Diyas, cocktails, and Bollywood dance lessons mark Diwali at the White House

Michelle Obama learns a few filmi dance steps.

By Deepak Chitnis

Michelle Obama Dancing
First Lady Michelle Obama, in a Naeem Khan dress, and some guest invitees learn a few Bollywood dance steps from instructor Nakul Dev Mahajan, as Diwali was celebrated at the White House for the first time.

WASHINGTON, DC: First Lady Michelle Obama hosted a press conference in the East Room of the White House to mark the occasion of Diwali, on Tuesday.

It was the first such event held at the White House by the First Lady, and was attended by several local Indian-American luminaries, including Sri Srinivasan, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit Judge; Kiran Ahuja, Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders; and Lieutenant Colonel Ravi Chaudhary, who introduced the First Lady by calling her the embodiment of Mahatma Gandhi’s famous quote – “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

Famous Indian American choreographer Nakul Dev Mahajan, known for his work on the hit FOX TV show “So You Think You Can Dance?” and on Miss America Nina Davuluri’s talent routine, was also present to mark the occasion.

The First Lady – a self-proclaimed fan of the TV show – specifically singled him out for teaching her and a group of children some basic Bollywood dancing, saying it was the first time such a lesson had ever happened in the White House State Room.

“We’ve celebrated [Diwali] here at the White House every year since [President Barack Obama] took office,” said First Lady Obama after taking the stage, wearing a pink sleeveless top and intricately designed dress by Naeem Khan.

“And 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.”

Turning to more serious topics, the First Lady spoke about the strength and courage of the Indian American community, especially in light of recent violence against them. In particular, she spoke about last year’s massacre at the gurudwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, when a white supremacist fatally shot six Sikhs out of hatred.

An outspoken advocate for youth issues, the First Lady also singled out the youth of the country, particularly Indian Americans youth, to look up to the role models before them and use them as an example of where they should strive to be in life.

“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,” she said.

Hawaiian Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, a practicing Hindu, was invited to the event but was unable to attend due to her brother’s wedding in Australia. She released a statement lauding the Obamas for becoming the First Family to really understand and celebrate the importance of Diwali.

“Across every state in our country and around the world this week, billions of people are joyously celebrating Diwali. I am grateful that President and Mrs. Obama are continuing this special White House tradition of honoring and recognizing Diwali with a celebration today at the White House,” said Gabbard.

The press conference concluded with a simple lighting of the diya by the First Lady, while a Hindu priest chanted a bhajan. The press conference was followed by a cocktail reception in the east wing of the White House.

[Photo courtesy of the First Lady’s Press Office.]

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