Guyanese-Americans and their friends came out in large numbers to celebrate Phagwah in Richmond Hill. Unlike in Guyana, Phagwah or Holi is not a holiday.
Unlike in Guyana, celebrants do not go house to house or street to street to play Phagwah. The celebration takes the form of a parade and a congregation at a park. The 26th Annual Parade began at the Dr Cheddi Jagan Square on 133rd Street and Liberty Avenue, culminating a mile away at Smokey Park.
There was much enthusiasm and revelry for the celebration from the sizeable crowd. The parade began with prayers from the dharmacharya of the Sanatanists, Pandit Rishi Misir and Arya Samajaists, Pandit Ramlall. Several politicians also marched in the parade just behind the two dharmacharyas. There were two dozen floats and marchers on foot.
A Guyanese-American Councilman from Schnectady (left) with a reveller at the Phagwah celebration
The parade was organised by the Hindu Parades and Festival Committee, comprising mostly Guyanese, but the revellers also included persons from other Caribbean territories.
The parade was founded by Ramesh Kalicharran and pandits Ramlall and Satish and a few other community and spiritual leaders in 1989.
Many groups came with dholaks, cymbals or jaals and majeeras with followers clapping, dancing and singing chowtals on the floats and along the route. The floats made their way down the avenue with groups singing and dancing behind to the accompaniment of loud chowtaal music and, or traditional Holi songs from Bollywood movies.
A section of the gathering at the park
“O Rang A Bar Sey” was popular among the floats. People of all ages clapped and danced while throwing abeer and multicoloured powder on each other. The spectators cheered the beautifully designed floats that were sponsored by mandirs, businesses, and cultural organisations. Many marched behind the floats of their organisations, proudly displaying their national identity with flags of the U.S., Guyana, Suriname, India, Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica fluttering in the wind. Many had national bandanas around their neck. Revellers on the route and at the park also waved the flags of their home country. Many danced to tassa while waving their national flags.
The celebration has become popular since it was started in 1989 as Hindus and non-Hindus joined in the joy of throwing abeer, talc powder and various colours of abrack and gulal on each other to mark this festival. The celebration draws the largest gathering of Guyanese anywhere in the world.
The cold weather may have had an effect on the size of the crowd. It was freezing and very windy at this time of the year, a departure from the warn weather the day earlier. Some revellers were clothed lightly and danced to keep warm. Other wore heavy coats as they thronged the parade route and the park smearing faces with coloured powder and sprayed abeer on each other.
People hugged each other and said “Shubh Holi”, “Holi Rei”, and “Happy Holi”.
A variety of coloured of abeer, gulal, and abrack brightened up the parade route and the park discolouring the streets as well as the parade ground. Clouds of talc powder rose above and beyond the huge crowd in the park.
The festival transcended all social, religious and ethnic barriers with non-Hindus participating with equal zest as Hindus. Africans, Muslims, whites and Hispanics also partook in the parade and the mela in the park, clapping and dancing to the rhythmic tunes. Some of them also brought their children who were bathed in colours and who also joined in the celebration smearing abrack on others. The faces, hair and clothing of revellers were dyed with the colours of the rainbow and hues of a spectrum of other colours.
At the park was a cultural variety show. Politicians and community leaders also delivered speeches and Phagwah greetings. Many prominent singers and dancers performed on stage. Hugs and embraces were exchanged with the message of “Shubh Holi!” Most celebrants were dressed in traditional garb. The youths were running around at the park, spurting abeer on everyone.
Several organisations prepared snacks and hot drinks which were distributed free to the thousands at the park as well as along the parade route. A businessman also distributed canned coconut soft drinks and cream soda to revellers at the park.
Several television channels filmed the celebration that was also covered by newspaper reporters.