'. When Ram returned to Ayodhya after 14 years of exile, the citizens welcomed his Pushpa Vimana, flower airplane, by lighting thousands of "deepas', or lights, throughout the city.

The entire saga of Lord Rama is told by the sage Valmiki in the epic narrative, Ramayana. This is definitely the most popular epic in all of Asia. Wherever you go -India, Thailand, Indonesia, Malayasia, Burma, Cambodia, Nepal - you see the Ramayan celebrated in art, architecture, performing arts, literature, puppetry, and sculpture. The Grand Palace in Bankok has a surrounding wall 8 feet high and 5/8 mile long with scenes of the Ramayana from start to finish. The ruins at Anchor Wat feature huge sculptures of scenes from the Ramayana.

When describing the significance of Diwali, Rama's Homecoming, and of the Ramayana, generally commentators describe it as the triumph of good over evil. As you may know, Rama, on the eve of his coronation as king of Ayodhya, through no fault of his own, was instead sent into exile for 14 years. While in the forest Ram's beautiful wife Sita, the goddess of fortune, was kidnapped by the demon Ravana. Rama' allied himself with the monkeys of the forest, including the devoted Hanuman, destroyed Ravana's city, his army and killed Ravana himself at last. Thus the description is one of good over evil.

But we do not want to elevate 'evil' to 'contender' status. Evil cannot contend with good, any more than darkness can contend with light. The Festival of Lights celebrates the power of light in the lives of great men and women everywhere. Ravana was not 'evil'. He was just ignorant: ignorant of God, of spiritual life, spiritual values, spiritual power, spiritual joys. Because he was indifferent to the cultivation of spiritual knowledge and practice, he became, by default, polluted with the three enemies of the soul: lust (kama), anger (krodha), and greed (lobha).

For instance, we know that good health is achieved with effort. The motto of one health club is "There is no such thing as staying the same. You are either striving to get better, or allowing yourself to get worse." To maintain good health one must eat rightly, exercise and take bath regularly. Failing to exercise, eat correctly, and maintain hygiene, one falls into ill health.

Thus evil was something that overcame Ravana because he was not interested in striving for the light. The sun is available for everyone, but what can you do if someone turns his back on the sun and casts himself into shadow?

At Diwali time we celebrate the superior power of light. As light very easily banishes darkness, though he was a big and powerful demon, Rama easily vanquished Ravana. No one in the history of the world was more righteous than Lord Rama. He was the perfect husband to Sita, the perfect brother to Lakshman, the perfect son of Dasratha, and the perfect ruler of his citizens. Rather than cut corners and seek for cheap short cuts, Rama cheerfully bore all the hardships of 14 years exile. Then, when finally he triumphed, he triumphed in such a grand way that we celebrate it tens of thousands of years later."
About the Author
Chakra.org is a Vaisnava website designed to encourage the growth of devotion, foster critical thinking, and promote communication among Vaisnavas world-wide. Although differences of opinion will occur, we aim to provide a forum for mutual respect among the multiple strands of our community.
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