Reprinted from India Abroad News Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 14--History was created on Thursday here when Venkatachalpathi Samuldrala became the first-ever Hindu guest priest to deliver the opening prayer in the House of Representatives.

The invocation by Samuldrala, from the Shiva Vishnu Hindu Temple in Parma, Ohio, was delivered before Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's address to a joint session of Congress.

That Samuldrala was able to deliver the Hindu prayer was thanks to the efforts of Rep. Sherrod Brown, Ohio Democrat, one of the most ardent supporters of India and the Indian American community on Capitol Hill.

Brown, a founding member of the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans, and a senior lawmaker on the powerful House International Relations Committee, had requested the House chaplain several months ago to invite a Hindu priest to deliver the opening prayer.

Brown was also the first lawmaker to request House Speaker Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican, to invite Vajpayee to address a joint session of Congress almost immediately after the Indian government confirmed that Vajpayee had accepted President Bill Clinton's invitation to visit the U.S.

Brown, in his remarks on the floor of the House, said, "Today is a great day for Indian-American relations. For the first time, a Hindu priest has conducted the opening prayer at a session of Congress. For the first time, Indian Prime Minister Vajpayee will address a joint session of Congress."

He added, "India and the United States share the bonds of history and culture. Our two great nations share a commitment to both the ideals and the practice of democracy. The close ties between the world's oldest democracy and the world's largest are invaluable to encourage free and fair elections throughout the world."

Brown pointed out that "the United States is also home to an Indian-American community of 1.4 million people. I requested the House chaplain to invite Mr. Samuldrala to give today's prayer as a testimony to the religious diversity that is the hallmark of our nation."

He said that Samuldrala's prayer "reminds us that while we may differ in culture and traditions, we are alike in the basic aspiration for peace and righteousness."

Samuldrala's opening prayer, which he delivered in English, said, "O god, you are omnipresent, omnipotent, and omniscient. You are everything and nothing is beyond you. You are our mother and father, and we are all your children."

It continued, "[W]hatever you do is for our good. You are the ocean of mercy and you forgive our errors. You are our teacher and you guide us on to righteousness."

Samuldrala declared that "[T]oday, in this Great Hall, are assembled the elected representatives of the people of this nation. They are ready to perform their duties. God, please guide them in their thoughts and actions so they can achieve the greatest good for all."

"We end this invocation," he said, "with a prayer from the ancient scriptures of India. May all be happy, may all be free from disease, may all realize what is good, may none be subject to misery, peace, peace, peace be unto all."

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