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Historic first Diwali celebration at the Georgia State Capitol

By Mahadev Desai
December 2015
Historic first Diwali celebration at the Georgia State Capitol

BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha hosted a historic first Diwali celebration at the Georgia State Capitol, on Friday, November 13, 2015. The event was graced by Hon. Nagesh Singh, R. Srinivasan, D. V. Singh, and Timothy Jetty from the Consulate General of India in Atlanta; GA Public Service Commissioner Tim Echols; GA State Representatives Hugh Floyd and Marin Pedro; representatives of BAPS Mandir; Atlanta’s Indian community leaders and members of various organizations.

Guests began arriving around eleven a.m. and after cheerfully exchanging greetings, stood admiring the colorful rangoli and artistic and decorative miniature annakut elegantly set up at the foot of the staircase in the south wing of the Capitol, and posed for photographs. After the cordial meet and greet session, at noon Mitesh Patel and Ritesh Desai warmly welcomed all and expressed their Happy Diwali and New Year wishes. They introduced and recognized the dignitary speakers and began the program with Shanti Mantras for world peace recited by BAPS youth.

It is a matter of great honor and pride, said Mitesh Patel, that an Indian festival is being celebrated for the first time “under the gold dome.” In 1991, he continued, South Africa’s iconic leader Nelson Mandela at a Diwali celebration in Durban City Hall had said, “We have been engaged in a battle against the forces of darkness along lines similar to the Hindu scriptures. At this time of Diwali, as we light the lamps we symbolize and remember: enlightenment over blind faith; prosperity over poverty; knowledge over ignorance; good health over sickness and freedom over bondage.” Mitesh added that in addition to the celebration of Diwali, it was also a time to celebrate the immense contribution of the Indian community as a whole. He asserted that Indian Americans have, are, and will continue to develop the great State of Georgia and the amazing land called United States of America. Ritesh Desai promised that this would be the first of many more Diwali celebrations at the Capitol.

Hon. Nagesh Singh, in a jovial mood, wished a very happy Diwali and New Year to all and said, “US-India relations have never been better before in all aspects of high growth trajectory. We are engaging with the US in all sorts of issues. We mostly discuss issues of politics, security, trade, commerce, economic affairs, and at times the importance of Indian culture and the role it plays in promoting better understanding between our two countries is sidelined, and in my view it perhaps overtakes all other aspects of our relationships, and that is the importance of this function in this temple of democracy which represents the people and State of Georgia where we are celebrating Diwali function here today. And for this initiative, I would like to congratulate BAPS and Ritesh for starting this, and I hope in times to come we can expand this participation not only in the State of GA but in the region if people are willing to come down. Our deep gratitude to the Governor and to the administration of the State of GA for letting us do this here. It is a symbol of their affection for our community and we are grateful for that. Let me say that at times some people describe Diwali as a Hindu festival, while some call it an Indian festival, but I think it has truly become a global festival. The message that comes out of Diwali is a universal message, an eternal message of truth, victory of good over evil, light over darkness, and by celebrating this and spreading the message you are doing a wonderful service to people of Georgia, United States, and rest of the world. We are trying to portray a message that there can be unity in diversity. Finally, let me assure you that my colleagues and I remain at your service. Please communicate with us, make your suggestions for improving our service and compliment us, too; it boosts our morale.” Ritesh recognized Consul (Head of Chancery) Mr. D. V. Singh; Consul (Consular/Community Affairs/ Commercial/ Political) R. Srinivasan; and Vice Consul (PS) to CG, Mr. Timothy Jetty; he lauded the Consulate team for doing a fantastic job in taking care of the community and our needs, even at odd hours.

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Dr. Angelina Mehta is a Licensed Naturopathic physician at Progressive Medical Center, Atlanta. She has also been with the US Marine Corps for ten years where she earned many decorations and served in two deployments to Iraq. Dr. Mehta spoke about the significance of Diwali, the Festival of Lights. One of the most important, popular, and colorful festivals in India and all over the world, it is celebrated traditionally by lighting the diya (lamp) as a reminder to dispel inner darkness with light. It is time for family to get together, to pray together, light diyas and fireworks, and enjoy delicious food together. It is an occasion for thanksgiving, celebrated with annakut (a mountain of food) with thousands of vegetarian items. It is a time when charity, goodwill, family values, and love of God are celebrated and reinforced. It is a time of reconciliation and consolidation, to forgive misdeeds of others over the past year. It is a time of renewal, reflection, and resolution, of strengthening community spirit by reaching out to those in need, and to remind us of unity in diversity. “We are excited to share the festive spirit of Diwali with you all at the GA State Capitol for the very first time. My best wishes for a Very Happy Diwali and New Year to you all.”

GA Public Service Commissioner Tim Echols welcomed all to the Capitol and urged Indian community members to come back in January to March to meet lawmakers and build relationships. “I have learnt that relations matter if you want to advance agenda of your community, if you want to increase your importance, and want your voice to be heard. I want to tell you about the Great Seal of the State of GA. It is on my name tag, it is on the flag, and on every door handle in this building. The three words of the official state motto are, Wisdom, Justice and Moderation. And as we celebrate this Festival of Light and as we think of driving darkness from ourselves, from our neighborhood, from our State, I think of the importance of training our children in understanding wisdom, justice, moderation. There is so much we can do in Atlanta. ... Well, I stand at your service, if I can help the community continue to grow, continue to have influence. I thank you for your friendship with me. Our Governor is out of state today. We thank you for the many contributions you are making across many businesses, many organizations, in your own homes and schools with your children.”

GA State Rep. Hugh Floyd (D-99, Gwinnett County), who is the oldest supporter of the Indian American community, said that he and Ritesh bonded and worked together over a long period. “I appreciate all your friendship. I live in District 99, where the BAPS Mandir is located. I have seen its construction from day one and watched the progress of the project to the very end. It is an amazing monumental architectural wonder. Thank you and goodwill.”

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Georgia State Rep. Pedro Marin declared, “We are not just white or black. We are diverse,” and exhorted the Indian community to visit the Capitol during January to March to interact with lawmakers. (Photo: BAPS)

GA State Rep. Pedro Marin (D-96) has worked with other Latino, African American, and Asian leaders to organize the community to gain political voice through the state at various levels of government. He is one of the first Latinos ever elected into the GA General Assembly. Mr.Marin commended Dr. Mehta for her great service to the community. He said that the Capitol welcomes diversity. “We are not just white or black. We are diverse.” He echoed Mr. Tim Nichols and exhorted the Indian community to visit the Capitol during January to March to interact with lawmakers.

Ritesh recognized GA State Rep. B.J. Pak (R-Lilburn 108) who helped BAPS to host Diwali at the GA Capitol. Although Mr. Pak could not attend the function, Ritesh thanked Cathy for attending and helping with all the preparations.

Anand Mehta, CFO of The Boys and Girls Club of America, moved the Vote of Thanks. He thanked all the dignitaries, BAPS volunteers, and the guests. He further thanked GA Governor Nathan Deal, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, and Sec.of State Brian Kemp for being great partners in supporting BAPS. Mehta concluded with a hope that there would be a bigger turnout at the next Diwali celebration in 2016.

At the end of the proud and rousing and memorable celebratory program, packets of Diwali sweets were presented to all.



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