11/09/2013 05:51 EST | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST

Harper marks South Asia festival of lights, highlights India ties at ceremony

MISSISSAUGA, Ont. - Prime Minister Stephen Harper has marked the festival of Diwali with members of Canada's South Asian community.

Harper was in the Greater Toronto Area on Saturday to light a traditional lamp as part of Diwali, a festival of lights that is a national holiday in India and observed by Hindus, Sikhs and Jains.

The prime minister told the crowd of hundreds in Mississauga about visiting an historic Bangalore Hindu temple during a trip to India last year, where he met with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to talk trade.

Harper has put a priority on boosting ties with the world's fourth-largest energy consumer, where Canada hasn't yet cracked the top 20 of its energy suppliers.

India is a lucrative market for Canadian exports, and the Harper government is seeking to expand trade with the country and other fast-growing Asian nations in order to ease its dependence on the United States.

Harper says his trip helped bring the countries together, and showed how important India is to Ottawa.

"Our government is putting India at the centre of our Asian policy," he said in a speech to the Mississauga celebration.

Canada and India recently finalized their nuclear co-operation agreement, a three-year process that will allow Canadian uranium to be sold to India for reactor fuel.

Harper called Diwali a time for hope and reflection.

"It is a time to dispel fear and ignorance and to embrace hope and truth. A time to be generous and charitable to those less fortunate among us."