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Diwali is celebrated with gusto in US

More than two million Indian Americans celebrated Diwali across the US with festivities reaching the White House and the US Congress recognising importance of the "strong and vibrant immigrant community."

world Updated: Nov 11, 2007 14:48 IST
Arun Kumar

More than two million Indian Americans celebrated Diwali across the United States with the festivities reaching the White House and the US Congress recognising the importance of a "strong and vibrant immigrant community."

Across the country, Indian Americans came together to celebrate Diwali just as they do in India. Lamps were lit around houses, prayers offered at homes and in temples. Families came together, exchanged gifts, gave traditional sweets to friends and associates, and generally had a good time.

Diwali melas were held wherever there is a concentration of Indian Americans: from California to New York, New Jersey, Texas and Georgia. Vendors sold typical Diwali gifts of ethnic clothing, jewellery, Hindi music CDs and DVDs of Bollywood films. Hindi singers and folk artists performed; bhangra was danced.

Some 150 eminent Indian American community leaders from all over the US attended the White House celebrations on November 7 in the "Indian Treaty Room" - where once treaties with the American Indians (Red Indians) were stored - for the fifth year in a row.

President George W Bush himself was not there, but US Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, who has just returned from India, and the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, Nicholas Burns, Washington's point man on the India-US nuclear deal, were on hand to greet them.

They appreciated the India American leaders' contribution in getting the nuclear deal approved in principle by the US Congress last year and hoped they would help in reaching out to opposing Indian leaders on the importance of the deal and its significance to the US-India relationship.

The White House celebrations came days after the US House of Representatives approved a resolution recognising the significance of Diwali by an overwhelming 358-0 vote on October 29, with 204 Democrats and 154 Republicans supporting it.

South Carolina Representative Joe Wilson, who sponsored the resolution, said it not only marks "the international, religious and historical importance of the festival of Diwali", but also "recognises the importance of Indian Americans - a strong and vibrant immigrant community."

Representative John Tanner of Tennessee said, "By celebrating Diwali, we also are celebrating this diversity, a shared value that has brought the United States and India closer together throughout the years."

"This celebration presents all of us with the opportunity to reflect on the many ways in which people, history and traditions of India, and elsewhere in South Asia, have contributed to the rich cultural mosaic that is the United States of America," said Florida Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

In Washington, a 15-year-old annual Diwali mela last on Sunday drew about 7,000 people despite chilly weather. Sponsored by the Association of United Hindu & Jain Temples (UHJT), it offered food, music and shopping and ended with a large fireworks display.

Another local organisation called BAPS focusing on social service celebrated Diwali over five days with an all vegetarian served to public for free Saturday night. BAPS, which has built a $19 million temple in Atlanta, boasts of 57 centres in North America, up from 18 nine years ago.

Diwali found mainstream appeal in Houston with the Houston Chronicle noting how businesses are catching on to the popular festival and marketing to the area's growing Indian population.

In recent years, Hallmark has launched Diwali greeting cards, porcelain figurine maker Lladrohas launched a line of Hindu deities and Wells Fargo and Citibank are running special promotions. Some companies are also using the time to build goodwill with clients and employees with celebrations and season's greetings, the paper said.

In New York, Diwali was for the second year declared an official "parking holiday" - when one can park on both sides of a road instead of only one like on normal working days. New York Daily News religion columnist, Ari Goldman as a sign that "Hindus Arrive in the City", saw the decision.