With fresh garlands of flowers around their necks and traditional Indian sweets in their hands, more than thirty members of Congress celebrated Diwali at the third annual "Diwali in D.C." event on November 4, 2015. Over 1,200 prominent Indian Americans and their Congressional representatives from across the United States attended the event hosted by the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans. The BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha was an event co-sponsor alongside other community organizations. BAPS Shayona provided catering and prepared a menu of authentic Indian vegetarian sweets and snacks. Several BAPS volunteers also assisted with registration, VIP guest reception, and event coordination at the Library of Congress.
For over two hours, public leaders shared their thoughts on the diverse contributions of Indian Americans to the economic and cultural framework of the American landscape. They highlighted the importance of nurturing and advancing the longstanding relationship between India and the United States. Guests included Virginia Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi from California, Committee on Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce from California, Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick from Pennsylvania, Rep. Ander Crenshaw from Florida, Rep. Joe Crowley from New York, Rep. Mike Honda from California, Rep. Daniel Webster from Florida, Rep. Rob Woodall from Georgia, Rep. Lois Frankel from Florida, Rep. Sanford Bishop from Georgia, Rep. Randy Hultgren from Illinois, Rep. Grace Meng and Rep. Ami Bera from California, all of whom represent BAPS Mandirs and devotees in their districts across the United States.
Rep. Bera, Chairman of the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans, is currently the only Indian American serving in the United States House of Representatives. He began the festivities with brief remarks about the importance of honoring Diwali in the lives of Indian Americans living in the United States.
Congressional leaders shared their well-wishes for a Happy Diwali with the enthusiastic crowd who stood together in celebration under the artfully detailed ceiling of the Jefferson Hall in the Library of Congress. Congressman Joe Crowley explained the historic and aesthetic significance of the Jefferson Hall, but noted that while it is beautiful, it is no Akshardham. The crowd reacted with a deep sense of pride for their Hindu American heritage.
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard from Hawaii, the first Hindu in Congress, wished the audience a Happy Diwali and explained "Diwali represents the victory of light over darkness, truth over untruth, righteousness over wrong. As we light our lamps for Diwali, let us light the lamps of love for God within our hearts. Let us share the light of His unconditional love for us and do what we can to bring about positive change in the world".
Earlier in the day, BAPS volunteers from across the United States visited their local congressional representatives and personally wished them a Happy Diwali and New Year. Dr. Jamin Brahmbhatt, who visited with Rep. Daniel Webster from Florida, said, “Visiting with our congressional leaders is a great opportunity to share our faith and traditions with our elected officials in fostering a deeper understanding between cultural communities.”
This historic event was the result of a collaborative effort from logistics to catering, made possible by multiple organizations and dozens of BAPS volunteers from New Jersey and the Washington D.C. area.