White House News Service
WASHINGTON, D.C. (Nov. 5, 2013) — President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama celebrated the Indian festival of lights, Diwali, with speeches and dance on Tuesday at the White House.
Hindu statesman Rajan Zed of Nevada said the Hindu community worldwide is honored by Michelle Obama’s active participation in Diwali and urged heads of state and their spouses in all countries of the world to be a part in the Diwali celebrations in their respective countries.
“It is a step in the right direction”, Zed, who is President of Universal Society of Hinduism, pointed out.
Mrs. Obama lighted the traditional diya (lamp) on the occasion while a Hindu priest recited Sanskrit mantras. She reportedly tried some Bollywood dance moves herself with Bollywood music at the Bollywood dance clinic in the State Dining Room besides speaking during a reception in the East Room of White House.
The most popular of Hindu festivals, Diwali aims at dispelling the darkness and lighting up the lives and symbolizes the victory of good over evil. Hinduism, oldest and third largest religion of the world, has about billion adherents and moksh (liberation) is its ultimate goal. There are about three million Hindus in USA.
The following is the First Lady’s speech in the East Room.
It is a pleasure and an honor to welcome you all here as we celebrate Diwali. I want to start by thanking Lt. Colonel Chaudhary for his very kind introduction, but more importantly, for his outstanding service to our country. I also want to recognize Kiran Ahuja, who is working very hard in this administration, for her leadership.
And I want to give a special hello and thank you to Nakul, who is here. I know he is in his jeans and t-shirt now, but — (laughter) — there’s Nakul. But we got to practice a little Bollywood this afternoon. And we have many of the young people who were there with us today. We — got moves, right?
But Nakul is here from one of my favorite shows on the planet – “So You Think You Can Dance.” It is. And, of course, as you all know, I think I can dance. But not as good as they can dance. But we had a wonderful time, and I think, as Nakul pointed out, it was the first time that we did Bollywood in the State Room here at the White House. So well done, to all my fellow dancers.
So thank you, Nakul. Thank you for joining us. We had a wonderful time, didn’t we, kids? All the — hands of the kids who were there. We had fun! It was fun! And they did a great job. They did a wonderful job.
As you may know, we’ve celebrated this holiday here at the White House every year since Barack took office. And there’s a reason why we’ve done that, and I mentioned it to the kids — 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.
As you know, this holiday is celebrated by members of some of the world’s oldest religions not just here in America but across the globe. Diwali is a time for celebration. So we learned today — children, all smiles. (Laughter.) Smiles. As Barack and I learned during our visit to India, it’s a time to come together with friends and family, often with dancing and good food.
But Diwali is also a time for contemplation and reflection. It’s a time for us to think about our obligations to our fellow human beings, particularly those who are less fortunate than we are. And as we light the diya — the lamp — we recommit ourselves to the triumph of light over darkness, of good over evil.
But as we gather here this Diwali, we remember that there is still evil in the world. And I’m thinking today about what happened in Oak Creek, Wisconsin just last year when an act of unthinkable violence shook a community to its core. But I am also thinking of how in the face of such evil, we also witnessed the power of goodness and forgiveness.
The families and community leaders I met when I visited Oak Creek just weeks after the tragedy, they showed us such courage and grace. Instead of giving in to bitterness or despair, they honored those they lost through service. They honored those they lost through educating others about their faith and standing up to prejudice in whatever form it takes. I’m also thinking of all the people across America and around the world who held prayer vigils during that time and sent messages of love and support, and held the people of Oak Creek in their hearts.
And finally, today, as we further reflect upon the power of courage and grace, I am also thinking of all of the women and men of every faith and background who are serving and enriching this country so greatly every single day — folks like Lt. Colonel Chaudhary, and so many men and women here today who are serving our countries as well as their families, who serve right along with them and make that service possible. I’m thinking about all of you today.
I’m also thinking about folks like Nakul, and the members of Goldspot, who are leaders in the arts and bring us joy through music and dance. (Applause.) I’m also thinking of folks like Kiran, and so many others who are in leadership in this administration, who make our work so completely possible through their dedication.
All of you, all of you here, all of you around the world, you all are the bright shining lights for this country and such extraordinary role models for all of the young people who are here with us today. And 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, right, with smiles on your faces.
And I am so proud and so honored to be celebrating this beautiful holiday at the White House with all of you. I want to thank you for everything that you do for our communities and for this country. And I wish you all and all your loved ones a Happy Diwali and Saal Mubarak.
And with that, we will now light the White House Diya.