Queens residents celebrate Phagwah

Queens residents celebrate Phagwah
Photo by Tangerine Clarke

The warm friendliness of participants at the Grand 29th Annual Phagwah Parade, melted the cold weather that blanketed Richmond Hill, Queens last Sunday, March 12, as hundreds of Indo-Caribbean nationals and citizens of all religions and races, lined the streets, while others danced on colorful floats to celebrate the Hindu festival of Holi.

Kids from as young as six, braved the cold temperature, and marched, played the tassa drum, while onlookers wearing white attire, bathe each other with ‘abrack’ — multi-colored powder, during the joyous welcome spring.

Sharmaine travelled all the way from Waterbury, Connecticut for the first time after coming from Guyana 29 years ago. She wanted to celebrate the richness, and colorful spectacle of her culture.

Her 17-year American-born son, who was experiencing the music and the floats for the first time, also, expressed his love of “mettai”- a sweet treat, as well as – pholouri and curry he enjoys.

“Despite the frigid temps, we are happy to be here to enjoy the music and dancing, and to take part in our culture said the group, carrying Guyana flags.

Guyanese celebrated in 20 floats, adorned with flowers, and streamers. They danced to infectious Indian music, and douse each other in colored powder.

Consul General to New York, Barbara Atherly, at her first Phagwah festival since taking office, wished celebrants a “Happy Holi or Happy Phagwah” — especially to the Guyanese Indians.

She stated that Holi is one of the most joyful and colorful festivals in the Hindu calendar, and an opportunity to embrace each other.

She noted that although the weather was cold, there was lots of love, warmth and friendship among the participants.

“I think this is what we should use to reach out to each at all times, love, and togetherness, “she said.

City Council member candidate, Richard S. David, who could very well become the first Guyanese-born to occupy a seat to represent constituents of Council District 28, in Queens, expressed excitement, being at the largest symbolic festival in New York, and indicated that he would be pushing to make sure Hindus observe Phagwah as a holiday.

“We are not second-class citizens, thousands of people came out here to celebrate Holi or Phagwah, it is amazing how people of all race, and religion come together to celebrate, the same way, it is done Guyana, in peace and love. “I will be fighting in the council for us to have a holiday in observance of Phagwah,” he said.

Organizer, Herman Singh, of the Federation of Hindu Mandir Inc. and the Arya Spiritual Center said it takes the entire community of Richmond Hill to put the Phagwah Parade together, but funding is still needed to offset the various elements to make it successful.

The parade cost upwards of $26,000, but the financial support of business made it possible for citizens to come out and celebrate, despite the cold weather.

“We want to thank the business community for making this parade a success,” said Singh who also acknowledged the support of the NYPD over the years, which led the parade this year dressed in ceremonial uniform.

“Phagwah is a festival where all barriers are broken down. It is about peace, on the day of Phagwah, everyone become the same, people from different background, we all look the same when we wear the colors, we are all happy to celebrate,” said Singh.

Pandit Ramlall, under whose leadership at the Arya Spiritual Center, pioneered the Phagwah celebration, and now in his nineties, was a Grand Marshall.

Romeo Hitlall, another prominent community leader, who recently unveiled a Lions Club International sign on the 100th anniversary to welcome visitors to Richmond Hill, said the community was very proud to be celebrating the 29th Phagwah Parade.

Along with 10 committee members, Hitlall said the planning started one year ago, and despite the cold weather it was all worth being out in the parade that culminated with a cultural presentation of Chowtaal singing, dance, and music, that were followed by the feasting of vegetarian food and sweets.

Vice Chancellor of the University of Guyana, Ivlaw Griffith, and President of the Guyana Tri-State Alliance, Patricia Jordon-Langford wished Guyanese a Happy Phagwah.

The festival of Holi, or Phagwah, celebrates the triumph of good over evil.