Hundreds of Hindus have been gathering at the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, or temple, in Bartlett over the weekend and early this week to celebrate Diwali, a five-day festival of lights.
Small lamps, colorful clothing and sweet smells from Indian food could be found throughout the elaborate temple Monday, which marked the first day of the Hindu new year.
Hindus, along with many school and community groups, crowded through an exhibit in the cultural center, which focused on the meaning of the mandir. They also went inside the worship space, where an annakut -- literally, a mountain of food -- was on display and worshippers participated in aarti, a ritual of worship that involves singing and the waving lights in a clockwise motion in front of deities.
Payal Shah of Bartlett said Diwali is a celebration of good over evil, especially within one's heart.
"It's an internal assessment of finding the good within ourselves, overcoming our flaws, our weaknesses and preparing for a new year," she said. "And with that, a lot of festivities and merriment -- food, decor, getting together with family."
Both the theme of good over evil and the tradition of lights comes from the Hindu story of King Rama overcoming the evil King Ravana and returning to his city, where he was greeted with streets lined with lights and colorful patterned designs on the ground made of sand.
"It's not only external light, but it's really a light within ourselves that glows this time of year," Shah added about Diwali's meaning.
Anand Soni of Glendale Heights said he enjoys Diwali because it's an opportunity to wear traditional Indian clothing, decorate homes with lights, make traditional food and create an environment different from the rest of the year.
"It allows you to focus forward and say what have I learned from the past, and what are my goals, and what are the things I want to improve on for the upcoming year," he said.
He added that in India, families go from house to house sharing sweets on the new year. But since it is not practical to do that in the suburbs, the mandir gives friends a central location to meet.
Ushma Lakhani of Houston is a native of the Chicago area who came back home to celebrate Diwali at the mandir. She said the new year is an important time for her to be with her family and reflect.
"This is a time you want to introspect about yourself -- what can I do this year to make myself a better person?" she said, adding that it is similar to the American new year tradition of making resolutions.
Purvi Patel of Hanover Park said she spends the whole day of every new year at the mandir.
"This feels like home for me," she said, adding that while she was born and raised in the United States she knows many of the visitors who immigrated are reminded of India when they come to the mandir, which is celebrating its 10th year.
"It's so traditionally made, it's like you're in India. It's just a very big symbol of our culture and our heritage," she said.