As Hindu year comes to an end, families come together
to celebrate one of the most sacred and important festivals,
Diwali. Traditionally this time of the year also coincides with
the completion of the harvest. Young and old join together to
collect God's harvest of bountiful blessings. As an offering
of gratitude to God for his blessings, the new harvest is first
used to cook exquisite foods for the Lord.
In BAPS Swaminarayan Mandirs 'Annakut' (literally a
mountain of food) is offered to God on this day. A vast array
of vegetarian foods is traditionally arranged in tiers or steps,
in front of the Lord. The sweets are placed nearest to the Lord.
As the tiers descend, other foods such as 'dal', vegetables,
pulses and fried savory foods are arranged. A mound of cooked
rice, symbolic of Mt. Govardhan, is placed in the center.
In all Swaminarayan mandirs, sadhus and devotees
then sing 'Thaal' - kirtans composed by the poet paramhansas
of Bhagwan Swaminarayan. These kirtans list and glorify the
food items in an aesthetic, rhyming and pleasant manner, praying
to the Lord to accept them. The singing lasts for about an hour.
This is followed by a grand arti. The Annakut is left for darshan
for the devotees till evening, and then the items are taken
down. The now sanctified prasad - of sweets and dry foodstuffs
are distributed to the visitors and devotees.
In the whole of the Swaminarayan Sampraday, the grandest
offering and display of vegetarian cuisine every year, occurs
in the Annakut at the Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, in Neasden,
London. It stretches for 85ft. in length, with 7 tiers.
Every year, over 1250 different vegetarian food dishes offered
in a spectacularly devotional and aesthetic manner, a breathtaking
feast for the eyes. The Annakut in London has even earned
a Guinness World Record for the Largest Offering of Vegetarian
Food in the world.