Lit diyas, slokas by priest mark Diwali on Capitol Hill

Emotional moment for Rep. Ami Bera.

By Deepak Chitnis

Congressman Joe Crowley (D-NY) speaking at the Diwali event.

WASHINGTON, DC: Diwali was celebrated on Capitol Hill for the first time in history.

The event, which was co-sponsored by the local Sri Shiva Vishnu Temple (SSVT), transpired at the Rayburn House Office Building Tuesday. The hall was filled with temple volunteers, including a priest, and Congressmen.

The ceremony kicked off around 6:30 p.m., with Congressman Joe Crowley (D-NY) – co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans – speaking to the assembled crowd. Crowley and co-chair Peter Roskam (R-IL) both voiced their hope that this event would be looked back upon as a turning event in the relationship between the US and India, and that this would be the first annual Diwali celebration of many to come.

This was followed by the lighting of the diyas (lamps) by the dignitaries present. The participants included: Congressman Ami Bera (D-CA), the sole Indian American currently in the US Congress; Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), the Hindu American Congresswoman from Hawaii; Nirupama Rao, the Indian Ambassador to the US; Nisha Desai Biswal, the assistant Secretary of State for south and central Asia; as well as Congressmen Crowley, Roskam, and Mike Honda (D-CA), amongst others. The lighting of the diyas was accompanied by the chanting of slokas (prayers) by a priest from the SSVT.

Congressman Ami Bera (D-CA) lighting a diya in celebration of Diwali.

Bera spoke about how touched he was to see Diwali being celebrated on Capitol Hill, and also talked about how he doesn’t want to be the only Indian American in Congress anymore. He urged fellow Indian Americans to catch the political bug and run for elected office, so that the community can have more of a say at a much higher platform.

Gabbard took the opportunity to applaud the efforts of Congress to recognize the importance of Diwali not just to Indian Americans, but to America as a whole, pointing out that the values Diwali teaches can be practiced by anyone, regardless of their faith.

Other dignitaries present at the event included Ajay Banga, the CEO of MasterCard.

[Photos by Deepak Chitnis.]

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