House, Senate rise together to celebrate Diwali on Capitol Hill

October 29, 2013

Festivities in the evening today will include local luminaries.

By Deepak Chitnis

WASHINGTON, DC: Thanks to two bills being passed by Congress, the Hindu festival of Diwali will be celebrated on Capitol Hill for the first time ever, later today.

One bill was passed by the House of Representatives, while the other was passed by the Senate. The House bill was introduced by Rep. Joe Crowley (D-NY) and Rep. Peter Roskam (R-IL), the co-chairs of the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans, and the Senate bill was proposed by Senators John Cornyn (R-TX) and Mark Warner (D-VA), the co-chairs of the Senate India Caucus.

The celebration and festivities on Capitol Hill in the evening today will be attended by an array of local luminaries – cultural leaders, politicians, and many more.

In a statement to Roll Call, Crowley singled out Indian American Congressman Ami Bera (D-CA) and South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley as being instrumental in getting the ball rolling on a political Diwali celebration, and called the event a “a testament to the growth of the Indian American community.”

“[Celebrating Diwali] is an essential opportunity to come together not only to celebrate but to help increase understanding and tolerance amongst all Americans,” Crowley said in the Roll Call statement, adding that the event will “set a precedent for Congressional Diwali celebrations for decades to come.”

Although this event for Diwali is the first of its kind in US history, the festival’s importance in the American political sphere really began to take off in 2003, when the White House held its first celebration of the festival under then-President George W. Bush.

“Laura [Bush] joins me in sending our best wishes for a joyous Diwali. May the coming year be filled with hope and happiness,” President Bush said in a press release at the time. “By celebrating their beliefs, ancestry, and culture, Hindus in America and around the world enrich communities and ensure that important values and customs are passed on to future generations.”

The next political milestone for Diwali came under the Obama Administration. In 2009, President Barack Obama celebrated Diwali by having popular Indian-American a capella group Penn Masala perform at the White House, and even participated in a candle-lighting ceremony under the supervision of a Hindu priest. And in 2011, the US Senate passed a resolution recognizing Diwali as a significant holiday for Hindus, Jains, and Sikhs across the US, thereby officially recognizing its cultural importance and legacy.

Crowley has assigned the Sri Shiva Vishnu Temple, located in Greenbelt, Maryland, to be in charge of the menu for the event. The Diwali Celebration is occurring tonight, October 29, from 6pm-8pm on Capitol Hill, while Diwali itself is on Sunday, November 3rd.

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