As Diwali becomes an important marker in the American festival calendar, Secretary of State John Kerry hosted Diwali celebrations at the State Department for the first time, saying Prime Minister Narendra Modi's recent visit to the US provided an "unforgettable chance to build on the already deep ties between America and India."
"The prime minister's visit was a moment when Indians and Americans could get a real sense of what our two nations are able to accomplish together by working together," he said at the event Thursday.
Kerry and the Indian Ambassador to the US, S Jaishankar, together lighted a traditional Diwali oil lamp. Local Hindu Priest Narayanachar L Digalakote from the Sri Siva Vishnu temple presided over the ceremonial lighting and draped Kerry with a traditional shawl.
Describing India as "a country of enormous energy and power," Kerry said the two countries were working together in from fighting against terrorism to achieving greater progress by pushing back the boundaries of science and technology.
India and the US had "worked hard to prove that we were, in fact, natural partners,"he said. "We are two optimistic nations who believe that history doesn't shape us, but that we have the power to shape history."
"And that spirit of hope and optimism is really at the centre of the Diwali celebration," Kerry said.
"It is an opportunity for us all, regardless of our own traditions, to renew a shared commitment to human dignity, compassion, and service," he said.
Special celebrations of varied faiths are celebrated in communities all across America and in India and in other countries, he noted.
"it's an indication of how our mutual commitment to helps to define and to strengthen our two democracies."
President Barack Obama and Modi had "a chance to celebrate the shared values of religious tolerance and pluralism," he said, when they together went to visit the memorial of Black American civil rights leader Martin Luther King Memorial, who was greatly influenced by Mahatma Gandhi.
Kerry also hailed "the accomplishments of the many hundreds of thousands of Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, and Jain Americans who live now all across our country in every community."
"Today, the South Asian diaspora is a pillar of every aspect of American society," he said noting "South Asians sit in the executive suites of some of our country's most successful companies, or at the very helm of all of them."
"They are a driving force behind American leadership and science and innovation, and in the history of our nation," Kerry said.
"It is hard to find any group of Americans who have achieved more in such a relatively short period of time," he said amid applause.
In New York, Joe Crowley, Democratic co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian-Americans, sent his "best wishes to all those celebrating Diwali, both here in the US and around the globe."
He also announced that the second annual Congressional Diwali celebration will be held November 19.