US Congress celebrates Diwali for the first time

The first ever Diwali festival was celebrated at the US Congress today amidst chanting of Vedic mantras by a Hindu priest.

Over two dozen influential lawmakers along with eminent Indian-Americans gathered at the Capitol Hill to lit the traditional "diyas".

The event - the first of its kind event at the Capitol Hill - was organised by the two Co-Chairs of the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans, Congressmen Joe Crowley and Peter Roskam in recognition of increasing presence of the Indian-American community.

The occasion was also used to highlight significance of India-US relationship.

"I have come here to say Happy Diwali," said Nancy Pelosi, Leader of the Democratic Party in the House of Representatives. "United States owes a great debt of gratitude to India. Because our civil rights movement was built on the non-violent movement in India. Martin Luther King studied there, spoke there. We are blessed not only by that legacy, but also by the presence of so many Indo-Americans in our country," Pelosi said.

Image for representation only. AFP

Image for representation only. AFP

"This is a truly historic event," Crowley said.

Roskam said Indian Americans are an example of an enormous diaspora that is incredibly influential. "You have the ability to bring together people from both sides of the isle in ways that are powerful and significant," he said.

"When we look at the relationship between the United States and India moving forward it is a wonderful relationship that has a great thing in store," said Roskam, who along with other lawmakers were welcomed at the historic event with red tilak, jasmine garland. A Hindu priest presented them a traditional shawl amidst chanting of Vedic mantras.

Starting his brief remarks with 'Jai Hind' Congressman Ed Royce, Chairman of the powerful House Foreign Affairs Committee said the relationship between India and the United States is strengthening.

"Our goal should be to increase and deepen this relationship with counter-terrorism co-operation, with more trade and investment and trying to make sure that we strengthen our ally India. And that is our intention here, whether we are Republican or a Democrat, our goal is to deepen this relationship," he said.

Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, the first Hindu American lawmaker, diversity in the Congress is indicative of the special nature of Diwali itself. "It is celebration of righteousness," she said

Ami Bera, who is the only Indian American in the current Congress, this is an incredible Diwali celebration. "It is great to be one Indian American in the Congress, but at our second, fifth Diwali celebration, we want to see more members of the Diaspora elected to the House of Representatives. We want to see deepening of this relationship as we move forward," Bera said.

Congresswoman, Carolyn B Maloney, who had recently launched a campaign for issuing a Diwali stamp, rued that the US Postal Service had recently turned down the request. As such she urged the Indian American community to work together in this regard. "It is time to have Diwali stamp," she said.

"India and the United States have so much in common," said Congressman Elliot Engel, Ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and appreciated the contribution of Indian Americans in the country.

The outgoing Indian Ambassador to the US, Nirupama Rao, also spoke on the occasion, along with other Congressmen including Mike Honda, Sheila Jackson Lee, David Price,? Charles Bernard "Charlie" Rangel, and Steny Hoyer.

Independence Day