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Powder or not, borough prepares for Phagwah

Police are hoping the 10,000 revelers expected to descend upon Liberty Avenue Saturday afternoon for the 13th annual Richmond Hill Phagwah Parade arrive without the colorful powder typically poured by Hindus to symbolize good luck.

Following the Sept. 11 attacks, organizers of the parade agreed to discourage the use of the red and white baby powder at the celebration due to fears it could be confused with anthrax.

Sources said police could not ban participants from bringing the powder because it is not an illegal substance. However, police were respectfully asking parade-goers to refrain from tossing the powder during Saturday’s parade.

Pandit Chandrica, president of the Federation of Hindu Mandirs and one of the parade’s organizers, said powder was an important part of the Phagwah celebration, but this year people should play with the powder indoors before joining the parade.

Sources said 200 police officers would be on hand to make sure the crowd remained safe.

“I just hope that it’s going to be peaceful as it’s always been,” said Rudy Toolas Prashad, a 102nd Precinct community affairs officer who works closely with the Richmond Hill Hindu community. “I’m looking forward to it and I will get involved in participating.”

Powder or not, parade-goers will gather at the corner of 133rd Street and Liberty Avenue at 12:30 p.m. and march to Smokey Oval Park, where a religious ceremony will take place. The Liberty Avenue route is one that appeared to be in jeopardy during the planning stages of the parade.

Police from the 106th Precinct had said the festival was getting too large and had become a safety concern. They suggested moving it to Atlantic Avenue. Launched in 1989 as a small gathering of about 100 people, it has grown to an event that attracts thousands each March and is particularly popular among the borough’s Indo-Guyanese population.

A compromise by organizers to limit the number of official floats to 12 led police to agree to keep the Liberty Avenue route.

Phagwah goes back thousands of years and marks the coming of spring. It is linked to several legends, including one where a prince is saved from fire by divine intervention. The festival celebrates the destruction of evil and the triumph of goodness.

For Richmond Hill’s Hindus, many of whom come from Guyana, the holiday also provides an opportunity to affirm their roots in an adopted homeland.

“Our tradition, our culture, our rich heritage handed down to us by our forefathers, we have to sustain that, keep it here in the United States so that the young generations can learn” said Chandrica.

Reach reporter Daniel Massey by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 156.

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