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Holy Holi! Parade makes a splash in Richmond Hill

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Thousands of Hindu worshipers and others intent on putting the winter season behind them celebrated the start of spring Sunday with Richmond Hill’s annual Phagwah parade.

The festival, where everyone arrives dry but leaves looking like a rainbow, is not only an event to mark the Hindu new year, but also a time for the neighborhood’s Indo-Guyanese community to celebrate its pride.

Participants laughed and had fun as they were doused in brightly colored dye and powder, as is the tradition in the holiday that marks the beginning of spring.

“It feels really huge because everyone is taking part in it,” said Roshanie Jadunath, 21, of Jamaica, who is of Guyanese descent.

The festival started with a parade, complete with floats, drums, dancers and performers, that began at Liberty Avenue and 134th Street and ended at Smoky Oval Park. Some parade-goers even dressed up as Hindu gods with elaborate costumes.

The holiday, which is known as Holi in India, marks the end of winter and the victory of the powers of good over evil. Following the parade, participants sprayed the dyes — using powder, water pistols and bottles — that represent the colors of spring.

Ted Bacchus, 37, of Richmond Hill, said Phagwah represents the Hindu new year and faithful worshipers delight in commemorating it in the streets.

“It’s excellent because it brings the whole family together,” he said.

The Queens Phagwah festival started in 1990 after the Indo-Guyanese and Indian population grew during the 1980s in neighborhoods like Richmond Hill, South Ozone Park, Jamaica and Brooklyn. Although there was some concern from neighborhood members and the authorities on the use of dye and colored power, especially after Sept. 11, 2001, the parade has grown in popularity — especially among non-Hindus.

Several of the visitors also got in on the fun and threw themselves into the dye.

“The music is wonderful, and it’s so colorful,” said Bethany Dziedzic, 31, of Staten Island who was covered in red and green dye and came with her family.

Some police officers prohibited parade-goers from spraying the dyes and dust on the street, but there appeared to be no serious complaints from people who lived near the park and parade route.

Elected officials also took part in the celebration, including City Councilmen Ruben Wills (D-Jamaica), Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans) and Eric Ulrich (R-Howard Beach).

Many neighborhood Hindus said they welcomed the visitors and were pleased that they were interested in their culture.

“This is where we can all have the best time,” Bacchus said.

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at ipereira@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.

Updated 10:53 am, October 12, 2011
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