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Obama celebrates the festival of lights
  | Thursday, October 15, 2009
Barack Obama celebrated Diwali by lighting the ceremonial lamp at the White House amidst chanting of Vedic mantras seeking world peace, becoming the first US President to personally grace the occasion.

"I think it's fitting that we begin this work in the week leading up to the holiday of Diwali, the festival of lights, when members of some of the world's greatest faiths celebrate the triumph of good over evil," Obama said in his remarks on the occasion at a White House function held at its historic East Room on Wednesday.

This is the first time that a US President attended and celebrated Diwali at the White House, giving official recognition to the festival of lights celebrated across the world by millions of Hindus, Sikhs and Jains. "This coming Saturday, Hindus, Jains, Sikhs and some Buddhists, here in America and around the world, will celebrate this holiday by lighting diyas, or lamps, which symbolise the victory of light over darkness, and knowledge over ignorance," Obama said.

Among those present at the occasion were several eminent members of the Indian community, nearly half a dozen members of Obama's Cabinet and several Indian American members of his administration. The visiting Union Minister of Commerce, Anand Sharma, and Indian Ambassador to the US, Meera Shankar also graced the occasion.

"While this is a time of rejoicing, it's also a time for reflection, when we remember those who are less fortunate and renew our commitment to reach out to those in need," Obama said, minutes before lighting the lamp while Pandit Narayanacharya Digalakote from the Sri Shiva Vishnu temple chanted Vedic mantras. "In that spirit of celebration and contemplation, I am happy to light the White House diya, and wish you all a Happy Diwali, and a saal mubarak," Obama said amidst a round of applause from the audience invited for the occasion.

During the observance ceremony, Obama signed an executive order to restore a US government panel to address concerns of Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders and to work on improving their health, education and economic status.
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