Historic Diwali celebration at Minnesota State Capitol with Governor and Lt. Governor

October 18th marked a historic moment for Indian Americans across the State of Minnesota as the leadership from the community celebrated Diwali at the state capitol in Saint Paul, Minnesota with Governor Tim Walz and Lt. Governor Peggy Flannigan. 

The celebration began with the recitation of the Shanti Mantra from the Vedas chanted by Vishal Agarwal. The prayer for peace to encompass every corner of the universe was translated in English by Sarang Tantry, a senior at the Wayzata High School who along with several high schoolers attended the event. Amongst others, guests included leaders from the Hindu Society of Minnesota, S.V Temple, BAPS, IAM, and the Sikh and Jain community.  

Eminent leaders from the Business, Arts and Music, and Community Outreach sections of the community were also part of the celebration. 

Lauding the contributions made by some 40,000 plus Indian Americans who live in Minnesota, Governor Tim Walz said, “This first-ever Diwali celebration is a testament to the rich cultural heritage and contributions of the community to the state of Minnesota in all walks of life.”  

In his heartfelt remarks welcoming the community leaders, Governor Walz emphasized the importance of embracing diversity and the role that the community plays in making Minnesota great. 

Minnesota Governor Tim Walz announcing October as the Hindu Heritage Month and presenting the proclamation to Vallabha Tantry, AIA – Minnesota Diwali event Chair

The Governor also stressed the significance of religious freedom and the responsibility to ensure that everyone feels seen, heard, and welcomed.  

Governor Walz issued a special Proclamation declaring October as The Hindu Heritage Month. The proclamation acknowledges the millions of Hindu, Sikhs, Jains, and Buddhist followers living in the United States and the vibrant Indian community in Minnesota. It highlights the immense contributions made by Indian Americans in various fields, including science, education, medicine, law, politics, business, technology, culture, and sports. This proclamation signifies the cultural richness and diversity that the Indian American community brings to Minnesota. 

Governor Walz was joined by Lieutenant Governor Flanagan to light the traditional diya along with Vallabha Tantry and Gopal Khanna. Tantry and Khanna representing the Association of Indians in America (AIA) in Minnesota worked with the governor’s office and Council of Asian Pacific Minnesotans in bringing Diwali to the State Capitol.

The celebration continued with a speech by Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan and other distinguished representatives. Flanagan, herself the first Native American 

Lt. Governor of the state appreciated being part of the first-ever Diwali at the State Capitol. She emphasized the importance of cultural diversity and the harmony that arises from celebrating various traditions. 

MN Governor Tim Walz and Lt Governor lighting the traditional diya with Vallabha Tantry AIA – Minnesota Event Chair and Gopal Khanna, former AIA – National Vice President at the first ever Diwali Celebration

Upon receiving Ganesh Murthi presented to the governor as a special gift, he said “This gift will have a permanent placement in the governor’s mansion as a memento for the first Diwali celebration.” The Lt. Governor was presented with The Bhagwat Gita by Shri Chinmayanand.

Gopal Khanna, former New York Chapter President and former National Vice President of the Association of Indians in America (AIA) talked about AIA’s work in furthering its motto – “Indian Heritage and American Commitment.” He said, “AIA started the Diwali celebration at the South Street Seaport in New York City in 1987, and it has become a mega celebration with fireworks and cultural activities, a must go to annual event in the New York tri-state area.”  

He added, “AIA led the establishment of Diwali at The White House, a tradition that was started by President George W. Bush in 2003, and that tradition has continued for the last twenty years by Presidents Obama, Trump and Biden.” 

“The historic Diwali celebration at the Minnesota State Capitol serves as a reminder of the values of unity, cultural appreciation, and religious freedom that make Minnesota a welcoming and inclusive state,” said Vallabha Tantry, coordinator of the event. “Lessons learned from AIA’s work on establishing Diwali in New York and The White House helped us in planning what we could do at the state level.” She continued, “It’s good to see this tradition started in Minnesota.” 

Community leader Mahendra Nath, Sushmi Aggarwal, Gopal Khanna & Vallabha Tantry presenting Ganesh Murthi to the Governor

Khanna added, “Now we need to get purposefully engaged in our country and fulfill AIA’s mission of “American Commitment” and become an integral part of the American experiment.” He continued, “to achieve that goal we need to first, register and vote. Second, volunteer and give back to the local communities we live in. And, third, and most importantly, help the next generation become servant leaders.” 

The event was co-hosted by the Council of Asian Pacific Minnesotans (CAPM)—a special thank you to Sia Her (Executive Director) and Mai Tong Vang (Executive Assistant) for their leadership. 

Expressing pride in the first Diwali celebration at the State Capitol in Minnesota, Govind Munjal, AIA National President said, “We remain committed to working with community leaders all across the country to support cultural activities like Diwali that bring happiness and joy to all Americans.” 

Image courtesy of Provided

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