Obamas Host India's Singh at Glitzy First State Dinner

Exclusive party celebrated U.S.-India partnership in tent at White House.

Nov. 25, 2009— -- With pomp and circumstance -– and a toast to the United States' partnership with India -- President Obama and Michelle Obama welcomed India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as the honored guest at the administration's first state dinner Tuesday night.

Three-hundred-thirty-five guests -- from political powerhouses like Nancy Pelosi and Colin Powell to Hollywood directors Steven Spielberg and M. Night Shamalayan -- attended the party on the south lawn of the White House, where a tent with a glass ceiling and eight chandeliers was erected for the festivities.

The sea of guests featured a mix of traditional "black tie" dress and vibrantly colored saris and turbans. The first lady donned a strapless champagne-colored gown made by Indian-born designer Naeem Khan and accented with traditional bangles.

After the guests were seated for dinner, the president offered a toast to the guest of honor, Prime Minister Singh.

"In India some of life's most precious moments are often celebrated under the cover of a beautiful tent. It's a little like tonight. We have incredible food, the music, and are surrounded by great friends. It's been said that the most beautiful thing in the universe are the starry heavens above us and the feeling of duty within us. Mr. Prime Minister today we worked to fulfill our duty to bring our countries closer together than ever before."

Standing in a full black tie tux next to the PM, Obama said he and his counterpart have a common bond -- having risen to leadership after historic movements for civil rights.

"It's the bond of friendship between a president and a prime minister who are bound by the same unshakeable spirit of possibility and brotherhood that transformed both our nations, the spirit that gave rise to movements led by Gandhi and King and which are the reason that both of us can stand here tonight," Obama said.

The president then raised a glass -- of what looked like water in a wine glass -- to toast. Dr. Singh toasted with what appeared to be white wine.

"To the future that beckons all of us, let us answer its call and let our two great nations realize all the triumphs and achievements that await us. Cheers," Obama said toasting.

Obama, Singh Toast to U.S.-India Partnership

Singh then raised his glass, saying that the engagement between the U.S. and India is "highly important" for the world as a whole at a time when "profound changes are taking place in the world" prompting new needs for international cooperation.

The PM said the two leaders are embarking now on a new phase of their partnership.

"Your journey to the White House has captured the imagination of millions and millions of people in India," Singh said toasting Obama. "You are an inspiration to all those who cherish the values of democracy, diversity and equal opportunity."

Inside the pavilion-like tent, guests were seated in groups of 10 at round tables draped with apple-green linens. In honor of the state bird of India -- the Indian peacock -- deep purple flower arrangements sat in the middle of each table. The centerpieces, put together by new White House florist Laura Dowling and her team, were meant to evoke "the classic American garden," the first lady's office said. They were made of purple, plum and fuchsia hydrangea, garden roses, and sweet peas.

Along the walls of the large tent on the South Lawn were arrangements of magnolia branches, locally grown ivy and nandina foliage. The first lady and her staff were in charge of planning the prestigious event, making decisions on the tiniest details. They chose the color of the table cloths, the china set, the flowers, the music, the silverware, the guest list, and the menu.

Guests dined on china from the White House's historic collection and enjoyed a meatless meal of Indian delicacies with some American flair.

The menu, created by guest chef Marcus Samuelsson and White House Executive Chef Cristeta Comerford, with the first lady, was respectful of the dietary concerns of the Indian prime minister, who is a vegetarian. It also put an emphasis on healthful eating from the Obama White House.

White House Menu, Entertainment Featured American and Indian Flavors

The first plate was a potato and eggplant salad with White House arugula and an onion seed vinaigrette. Next was red lentil soup with fresh cheese. For a main entrée, guests could choose from roasted potato dumplings with tomato chutney, chick peas and okra, or green curry prawns with caramelized salsify with smoked collard greens and coconut aged basmati. For dessert, pumpkin pie tart or pear tatin with whipped cream and caramel sauce.

The first lady's office said the menu "reflects the best of American cuisine, continues this White House's commitment to serving fresh, sustainable and regional food, and honors the culinary excellence and flavors that are present in Indian cuisine."

After-dinner entertainment included elements from India as well as from the United States.

Kurt Elling, an eight-time Grammy nominee and American jazz vocalist and composer, performed and Chicago-born Jennifer Hudson, winner of the third season of "American Idol," anchored the program. In addition, the guests heard from the National Symphony Orchestra, with Marvin Hamlisch as the conductor, and the United States Marine Band.

A.R. Rahman, an Indian composer, musician and singer who wrote the "Slumdog Millionaire" score, also performed.

The White House said that the formality of the dinner, the size, and the fact that India is the first country to be honored with an official state visit and dinner are an indication of the importance placed by the administration on their relationship with the nation. India, with nearly 1.2 billion people, is the second-largest country next to China.

"This is a very important relationship with a very important country that we have in the world," White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said. "That's why India was chosen to be the first visit. I think that's why the White House wanted to have something as formal as this to discuss throughout this process the issues that we have bilaterally."

On Tuesday, Obama and Singh held bilateral meetings to discuss a range of issues between the two countries, including counterterrorism, the economy, energy, and climate change.

Singh is no stranger to the pomp and circumstance of being honored with an official White House state dinner. In 2005 he was so honored by President Bush.

ABC News' Devin Dwyer contributed to this report.