Viren and Rifka Mayani at the White House in Washington

Viren Mayani, the president-elect of the Georgia Indo-American Chamber of Commerce, had visited the White House upon graduation from college as a tourist.

But on Nov. 3, he and his wife, Rifka, returned for a second visit. This time, however, it was to attend a private event for eminent Indian-Americans from throughout the U.S. as well as Indian-American members of the White House official staff to celebrate and observe “Diwali” the Hindu Festival of Lights.

“The warm heartedness of the First Lady and the staff will never be forgotten,” he told Global Atlanta.

For the first time in the history of the White House, Michelle Obama took Bollywood dance lessons with one of the top three choreographers of “So You Think You Can Dance” TV show, Nakul Dev Mahajan, and performed with Indian-American children at the State Room a couple hours before the formal event.

 After her remarks and the chanting of Vedic Shlokas (mantras) by a Hindu priest, Mrs. Obama also lit the “diya,” the traditional lamp symbolizing the victory of good over evil and light over darkness.

“This holiday is celebrated by members of some of the world’s oldest religions not just here in America but across the globe. Diwali is a time for celebration…” she said during the formal high-tea event that began later in the afternoon.

Mr. and Mrs. Mayani have been engaged locally in many of the events promoting the interests of Indian-Americans.

They also have developed a kinship with Kiran Ahuja, the executive director of the White House Initiatives on Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders, who encouraged them to attend the event in Washington, after having received a formal invitation from Gautam Raghavan, public engagement advisor to the White House. 

Mrs. Ajuhua, a native of Savannah, is well acquainted with Atlanta and Georgia, having completed her undergraduate studies at Spelman College and her legal studies at the University of Georgia.

And the Mayanis have worked on projects with her in Atlanta such as the 2012 WHIAAPI Southeast Regional Summit at Emory University and 2013 Georgia APA Legislative Day at the state Capitol

Mr. Mayani said that he was impressed not only by the hospitality extended to all the invitees but also the reverence with which the observance was conducted, in keeping with the ceremonial customs practiced in Hindu homes.

To read a personal account of the Mayani’s visit to the White House, click here.

For a photo essay of the event, click here.