Ambassador Navtej Sarna: “Diwali has become emblematic of India abroad”
By Geeta Goindi
Washington, DC, November 12, 2018 – Addressing a standing room only crowd in the main hall of the Indian Chancery, Sunday evening, Ambassador Navtej Sarna proclaimed that the “festival of Diwali has become emblematic of India abroad” and credited the diaspora for making it the best known of all Indian festivals lighting up mainstream America.
Recalling a Diwali celebration held at the US State Department earlier this month, the top diplomat revealed that US officials responded with much enthusiasm to a suggestion by the Indian Embassy to co-host the event. Noting that over 200 people attended the function, he pointed out that Diwali “will be celebrated in other official mansions of the US”.
On Tuesday, President Donald Trump will light the ‘diya’ (lamp) in the White House for the second year in a row since he was elected to the highest office in the land. The following day, an elaborate celebration will be held in the hallowed halls of the US Congress, an annual event which draws several influential lawmakers — valued friends of India and Indian-Americans.
Looking across the crowded hall of the Embassy, Ambassador Sarna told an attentive audience that the widespread celebration of Diwali is “a recognition of what all of you have achieved in your years of hard work in the US, whether you start with impressing your neighbor by lighting a few ‘diyas’ and distributing sweets or whether you do it at work, in the business community, in the hospital wards or in the new institutions of power which may be in Silicon Valley. Along with your success comes Indian culture, Indian tradition”, he said referring to the soft power of India.
At the outset, the envoy welcomed the gathering to “a very clean function” explaining that “nowadays the debate about Diwali is how clean is Diwali. We want to keep it clean and green”, he said, implying it is celebrated at the diplomatic mission sans firecrackers or any device which emits toxic particles into the air.
Outside the Embassy, strings of lights adorned the block; inside, a colorful ‘Rangoli’ design with flower petals offered a visual delight befitting an occasion of joy.
Srimati Karuna, director of the Gandhi Memorial Center since 2006 which is based in Bethesda, Maryland, spoke about the significance of Diwali emphasizing its importance as a festival of lights. “It is that light of higher knowledge which dispels all ignorance”, she noted.
The observance of Diwali each year is “not only a time of festive celebration, but a sublime reminder that light is the source of life”, she said in a heart-warming, unifying address. “We know that Diwali is a festival celebrated worldwide by Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists, but the symbol of light is universal. All of humanity knows not just the meaning, but the reality of light”.
Her words were profound and powerful as was her style of rendition: soul-stirring in its simplicity. “We live in a universe of light and that light lives within us”, Srimati Karuna told the gathering.
“Diwali also marks a time of reflection on that inner light of all beings that illuminates our vision with greater understanding, greater hope and greater wisdom”, she said, adding the essence of the festival is to “enlighten our minds and hearts with goodness, beauty and truth”.
The Indian Embassy attracts the finest talent and this year was no exception! Gifted singer Krishnapriya, a long-time associate of the Chinmaya Mission based in Frederick, Maryland, enthralled the audience with semi-classical, devotional and folk songs. For someone who speaks Telugu, her rendition of Hindi numbers, all from films, was well-nigh perfect.
Currently a freshman at the University of Maryland with a major in international relations, Krishnapriya has remained an ardent lover of music since childhood. She is a trained singer who has been learning Carnatic music since seventh grade from Sri Padmanabhan based in California.
Dr. Satish Misra, current president of United Hindu and Jain Temples (UHJT) of the Washington metropolitan area, a consortium of 14 major houses of worship, delivered what he called “a vote of gratitude to the Indian Embassy for hosting the Diwali event year-after-year”.
About UHJT, he noted it promotes cultural and religious activities while its members actively participate in forums that “promote interfaith dialogues to create a better understanding between different faiths”. In these difficult times, understanding each other’s needs and beliefs is very important, he stressed.