The Richmond Hill Queens community gathered on June 27 to pay tribute to late founder of the Annual Phagwah (Holi) parade, community advocate, and scholar whose life, legacy and contributions, will always be remembered when residents go by the 133rd Street and Liberty Avenue, junction, co-named Pandit Ramlall Way.
Guyanese-born, Dharmacharya Pandit Ramlall, who also founded the Diwali Motoracade and the Aryal Spiritual Center of New York, a stones-throw from the intersection was remembered as someone who lived an extraordinary life filled with purpose.
Council Member Adrienne Adams said the street sign honoring the spiritual leader’s legacy “is a fitting tribute for the leader who contributed so much to the cultural, spiritual, and educational fabric of our city,” according to a release.
“It was my honor to celebrate Pandit Ramlall’s life with his family, friends, and community leaders. We will never forget the tremendous impact he had on the Guyanese community, Queens, and the entire City of New York,” said Adams during the unveiling ceremony.
“As we celebrated the unveiling of Pandit Ramlall Way, the sun was as brilliant as our illustrious Nana (Grandfather). May his name and legacy forever inspire thinking minds and determined characters,” said Nivedita Balgobin, the granddaughter of Pandit Ramlall.
“The unveiling of Pandit Ramlall Way was a tremendous celebratory moment among the Guyanese population in Richmond Hill area in honor of a community advocate and religious icon. The event was well organized by the Pandit Ramlall Way Unveiling Committee with unwavering support of the staff of Council Member Adrienne Adams, who championed the application and supported the process throughout,” said Ashook Ramsaran, chair of the Pandit Ramlall Way Unveiling Committee.
“The event was an excellent mixture of prayers, songs, dance, tributes, recognition, and proclamations from officials. We are grateful to Council Member Adams for her active engagement with the community and support for Pandit Ramlall Way, which brings a lot of pride to the community and the neighborhood.”
President of the Guyana Tri-State Alliance, and Co-Chair of the Pandit Ramlall Way Unveiling Committee, simply stated: “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.”
“Pandit Ramlall is very deserving of this street co-naming honor. He was well-loved in the Richmond Hill community and beyond, especially among Guyanese religious leaders and followers of Hinduism,” said State Senator James Sanders Jr.
“I am deeply moved by the historic naming of Pandit Ramlall Way after a revered Hindu faith leader. The Hindu values of karma yoga (selfless action) and satyagraha (soul force) guided me to embrace this life of public service, said Assembly Member Jenifer Rajkumar.
“He was a unifying figure whose absence is felt even three years after he has passed,” said District Leader Richard David.
“Councilwoman Adrienne Adams has piloted legislation to realize ‘Pandit Ramlall Way’ and in doing so, honored a son of Guyana and the Caribbean who is a product of Hindu culture,” said Dr. Dhanpaul Narine, committee member.
Panditji continues to be the social justice warrior for this community,” said Dr. Sharla Madho-Khargi, director of Clinical and Community Services for the Indian Diaspora Council.
Pandit Ramlall was born on Feb. 28, 1928 in Guyana to Indian parents. By the time he was eight years old, both of his parents had passed away, but Ramlall’s hard work, determination and love of learning led him on a lifelong journey dedicated to education and spirituality. He was self-taught and ordained a priest at 19 years old and later received scholarships to study in India and Suriname. During his studies, he worked as a clerk and postal worker, and later hosted his own radio program.
Ramlall fought for Guyanese independence from British rule. He was imprisoned in Guyana and spent three years in Sibley Hall Prison. While imprisoned, Ramlall led hunger strikes because the prison did not offer vegetarian food. He was also denied the ability to perform rituals as a Hindu priest, but his persistent demands were eventually met.
Fearful of his family’s safety, Ramlall migrated to the United States in 1974 and settled in Queens. He continued his studies and received both a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology and a Diploma in Education at Rochelle College. He worked for the New York City Health and Hospital Corporation in a leadership role, and served as a representative for Social Service Employees Union (SSEU) Local 371, a civil service union. Ramlall later served as a volunteer chaplain of the New York City Transit Authority and secretary of the Queens Interfaith Council.
In recognition of his contributions to the borough, late Queens Borough President Helen Marshall declared March 23, 2003, “Pandit Ramlall Day.”
Ramlall was a Vedic scholar who wrote several books. He was an educator, and motivational speaker. In January 2005, he was honored by the India International Friendship Society with the “Bharat Gaurav” Award at a ceremony in Mumbai, India. He won several other awards in the United States, and Canada. Ramlall died on Jan. 26, 2019 at 90 years old. He is remembered as a learned yet humble man with noble ideals and selfless service to his community.