Gov. Cooper barefoots the elements to celebrate Diwali in Cary

Gov. Roy Cooper celebrated the Indian festival of Diwali on Monday with a proclamation — and without shoes.

Diwali, also known as The Festival of Lights, is the most widely celebrated religious and cultural event in India. It marks the victory of good over evil, light over dark, and the beginning of the New Year in the Indian culture.

Cooper, who had issued a proclamation on Nov. 7 recognizing Diwali when it happened, attended the celebration with about 150 people at the Sree Venkateswara Temple. It included traditional food and dance from India. He also observed Indian tradition by participating barefooted despite a cold, soaking rain that drenched the temple grounds.

Cooper read his proclamation, which described Diwali and also noted the economic and cultural contributions Indian Americans have made to the state and country.

“Our Diwali lights will shine through the darkness, through the wind and the cold rain,” Cooper said. “What a hearty bunch. I am so grateful to my friends in the Indian-American community and the work you do.

“Each year the glowing lights of Diwali pour into our state from around the world and fill us with hope, Diwali is an annual reminder that no matter what challenges we face from hunger, violence to devastating natural disasters, there is a bright light on the other side.”

First Lady Kristin Cooper, Attorney General Josh Stein and Wake County state Sen. Jay Chaudhuri also attended. They each were adorned with fresh-flower necklaces. A pair of diyas, or ceremonial oil-wick lamps, decorated the stage, where they sat at a table.

Rama Garimella, who is the chairwoman of the temple’s celebration, said it meant a lot to have Cooper commemorate Diwali.

“It’s wonderful that he is recognizing Diwali again,” she said.

Last year, Cooper became the first North Carolina governor to recognize the festival with a proclamation.

Diwali is significant for the four major religions in India.

Hindus celebrate a day of thanksgiving for the homecoming of Lord Rama and the beginning of the new year. Sikhs mark the release of revered teacher Guru Hargobind from captivity. Jains celebrate the anniversary of the attainment of moksha, or liberation, by Mahavira at the end of his life in 527 B.C. Buddhists commemorate Diwali as the day Emperor Ashoka embraced Buddhism as his faith.

There are about 60,000 people of Indian descent in the Research Triangle region. Last month at Koka Booth Amphitheatre, about 15,000 people attended a Diwali celebration that had traditional performances along with appearances by singers Sadhana Sargam and Amit Sana of Indian Idol fame.

Morrisville Town Council Member Satish Garimella said Cooper’s presence mattered to the Indian community.

“For the head of the state to come to the temple means a lot,” Garimella said. “It may seem like a small thing for him to make this recognition, but it makes people very, very happy.”

Chaudhuri is the first Indian American elected to serve in the N.C. General Assembly, first winning his seat in 2016. He said Diwali has much in common with American ideals.

“Having Gov. Cooper and the First Lady present to sign the proclamation reflects the American ideal that we’re all part of the same family,” Chaudhuri said. “It also reflects that our state’s diversity is our strength and not a weakness.”