Diwali ‘universal concept’ that transcends cultures: Kamala Harris

The Naval Observatory -- official residence of the vice president -- was colourfully decorated with lights and diyas (earthen lamps) while the guests were served a wide variety of authentic Indian delicacies from ‘pani puri’ to traditional sweets, community leaders, who attended the event, said.
US Vice President Kamala Harris
US Vice President Kamala Harris

WASHINGTON: Diwali is a universal concept that transcends cultures, Vice President Kamala Harris said on Friday as she opened her official residence for scores of Indian Americans to celebrate the festival of lights.

The Naval Observatory -- official residence of the vice president -- was colourfully decorated with lights and diyas (earthen lamps) while the guests were served a wide variety of authentic Indian delicacies from ‘pani puri’ to traditional sweets, community leaders, who attended the event, said.

Diwali is a universal concept that transcends cultures. It is about being inspired by the relevance of light over darkness, and shedding light in moments of darkness, Harris told the gathering of more than a hundred Indian Americans.

As the vice president, I think a lot about it because we are not without great challenges in our own country and in the world. And these are the moments when a festival like Diwali reminds us of the importance of our power to bring light in moments of darkness, she said.

To the surprise of the invited guests, who had travelled from various parts of the country, they were given sparklers which they lit along with Harris and the Second Gentleman while cheering and wishing each other “Happy Diwali”.

Earlier, a group of young dancers enthralled the guests by performing on popular Bollywood hits like “Jai Ho” and “Om Shanti”.

Recollecting her days of celebrating as a child with her grandparents in Chennai, Harris said Diwali is about tradition.

“It is about culture. It is about an age-old concept that transcends cultures and communities. It is about a point of reflection and a moment of reflection to consider the duality of life in terms of the balance between darkness and light. And to celebrate the light. In that way, to think about what our role is and what our role should be in elevating us out of the darkness, guided by the light,” she said.

“In the last few years, we have experienced a lot that has been about powerful forces trying to divide, trying to focus on what they would suggest are dissimilarities when we all know that the vast majority of us have so much more in common than what separates us,” she said.

“There are moments in our country right now where there are those who fight against democratic principles. The principles upon which our nation was founded. Principles like freedom, liberty,” she said.

“And in these moments where we all have a keen awareness of the unfairness and the injustice of it all, let us be guided by our knowledge that it is not new, that there will be moments like this, but that we have the power to make a difference and to elevate any moment in a way that we feel and can see the future and the possibility and all that is bright that the world allows when we have the ability to believe in it,” Harris said.

Among the attendees were several Indian American members of the Biden-Harris Administration, including Surgeon General Dr Vivek Murthy, President’s Special Advisor Neera Tanden, and Biden’s Speech Writer Vinay Reddy. America’s former Ambassador to India, Rich Verma was also present at the Diwali celebrations.

“The atmosphere was magical and very, very authentic Indian. She (Harris) gave a very nice speech about her Diwali celebrations in Chennai. The highlight for me was the little sparklers. I felt like a child,” said philanthropist M R Rangaswami, founder of Indiaspora.

“As an American I was proud to see the inclusion of festivals of all religions as a mainstream. This is diversity. Diwali has truly become a mainstream part of American culture,” Rangaswami added.

Ajay Jain Bhutoria, a member of the President's Advisory Commission on Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders said, “It was a memorable Diwali celebration, thanks to the vice president and second gentleman, with awesome food, Bollywood music and colourful decoration of the Naval Observatory with Diwali lights. Biggest surprise were the sparklers.'' “The vice president's team did an amazing job in organising the Diwali event and bringing the community together. It sends a strong message that good always wins over evil and we should spear light in the moments of darkness,” said Bhutoria.

As the guests left the Naval Observatory, they were given specially-crafted candles with the emblem of the office of the vice president embossed on them.

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