"May there be good fortune throughout the universe, and may all envious persons be pacified. May all living entities become calm by practicing bhakti-yoga, for by accepting devotional service they will think of each other's welfare. Therefore let us all engage in the service of the supreme transcendence, Lord Sri Krsna, and always remain absorbed in thought of Him." (Srimad-Bhagavatam, Text 5.18.9)
With these words the nation's fourth oldest state capitol, the Massachusetts State House, located in Boston's venerable Beacon Hill, heralded the advent of the month of Diwali with a public celebration. The profile of Diwali (also known as the Festival of Lights or the Hindu New Year) as a holiday to be recognized and observed by all, not just Southeast Asians, has risen exponentially over the past several years, hence more and more observances nationwide. The themes, beauty and ritual appeal to all, regardless of culture, ethnicity or background.
State houses, traditionally meeting places of United States' governors, legislators and decision makers, rarely host gatherings related to religious expression or discourse. However, for the third year in a row the Massachusetts State House, amidst the majesty of its Hall of Flags & Grand Staircase, hosted a Diwali opening ceremony. Festivities included short speeches and lighting of an elaborate diya (lamp) by ISKCON Boston Temple President Pyari Mohan das and this year's honorees and invited dignitaries.
Due to arrangements of temple ally and supporter, Amit Dixit of the South Asian Arts Council, Pyari Mohan das was given the opportunity to address the gathering of politicos, the faithful and the curious. Special guests included: Lt. Col. Ravi Chaudhary, U.S. Air Force officer and member of the President's Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders; humanitarian Razia Jan of Razia's Ray of Hope Foundation, dedicated to empowering young women and girls in the Deh'Subz district of Afghanistan through free, community-based education; and State Representative Chris Walsh, standing in for Governor Deval Patrick.
The kirtan ensemble from ISKCON Boston at Massachusetts State House Great Hall
Auspicious for all was the showering of attendees with perhaps their first taste of the nectar of the Holy Names. A kirtan ensemble from ISKCON Boston, led by Caitanya Nitai das (TKS), had the privilege of providing musical accompaniment during the first hour of the program in the Great Hall.
After the kirtan and prior to the start of the main program, the musicians mingled with appreciative audience members. Special Guest Razia Jan surprised the devotees with her response to a invitation to visit ISKCON Boston. Jan, a Muslim, replied that she had already visited the temple, and thoroughly enjoyed her experience there.
As the lighting ceremony began, each special guest received a garland just before approaching the podium to speak. While Pyari Mohan das offered garlands to Chaudhary and Walsh, ISKCON Boston congregant and singer Karuna Randolph garlanded Razia Jan. Karuna, a young woman in the same age group as many of the Afghani girls Ms. Jan strives to educate and provide for, received a warm hug in return.
Razia Jan opened her talk with an amusing story. Seated just behind Representative Walsh, and scheduled to speak after him, she described eyeing his garland and thinking it so attractive and enticing that it was all she could do not to reach out and caress the beautiful flowers. Only the thought of how Walsh would react if someone unseen touched the garland he was wearing restrained her. Smiling broadly at the audience, she turned to Walsh and said, "And now I've got my own garland, and it's even better than yours!"
The ceremony concluded with the lighting of the diya by each honoree in turn. As the candles glittered softly near the podium, Pyari Mohan das concluded the ceremony by reciting "Sri guru pranama", then invoked "Srimad-Bhagavatam", Text 5.18.9 to put a Krishna-conscious slant on traditional Diwali well-wishes. Audience members were reminded that Diwali represents "…the victory of good over evil, freedom over oppression, light over darkness", but also told to recognize that as eternal spirit souls, part and parcel of the one God, their ultimate purpose is to serve God, and thus serve each other.
As a final parting gift for the honorees, each was presented with a copy of "Bhagavad-gita As It Is" and a package of maha sweets received from ISKCON Boston's presiding Deities, Sri-Sri Radha-Gopivallabha.
For over 200 years the halls and chambers of the Massachusetts State House have resounded with the futile attempts of lawmakers and politicians to bring about peaceful living conditions for their constituents, bereft of transcendental vision and to minimal permanent effect. Srila Prabhupada was adamant that as long as government officials remained materially attached, all their efforts were in vain.
By contrast, the Hare Krishna mahamantra, by being chanted at length in the Great Hall of the State House for all to hear, regardless of status or occupation, could herald the start a new era. It has planted the seed for a time when politicians, lawmakers and statesmen might be willing to perform their duties for the highest good, with Lord Krishna as the ultimate beneficiary.
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Full text of Pyari Mohan das' speech made at Massachusetts State House, Boston, Massachusetts, October 23, 2014:
[ boston ] [ diwali ]
om ajñana-timirandhasya jñanañjana-salakaya
caksur unmilitam yena tasmai sri-gurave namah
I offer my respectful obeisances unto my spiritual master, who with the torchlight of knowledge has opened my eyes, which were blinded by the darkness of ignorance.
svasty astu visvasya khalah prasidatam
dhyayantu bhutani sivam mitho dhiya
manas ca bhadram bhajatad adhoksaje
avesyatam no matir apy ahaituki
May there be good fortune throughout the universe, and may all envious persons be pacified. May all living entities become calm by practicing bhakti-yoga, for by accepting devotional service they will think of each other's welfare. Therefore let us all engage in the service of the supreme transcendence, Lord Sri Krsna, and always remain absorbed in thought of Him.
"Diwali is a time to celebrate the victory of good over evil, freedom over oppression, light over darkness. There are many problems in the world—disease, famine, war, old age and death—and although we are eternal spirit souls, full of knowledge and bliss, we have somehow fallen from the spiritual platform. At present we are in this world, and while we are here we should do our part to help others. By helping others, we ultimately help ourselves
Diwali is a time to remind us that there is one God. We are all His eternal servants and we should do our part to serve Him and make this world better place. Service to God aims to uplift mankind.
The lighting of a candle or flame on Diwali represents the triumph of light over darkness. It also signifies that I who am lighting this candle will do my part to help fight against darkness in this world and make the world a little brighter.
Man proposes, God disposes. God is fulfilling all our desires, and we let Him know what we desire by our actions. It isn't always enough to think or say "I want peace." We should show God we want peace by our actions. Someone may have had the desire for the children of Afghanistan to get a good education, but unless she had shown God by her actions, it may never have come to pass. Merely thinking about it or even talking about it may not be enough to make a change, we have to act on the desire. Actions speak louder than words.
When we light a candle on this Diwali we can think, "I will do my part to make this world a better place by my thoughts, words and actions." So by lighting these candles we are acknowledging that we will do the needful to ultimately achieve the victory of good over evil, truth over falsehood, light over darkness. With God's will, it can happen.
I wish you all a happy and spiritually prosperous Diwali, and may you all be successful in your endeavors to make this world a little bit brighter. Thank you very much. Hare Krishna!"