Following with the tradition started by his predecessors, President Donald Trump celebrated his first Diwali at the White House on October 17th lighting the ceremonial diya with nearly two dozen prominent Indian-Americans in attendance.
Trump and his daughter Ivanka was joined by senior Indian-American members of his administration including Nikki Haley, his Ambassador to the United Nations and Seema Verma, Administrator, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Ajit Pai, Chairman of the US Federal Communications Commission and Raj Shah, Trump’s Principal Deputy Press Secretary also joined Diwali celebrations yesterday.
In front of Trump’s presidential desk was a special table covered with a tricolor cloth on which a tall silver diya stand was placed encircled by a red and yellow garland of flowers, mostly marigolds, the traditional flower used in Hindu religious ceremonies.
While the Lighting of the Diya is typically celebrated by families in their homes. Trump said, “Today, we proudly celebrate this holiday in THE PEOPLE’S HOUSE. In so doing, we reaffirm that Indian-Americans and Hindu-Americans are truly cherished, treasured and beloved members of our great American FAMILY.”
President Trump hailed the incredible contributions of the Indian-American community and said he valued his very strong relationship with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. In his remarks, Trump said Indian-American neighbors and friends have made incredible contributions to the country — and to the world. “You have made extraordinary contributions to art, science, medicine, business and education. America is especially thankful for its many Indian-American citizens who serve bravely in our armed forces and as first responders in communities throughout our great land,” he said.
Diwali, he said, is one of the most important celebrations in the Hindu religion. “A time of peace and prosperity for the New Year, it is a tradition that is held dear by more than 1 billion Hindus worldwide and more than 2 million Hindus in the United States.
“As we do (celebrate Diwali) so, we especially remember the People of India, the home of the Hindu faith, who have built the world’s largest democracy,” Trump said in a Facebook post along with a video of his Diwali celebrations inside the Oval Office. Trump said he greatly valued his “very strong relationship” with Prime Minister Modi. Trump said he was deeply honored to be joined by so many administration officials and leaders of the Indian-American community in celebrating Diwali — the festival of lights. Diwali, the festival of lights, is also celebrated by millions of Buddhists, Sikhs, and Jains in America, India and around the world,” he said.
Vice President Mike Pence and several lawmakers send greetings to the people of Indian origin on this festive day. “Happy Diwali to those celebrating with friends and family. May we all strive for peace, prosperity and the triumph of light over darkness,” US Vice President Mike Pence said in a tweet.
“Wishing Hindus, Sikhs and Jains around the world a joyful Diwali. Saal Mubarak to all! Looking forward to my visit to India for GES2017,” Ms. Ivanka tweeted along with a picture of President Trump celebrating festival of lights in the Oval Office of the White House on Tuesday.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson started his major India policy speech by sending Diwali greetings to all friends in the US, India and around the world celebrating the Festival of Lights. “Generally, fireworks accompany that. I don’t need any fireworks; I’m getting too many fireworks around me already. So we’ll forgo the fireworks,” he said, amidst laughter from a Washington audience.
America’s top corporate leadership too joined the festivities. “Happy Diwali! May the festival of lights spread love, peace & prosperity to all!” Apple CEO Tim Cook said in a tweet. “Today, let’s light up the world with the glow of our diyas and the warmth in our hearts. From my family to yours, best wishes for Diwali!” tweeted Pepsico Chairwoman Indra Nooyi.
Diwali is one of the most important celebrations in the Hindu religion, he noted, a time of peace and prosperity for the New Year for the billion Hindus worldwide and the more than 2 million Hindus in the United States. It is also celebrated by millions of Buddhists, Sikhs, and Jains in America, India and around the world, the President said.
The tradition of Diwali celebration at the White House was first started by President George Bush. During his term it was celebrated mostly in the India Treaty Room of the adjacent executive office building, which is part of the White House complex. President Bush never personally participated in the White House Diwali celebrations.
In the first year of his presidency, former president Barack Obama lit the ceremonial Diya in the East Room of the White House. In his last year in office in 2016, Obama for the first time observed the festival of lights in the Oval Office.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, who sent a letter to White House Chief of Staff John Kelly Sept. 26 urging Trump to celebrate Diwali, did not attend the celebration. Hatch sent the letter at the behest of Indian American businessman Shalabh ‘Shalli’ Kumar, founder of the Republican Hindu Coalition. Kumar and his adopted daughter, actress Manasvi Mamgai, stood by Trump’s side as he lit the traditional diya in the Oval Office. During the 2016 presidential election cycle, Kumar and his wife donated $1 million to Trump’s campaign.
“We wish all of America’s Hindus and everyone who celebrates Diwali a joyous holiday and blessings of light, goodness, and prosperity throughout the New Year. And now we will light the Diya,” said the President as he proceeded to light the traditional lamp.