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Holi Aayee Ray!

Posted by admin On March - 1 - 2010  Print  Email  

Phagwah in New York: A Colourful Festival to Usher in a Colourful Season

This year, on Sunday March 7, 2010, the Hindu community in Richmond Hill, Queens, New York, will host its 21st Annual Phagwah Parade. The colourful event will signal the start of spring.

Holi Hai! Web photo.

Phagwah is another name for Holi, the spring festival of India. It is a joyful celebration involving the use of coloured powder which is smeared on the face and body and abeer, a mixture of water and coloured dye sprayed on participants during the celebration.

The Phagwah parade which begins at noon from Liberty Avenue and 133rd Street, Richmond Hill, is said to be one of the largest Hindu celebration in North America. This year, it is expected to be 25,000 strong, providing the day is warm. It will proceed west on Liberty Avenue and turn north on to 123rd street, then east on 95th Avenue to Smokey Oval Park (Phil Rizutto Park) at 125th Street.  The parade will feature colourful floats carrying beauty pageant winners, religious and political leaders and prominent members of the business community. It will converge at the park for a musical concert of chowtal singing and dances. The concert ends at 6 p.m.

Phagwah in Queens, New York. Web photo.

No alcoholic drinks, political banners, chutney music, smearing of power or spraying of abeer are allowed in the parade. The celebration is hosted by the Hindu Parades and Festivals Committee, Inc, under the auspicies of the Federation of the Hindu Mandirs and the Arya Spiritual Committee.

Phagwah celebrations started in New York on Thursday February 25, with a programme to observe the Hindu Spring Festival of Phagwah at City Hall hosted by the Hindu Parades and Festivals Committee, Inc.  Addressing the gathering were New York City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn and Council member Eric A. Ulrich.

The popular Indo-Caribbean festival is celebrated on Phalgun Purnima (full moon day). It is also the beginning of Sambat (first day in the Hindu calendar) which falls on March 1, this year.  Phagwah is an ancient Hindu tradition which celebrates new beginnings and seeks blessings from the Gods for fertile land and bountiful harvests.

Holi means burning. The burning of Holika, a bonfire in which dry sticks and cow dung are burned with corn seeds, signifies the prevailing of light over darkness, fear and ignorance.

The tradition of Phagwah began with the indentured labourers who were taken from India to the Caribbean islands to work in the sugar cane fields during the 19th and 20th centuries. It was then brought to New York by immigrants from Trinidad and Guyana during the 1970s. The wider celebration, however, began in 1990, with the introduction of the Phagwah parade which culminates in a concert at Smokey Oval Park.

Unlike in the Caribbean islands, Trinidad and Guyana, in particular, where Phagwah is a national holiday and the celebration takes place in temples, homes, schools, streets (especially in rural areas) and recreation grounds, spraying of abir and smearing of powder are not allowed on the streets or sidewalks in Queens. The celebration is confined to the concrete section of the park and not on the newly groomed fields.

Phagwah celebration begins with the lighting up of Holika on the eve of Phagwah. There are many  legends associated with the celebration, most popular being Prahlad, who was a devout follower of Lord Vishnu.

King Hiranyakashyap wanted everyone in his kingdom to worship only him but to his great disappointment, his son, Prahlad, the prince, became an ardent devotee of Lord Naarayana. The angry Hiaranyakashyap ordered his sister, Holika, who was granted a boon and could not be affected by fire, to enter a blazing fire with Prahlad sitting on her lap. She did not know the boon worked only when she entered the fire alone. She perished and Prahlad crawled out of the fire, protected by Lord Naarayana. The festival, therefore, celebrates the victory of good over evil and also the triumph of devotion.

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Hi. My name is Susan Gosine-Herrera. I live in Queens, New York. This news blog is my way of highlighting all the interesting things, people and events I come across in this part of New York. If you have an interesting immigrant story or know of one or of an interesting immigrant, I will be happy to feature that story in these pages. Just send an email and I will be in touch. Meanwhile, live like a tourist, enjoy all you can, before you move on.

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