At a suburban Hindu temple, a joyous and pensive look at the year ahead

Back before Twitter and Facebook and the era of cellphone ubiquity, Mayur Thaker got word of the attack in a call to the family landline. Two gunmen had killed dozens of people at a temple in India's Gujarat state; It was 2002. Thaker was 17. Thaker was 17. Thaker was 17. Thaker was 17. And he could not understand why so many people – even monks, the very definition of nonviolence – had been targeted. "That turned to anger soon thereafter," he said. On Saturday, this time for a joyous celebration of Diwali and the Hindu New Year, Thaker thought of that tragic past and more recent attempted political bombings in the U.S. and deadly synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh. His Holiness Pramukh Swami Maharaj, who was in India's religious strife, said he was recalled as the leader of his Hinduism. He prayed for the victims. And he prayed for the attackers.
Hindus pray at the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir. (Evelyn Hockstein / For The Washington Post) "I was shocked and inspired at the same time," said Thaker, who now works as a stock market analyst, "because a response would only come from someone who has no ego and truly has humility inside of him. "Theaters and thousands of others gathered at their Maryland temple Saturday for an exuberant and pensive look at the year ahead. Diwali, known as the Festival of Lights, signifies a celebration of good over evil and the victory of light over darkness. As Thaker sees it, it's a "time to celebrate unity in diversity, and to look forward to the change we wish to see in the world." Singing in unison, they join a staggering display of more than a thousand homemade dishes, from lentils and cupcakes to chapatis and orange-and-fuchsia-colored traditional sweets. "Bijal Thaker, a finance analyst who brought indochinese chili tofu dish as an offering. (Husband Mayur went with chocolate cake.)

Temple attendees take photos outside the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir. (Evelyn Hockstein / For The Washington Post) The towering spread, climbing up cloth-covered altar steps at the front of the room, is meant to signify a year's worth of food, given first to God, then made available for all to share, she said, as monks and families lifted candles before them. "That's what it looks like to me – offering a lot of love," Bijal Thaker said. Or, as Ekansh Dave, 10, of Germantown put it, speaking for many of his contemporaries: "I need to eat some of that! It's beautiful! "It was the temple's 20th birthday party. The former suburban office building, Arbitron, has been transformed over the years with intricate columns and decorative flourishes outside. In 2010, a ceiling and some offices were removed to create a grand hall with 22-foot ceilings. Bharat Patel, who is working as a structural engineer at the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, where he has worked on Metro's parking garages across the region. With the echoes of mass shootings not far away, "a message of love and peace and nonviolence, that's what we need the most right now," Patel said. Diwali was actually Wednesday, but with kids at school and parents at work, a weekend event gave more people the opportunity to join, organizers said. Shaili Shah, 21, first came to the temple when she was 4. The dental student at Rutgers caught a bus home to Columbia to commemorate the sacred holiday with parents and friends. "This is the day I wait for the entire year. And Tonight I'm going to wait for next year's Diwali, "Shah said. "I love coming home. I love offering food to God. "It's a reminder of duty as a daughter and a friend, she said, and as a person who does not cheat or eat meat and aspires to be" honest and respectful to everybody. "It's So a lot of fun dressing up in a traditional sari, she said, and crafting the savory cheese pastries for the offering. "It's really reassuring to know this part of my culture is not going anywhere, because it has not gone anywhere last 15 years," added Haley Patel, 21, a senior aerospace engineering student at the University of Maryland. "It's a good thing to be part of, and be a part of so long."

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