First Lady Hosts Diwali at White House

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First Lady Michelle Obama addressing the gathering at the Diwali celebration in the elegant East Room of the White House

Over 200 members of the Hindu, Sikh and Jain faiths pack the elegant East Room of the White House

By Geeta Goindi

Washington, DC, November 5, 2013 – It was a heart-warming sight, Tuesday afternoon, as First Lady Michelle Obama lit the traditional Indian Diya (lamp) at the Diwali celebration in the ornate East Room of the White House which looked even more magnificent that day!

On stage with her were Pandit Janaki Ram Marthi of Sri Siva Vishnu Temple who chanted Vedic mantras for peace and prosperity and Mythili Bachu, chairperson of the temple, who garlanded the First Lady.

Some 240 eminent professionals of the Hindu, Sikh and Jain communities packed the room. It is noteworthy that President Obama has the distinction of appointing the largest number of Indian-Americans in any US administration so far.

Among those present at the special Diwali celebration were: Lieutenant Colonel Ravi Chaudhary, an Air Force officer, who introduced the First Lady; Sri Srinivasan, Judge of the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit; Mr. Taranjit Singh Sandhu, Deputy Chief of Mission at the Indian Embassy; Gautam Raghavan, Public Engagement Advisor at the White House; Kiran Ahuja, Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders; about forty students who participated earlier in the day, with the First Lady, in a Bollywood dance workshop led by choreographer Nakul Dev Mahajan in the State Room of the White House; and members of Goldspot, a New York based band founded by singer Siddhartha Khosla, who performed at the event. The First Lady wore a glamorous skirt especially made for the occasion by India-born designer Naeem Khan who was seated in the audience.

Looking around at the gathering, Michelle Obama said, “you all are the bright shining lights for this country and such extraordinary role models for all of the young people who are here with us today. And I want our young people, as you sit in this room, to think about all these wonderful role models are doing and how it is our expectation that you too live up to that”.

Noting that Diwali has been celebrated every year at the White House since President Obama came to office, she said, “there’s a reason why we’ve done that. When we say that we want to make the White House the ‘people’s house’, we mean all people. We mean that we want to honor and embrace all of the many cultures and faith traditions that make us who we are as Americans. And Diwali is very much one of those traditions”.

While Michelle Obama applauded all that is good and positive on the festive occasion, she cautioned, “we remember that there is still evil in the world” and she dwelt on the tragedy at the Oak Creek Gurdwara.

On August 5, 2012, a white supremacist, Wade Michael Page, went on a shooting spree at the Gurdwara in Wisconsin killing six worshippers – Satwant Singh Kaleka, Paramjit Kaur, Sita Singh, Ranjit Singh, Prakash Singh and Suveg Singh – and wounding others, including Lieutenant Brian Murphy, the police officer who responded to the attack, and Punjab Singh, a member of the Sangat (Sikh congregation) who is paralyzed. The names of the victims are forever etched in our collective consciousness.

Recent studies have shown over 70 percent of Americans cannot identify a Sikh and more often than not, confuse turban-wearing Sikhs with Muslims. Ignorance is not bliss!

The epitome of kindness and compassion, our First Lady told the gathering at the White House, “I’m thinking today about what happened in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, just last year when an act of unthinkable violence shook a community to its core. But, I am also thinking of how in the face of such evil, we also witnessed the power of goodness and forgiveness. The families and community leaders I met when I visited Oak Creek just weeks after the tragedy, they showed us such courage and grace. Instead of giving in to bitterness or despair, they honored those they lost through service. They honored those they lost through educating others about their faith and standing up to prejudice in whatever form it takes.

I’m also thinking of all the people across America and around the world who held prayer vigils during that time and sent messages of love and support, and held the people of Oak Creek in their hearts”, she said.

Michelle Obama continued, “Today, as we further reflect upon the power of courage and grace, I am also thinking of all of the women and men of every faith and background who are serving and enriching this country so greatly every single day – folks like Lieutenant Colonel Chaudhary”.

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First Lady Michelle Obama: “As we light the Diya (lamp), we recommit ourselves to the triumph of light over darkness, of good over evil”

She noted that Diwali is a time of celebration. “As Barack and I learnt during our visit to India, it’s a time to come together with friends and family, often with dancing and good food”, she said. “But, Diwali is also a time for contemplation and reflection. It’s a time for us to think about our obligations to our fellow human beings, particularly those who are less fortunate than we are. And as we light the diya, we (must) recommit ourselves to the triumph of light over darkness, of good over evil”.

The First Lady’s predilection for the performing arts is well known and she warmly commended the artistes on hand, Nakul Dev Mahajan and members of Goldspot, who, she pointed out, “are leaders in the arts and bring us joy through music and dance”.

She told the gathering, “Nakul is here from one of my favorite shows on the planet, ‘So You Think You Can Dance’. It is. And, of course, as you all know, I think I can dance”, she said, evoking memories of her dance in Mumbai three years ago when she observed Diwali there, mesmerizing the nation.

Much to the delight of the audience at the White House, she disclosed, “We got to practice a little Bollywood this afternoon. And we have many of the young people who were there with us today. We got moves, right?”, she said, looking at the kids who danced with her in the workshop.

“It was the first time that we did Bollywood in the State Room here at the White House”, Michelle Obama told the gathering, adding, “We had a wonderful time”.

Looking around the packed room, she said, “I am so proud and so honored to be celebrating this beautiful holiday at the White House with all of you. I want to thank you for everything that you do for our communities and for this country. And I wish you all and all your loved ones a Happy Diwali and Saal Mubarak”.

As a token of appreciation and in keeping with the tradition of Diwali, the guests were given beautiful boxes of Mithai (Indian sweets), kind courtesy of the Sri Siva Vishnu Temple. Sweet ending to one of the sweetest celebrations in the White House!

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First Lady Michelle Obama joined students for a Bollywood Dance Clinic led by choreographer Nakul Dev Mahajan, in the State Room of the White House. Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy
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25 thoughts on “First Lady Hosts Diwali at White House

  1. Happy Diwali to all.My birthday is on Diwali day I always think it must have some reason have not found yet!!
    I admire Mrs. Obama to open the door for a diversity of culture, it is a beautiful world , all the culture of the world are very beautiful and all the worship and different prayer has one meaning PEACE.I pray for peace in the world 🙏

    Liked by 1 person

    1. How can you say you want to honor the many cultures which makes up the American people but yet Diwali is not recognized as a public holiday. It’s a day of fasting which is broken at sunset followed by worship. You’re just a hypocrite for the comment you made.

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    2. How can you say you want to honor the many cultures which makes up the American people but yet Diwali is not recognized as a public holiday. It’s a day of fasting which is broken at sunset followed by worship. You’re being a hypocrite Michelle for the comment you made.

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      1. This comment is silly. Respecting cultures does not mean you start having holidays on each event. That way you will have an year of holidays . Nobody stops you from taking a holiday . Asking government to give you vacation to prove the point that they respect your culture is awkward and does not befit an indian culture

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    1. Here in S.Africa we have beside Diwali being celebrated in every Hindu home,we also have events like The Durban Diwali Festival-on the Durban beachfront,Diffrent cultures participate ,and is normally held a week before Diwali,over the weekend..its a grand affair

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Why Christianity, the pillar, the foundation of our country isnot celebrated at the White House? This Administration went as far as to say that he couldn’t celebrate the National Day of Prayer to avoid offending others. Not even Christian from Syria, that are being slaughtered, are admitted as refugees . Why in the Diwali Celebration it wS not mentioned the suffering of the Indians in their own land are being persecuted by Muslims. This Administration wants to make believe their acceptance of everyone, but with their actions deny that this country was founded on Judeo/Christian Foundations. HYPOCRITES AND TRAITORS. Can wait to see them out of the White House.

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  2. Very touching and celebrating this special depawali festival. From thousands of year running this historical event and it’s traditional called ‘festival of lights ‘.
    The First Lady embrace our cultural is really appreciating. I admire Mrs. Obama makes ‘Washington more beautiful ‘

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I enjoy Diwali and celebrate , appreciate. and embrace all cultures, races and religion but let’s remember that a vast number of Asians both in the USA and in Asian countries are racist to the core towards Black people. They would easily embrace Whites despite the racism whites show them but many are hateful towards Black people. For instance, Blacks in India are physically attacked in a regular basis. Indians are not the only Asians guilty of this behavior. The Chinese in the USA and outside are also.racist.

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  4. This is a GREAT tradition, I am from Trinidad and Tobago, our National anthem says, “Here every Creed and Race finds an Equal place and may God Bless Our Nation”. We are very much a Multi-Cultural Country and we Celebrate Diwali, Eid, Christmas among others as National Holidays.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Elegance is what I see in The first lady a characteristic so genuine not on a campaign for the people.

    To me it so shows real people are in Power as the wife to The President.

    Holding a Diwali at The White House in a place of such a Powerful man President Obama.

    Its about inviting one culture of respect to another .

    The fist lady shows her talents & heart towards good human beings an invitation into their world & joining their lives together for a moment of joy.

    I so see both The first Lady & President Obama hold their hearts on their sleeves. A compatible match made to also to be in Power. This Presidential postion of power only shows that theres no president like this I believe who hold events as such one of many.

    I would love to have an opportunity to meet The President on day.

    Like

  6. Elegance is what I see in The first lady a characteristic so genuine not on a campaign for the people.

    To me it so shows real people are in Power as the wife to The President.

    Holding a Diwali at The White House in a place of such a Powerful man President Obama.

    Its about inviting one culture of respect to another .

    The fist lady shows her talents & heart towards good human beings an invitation into their world & joining their lives together for a moment of joy.

    I so see both The first Lady & President Obama hold their hearts on their sleeves. A compatible match made to also to be in Power. This Presidential postion of power only shows that theres no president like this I believe who hold events as such one of many.

    I would love to have an opportunity to meet The President on day.

    God Bless America

    Bec

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I am also from Trinidad & Tobago where Diwali is widely celebrated by our descendants’ from India who came to the Caribbean over 100 years ago and held on to their heritage, culture and traditions that is still flourishing today. The Festival of Lights is a public holiday and a wonderful opportunity to visit friends, neighbors and family. It is also a time to give gifts and when all kinds of vegetarian foods and sweets are prepared and shared.
    Jean P. Alexander in New York City. I have already started to prepare for this year’s celebration.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks for the marvelous posting! I actually enjoyed reading it, you are a great author.I will remember to bookmark your blog and denilitefy will come back in the future. I want to encourage you to continue your great job, have a nice holiday weekend!

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  8. I hope you possess a good day! Really great article, nicely written and really thought out. I am secirhang forward to reading more of ones posts within the future.,

    Like

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