Phagwah Holi Parade Returns to Richmond Hill for its 28th Year

By Levar Franklin

After missing one year out of the past 27, in a burst of color and pageantry the Hindu community of Richmond Hill returned this year to celebrate Phagwah/Holi, the celebration of the arrival of spring.

Phagwah/Holi is called the festival of color or festival of sharing love. This is a time that celebrants shed all inhibitions, it is the victory of good over evil, the arrival of spring, end of winter, and for many a festive day to meet others, play and laugh, forget and forgive, and repair broken relationships, and is also celebrated as a thanksgiving for a good harvest. Phagwah has been celebrated in Queens since 1988. The fate of the Indo-Caribbean Hindu celebration has been hazy since last year, after two clashing groups applied for a permit to host the event. The competing requests forced the New York Police Department to revoke the permits and cancel the parade.

In the revelry, colored dyes, power and colored water are smeared on friends, neighbors and complete strangers in a show of acceptance and love.

“It’s just a time to accept everyone, forgive and forget past grievances,” said Neshal Singh, 29,who often attends the parade. “It’s just funny how last year there wasn’t a parade because of the very thing this celebration represents.”

The name of the celebration derives its origins from a Hindu tale, in which the evil queen Holika tried to kill the crown prince Prahlada, who was sent to rid his kingdom of evil. The modern day representation starts with the burning of Holika’s image and rubbing the ashes on foreheads. The colorful powder and dyes have replaced the dull ashes.

The Arya Spiritual Center, in Jamaica, Queens hosted the first Phagwah parade and formed the Hindu Parades and Festivals Committee. Throughout the years as the immigrant Indian population grew, the committee welcomed other groups, like the Federation of Hindu Mandirs. Eventually, the two factions became involved in a struggle for control of the celebration.

“It’s like inviting someone to your home and then they want to take over everything in your home,” said Herman Singh, Director of the Hindu Parades and Festival Committee in a statement made to New York 1.

The battle for control reached a point where one group was barring the other from advertising for the parade. Last year The Hindu Parades and Festival Committee filed  a civil lawsuit against the NYPD and Federation of Hindu Mandirs over the cancellation of the parade because they felt they filed for the parade permits first. In a decision this year the two groups came together on a compromise so that the parade could return. Although, the two compromised a Queens Supreme Court judge has banned the two groups from advertising any parade related events.

“The parade will be the parade,” said Naidoo Veerapen, general secretary of the Federation of Hindu Mandirs Inc., at a press conference.” People in Richmond Hill want the parade, even people in the Bronx want the parade.”

The ruling by the judge and the underlying hostility by the two groups towards each other leaves the idea of next year’s Phagwah/Holi traditional parade up in a cloud of smoke.

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