Prime Minister Theresa May hosted a special reception on Monday 24 October 2016 at 10 Downing Street to celebrate Diwali.
She welcomed more than 150 key figures from across the Hindu, Sikh and Jain communities, alongside His Excellency Dinesh Patnaik, Acting Indian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom; Priti Patel, Secretary of State for International Development; Sajid Javid, Secretary of State for Local Government and Communities; Lord Gadhia; and Alok Sharma, Foreign Office Minister. Mr Jitu Patel, a trustee of BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha in the UK, was also present at the event.
In keeping with a customary Hindu welcome, Rena Amin and Hinal Patel, volunteers at BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Neasden, offered a garland of flowers and tied a nada-chhadi (decorative string symbolising friendship) on the Prime Minister’s wrist.
The Prime Minister, Acting Indian High Commissioner and Jitu Patel began the festivities with the lighting of the ceremonial lamp amid chanting of Vedic peace prayers by children from the Mandir.
A traditional arrangement of Indian food was also on offer to Hindu Deities as part of the auspicious celebrations. Volunteers from the Mandir had worked hard to set up the decorations and Annakut, comprising a colourful selection of Indian sweets and savouries.
Ms May addressed the gathering saying it was “great to have so many of you here at this special time of year and an honour to host my first Diwali reception as Prime Minister.”
After commenting on the diversity of India and speaking about the values of “hope, optimism, forgiveness and new beginnings represented by the Hindu New Year”, she applauded the achievements of British Indian communities. “One and a half million people demonstrate just how much a country can achieve when talent is unleashed and people of all backgrounds are able to fulfil their potential – that’s what is important.”
In conclusion, the Prime Minister wished everyone a “Shubh Deepawali” before pausing to observe the Annakut offering. In keeping with the spirit of Diwali, the celebrants were presented with delicacies from the Annakut to share with their family and friends.
Hinal Patel, a national youth leader for BAPS in the UK, observed, “It was a pleasure to celebrate such an important Hindu festival at Number 10 with the Prime Minister and so many friends and supporters. I think it’s testament to the value the British Hindu community brings to our country and we’re all immensely proud to not only be a part of it but to be contributing to it and seeing Britain grow.”
A transcript of the Prime Minister’s speech can be found on the UK Government website here, and a short video of the reception can be viewed here.
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