Some around the Internets are shocked, simply shocked, that the Obamas did this. (Read some comments here for a taste of reaction, which includes “False idols at the White House! It will need a good cleaning after they’re gone” and “Maybe Michelle will be their first sacrifice.”)
Let the record show: the first Diwali celebration at the White House was sponsored by George W. Bush in 2003.
He never attended, but always noted the event, as he did for his last celebration in 2008:
Bush sent greetings to those attending the celebration and Indian Americans throughout the country via a White House printed message which wished them an “uplifting and hopeful Diwali.”
“I send greetings to those celebrating Deepavali (Diwali), the festival of lights,” he said, noting that “the candle’s flames represent the light of hope and the blessings of life”.
Bush said, “The light from these candles reminds observers that good always triumphs over evil and we go forward in confidence that it will continue to prevail in the future.”
“This joyous festival reminds all citizens of the great blessings of religious freedom and our nation’s strong traditions of faith,” he added.
Bush also pointed out that “during Diwali, millions of Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains around the world will join together setting out ‘diyas’ and enjoying fireworks in celebration of the festival of lights.”
Although Bush did not attend even this final Diwali celebration hosted by his Administration, Dr Piyush Agrawal, the driving force behind urging Bush way back in 2003 to host Diwali in the White House, said, “Let’s not forget, and let’s always keep in mind, that he was the first-ever US President to host Diwali in the White House, and for that we must always be grateful and indebted to him.”
“We, as Indian Americans, must be proud of President Bush — a great friend of India — for having the courage to break away from past barriers and respond to our request to start this magnificent tradition in the White House,” he said, and added, “By doing so, he also clearly included us as part of the American mainstream and has made us all so proud to be Americans and part of this great, pluralistic society that incorporates all faiths as does India, a fellow democracy.”