Thanks to the indefatigable perseverance of Congressman Joe Crowley, New York Democrat and a long-time and time-tested friend of India and the Indian American community, the United States Congress will celebrate it’s first-ever Congressional Diwali celebration on October 29 at 6 pm at the Rayburn House Building foyer on the first floor.
Crowley, vice chair of the House Democratic Caucus and the co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans, in a letter to his Congressional colleagues, invited them to this first historic celebration on Capitol Hill.
“‘Diwali is a multi-day festival recognised by many Indian-Americans and others, and is celebrated annually by Hindus, Sikhs, Jains and some Buddhists throughout the United States and around the world,” he said.
He informed his fellow members of the House of Representatives that “with well over three million Americans of Indian descent, Diwali is widely celebrated across the United States through parades, observances and special events.”
Crowley urged them to “consider attending this exciting event,” and tempted them by adding, “Traditional Indian refreshments will be served.”
He further explained that “Diwali also called Deepavali or the Festival of Lights, is the most joyous occasion for one and all -- young and the old, men and women,” and noted that for those “outside of India, Diwali is a celebration of Indian identity.”
Crowley said, “The festival is to signify the victory of light over darkness or knowledge over ignorance,” and noted that the “Sri Siva Vishnu Temple, the oldest and largest Hindu temple in the Washington, DC area is organiszing this event in cooperation with the US House of Representatives Congressional Caucus on India and Indian-Americans.”
He told Rediff.com that pushing for celebrating this festival on Capitol Hill was a no-brainer since “Diwali is a holiday of great significance to millions of Indian-Americans and I’m so proud to be spearheading the first-ever Congressional Diwali.”
But Crowley pointed out, “This isn’t only about celebration though -- it’s also about education and about increasing understanding, especially in light of the hate crimes and threats faced by so many Hindus and Sikhs in the United States over the past few years.”
He argued, “This event is an essential opportunity to come together not only to celebrate but to help increase understanding and tolerance amongst all Americans,” adding, “It’s going to set a precedent for Congressional Diwali celebrations for decades to come.”
Crowley said that Representatives Dr Ami Bera, California Democrat and only Indian American Congressman in the US House and Representatives and Tulsi Gabbard, Hawaii Democrat, and the only Hindu American in Congress, had been instrumental in helping him to push for this celebration and muster a critical mass among colleagues in the India Caucus to make this a reality.
Bera told Rediff.com, “Diwali is a multi-day festival celebrated by millions of people across America and around the world to mark the triumph of good over evil, and light over darkness.”
Echoing the sentiments of Crowley, Bera said, “ It is only fitting that our leaders celebrate this holiday and the diversity that makes our country great, and so, I’m really looking forward to the first-ever Congressional Diwali reception later this month.”
Gabbard told Rediff.com, "According to spiritual tradition, Diwali is observed not only as a fun holiday, or even more importantly as the victory of light over darkness, truth over untruth and righteousness over wrong, but also as a time of spiritual renewal.”
Waxing philosophical, she said, “It’s a time to light a welcoming lamp within our hearts, to invite the Lord into our life. This singular and meditative act establishes the most wonderful platform upon which real brotherhood and real love and concern for others can be built.”
Gabbard declared, “This message has great relevance at a time when politics and partisanship seem to overshadow compassion and concern for the greater good.”
She predicted, “Our historic, first-ever Congressional Diwali reception will serve to increase awareness about Diwali and highlight its positive, peaceful message during these contentious times."
Shekar Narasimhan, a community activist and long-time trustee and office-bearer of the SSVT along with his wife Charu Narassimhan, who is coordinating the celebration along with Crowley’s office, was elated that Crowley’s initiative had borne fruit.
He told Rediff.com, “It is a great honour that Diwali is being celebrated on Capitol Hill for the first time.”
“As the oldest and largest Hindu temple in the Washington, DC area, the Sri Siva Vishnu Temple is the logical organizsr of this event. Charu and I are honored to be helping to put this together for the bi-partisan House Caucus on India and Indian Americans.”
Narasimhan said, “We hope the joy and peace Diwali brings will enlighten the world and bring comity, so the country that adopted us continues to move forward.”
He recalled, “In 2009, after the new administration had come in and after President Obama had indicated a desire to do something special for Diwali, the SSVT was asked to organise that portion of the event. The East Room of the White House rang out with Vedic chants as the President lit the traditional diya and guests were feted with traditional Diwali sweets.”
Narasimhan said, “It was a very special occasion and SSVT has been proud to have continued its association with this annual event due to the efforts of Mythili Bachu and other temple leaders.”