Indians celebrated Diwali for the first time ever at the White House with President George W Bush's chief political advisor Karl Rove presiding over the festivities in the Indian Treaty Room.
Rove, who is often referred to as the president's 'prime minister', lit the symbolic brass lamp inaugurating the festivities on Thursday evening in which some 70 select members of the Indian American community were invited. Underscoring the spirit and story of Diwali, he conveyed President Bush's personal greetings.
Indian Americans are upbeat over the celebrations, which analysts say is just another sign of the growing clout of the community in Washington power circles and the burgeoning "special connection" between the two countries.
Welcoming the festivities, Dr Sudhir M Parikh, vice-president of Indian American Forum for Political Education (IAFPE), said, "One of our dreams came true as the White House, for the first time, marked Diwali. Piyush Agarwal of Florida deserves special thanks for pushing this event with the White House and we are proud to be a partner in making this historic event happen."
The fact that Rove stood in for Bush at the event showed that the Administration was sensitive to the legitimate requests of the two million-strong Indian American community, Narayan D Keshavan, former executive director of the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans and a lobbyist for the Indian American community, said.
The function started with a recitation of the Sanskrit shloka, "Asato ma sadgamaya, Tamaso ma jyotirgamaya (Lead us from untruth to truth, lead us from darkness to light).
For nearly an hour-and-a-half, the Indian Treaty Room became a veritable mini India, as the Indian Americans, some second generation ones, savoured the occasion over Kanchipuram idlis, samosas and ladoos. Hindustani music and a Kathak performance by Prachi Dalal were the other highlights.
Neil Patel, a second generation Indian American lawyer who works in US Vice-President Dick Cheney's office, officiated as the Master of Ceremonies. Gopal Khanna, CIO of Peace Corps, made the closing remarks.Among the Indian Americans who participated in the event were Piyush Agarwal, Dr Akshay Desai, Dr Rao Emandi (all from Florida), Dr Ashok Jain (Michigan), Dr Sharad Lakhanpal (Texas), Dr Shailendra Kumar, Dr Suresh Gupta (both from Maryland), Shashi Saha and Hemant Patel.