Richmond Hill welcomes spring with Holi Festival

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Dillan Fonius Massay sports a face of red. Photo by Christina Santucci
Thousands of people fill the streets in Richmond Hill for the annual Phagwah parade. See more photos on Page 46. Photo by Christina Santucci
Amanda Singh from the Natraj Center For Performing Arts dances at the start of the festivities. Photo by Christina Santucci
Omkar Sabillon (c.), who is dressed as Krishna, waves from atop a float on Liberty Avenue. Photo by Christina Santucci
A young man looks out at the procession from the doorway of a barber shop. Photo by Christina Santucci
Saranie Biranjie shimmies to the music. Photo by Christina Santucci
Buddy Samaroo hoists his son Shiva, 3, in the air. Photo by Christina Santucci
Arti Cameron, who held the post of Miss Guyana World for two years, speaks at the conclusion of the parade. Photo by Christina Santucci
Phika Ganesh sports a Guyanese flag. Photo by Christina Santucci
Dian Ramdass (l.) from Trinidad leads a contingent of revelers. Photo by Christina Santucci
Youngsters douse one another with liquid dye. Photo by Christina Santucci
Shalisa Ramjattan, 14, is decorated with green. Photo by Christina Santucci
Thousands gather at Phil Rizzuto Park, formerly known as Smokey Oval, to cover one another with powder and dye. Photo by Christina Santucci
Colorful revelers line the streets, eager to welcome spring's arrival. Photo by Christina Santucci
A float for the Shri Radha Krishna Mandir in South Ozone Park participates in the parade. Photo by Christina Santucci
Colorful participants sit atop a float during the festivities. Photo by Christina Santucci
Spectators line up to catch a glimpse of the Holi procession. Photo by Christina Santucci
Dian Ramdass (l.) from Trinidad sports bandana from her homeland. Photo by Christina Santucci
A young man dressed as the Hindu god Narashima marches in the parade. Photo by Christina Santucci
Revelers toss confetti from a float. Photo by Christina Santucci
Jonathan Budhu (r.) gets a good covering of purple color. Photo by Christina Santucci
Thousands of people turned out for the annual Phagwah Parade. Photo by Christina Santucci

Purple, green, yellow, pink and red dusted the streets of Richmond Hill Saturday during the Phagwah Festival, a Hindu celebration of the triumph of good over evil and the coming of the spring season.

“This is a time when people forget all differences and indulge in pure fun,” said Sam Somwaru, one of the many revelers at the festival and a member of the American Statya Sandya temple in Jamaica.

The most characteristic aspect of the occasion involves colorful powder, or “abeer,” which people use to paint themselves or brush onto others — or even throw into the air so the powder rains down on all around.

“It symbolizes the spring colors,” Somwaru said.

But Somwaru said Phagwah is also a time of togetherness, joining together not only people of the Hindu faith but also people of all different religions and cultures to overcome their differences and enjoy the festival.

“You forget about your enemies and everyone becomes friends,” he said.

A large crowd filled with many young people turned out for Saturday’s Richmond Hill Phagwah Festival, which included a parade that wound its way along Liberty Avenue and 125th Street and featured floats, dancers, blaring music and multi-colored confetti.

Several vendors along the route played music from their stores or handed out fliers to passers-by to compete for business. The co-owner of a flea market along Liberty Avenue even went so far as to set up a microphone and speakers outside his shop and amplify his message asking people to stop in to check out his merchandise.

The owner, Hamid Mohammed, said the parade makes for good business, and he saw a huge spike in sales during the event last year.

Another man who works at a Chinese and Indian restaurant, Players, said the same.

“It helps all the businesses in our area,” Darshan Prashad said.

The parade culminated in a raucous celebration with music, dancing — and, of course, color — at Smokey Oval Park.

Nearly all the revelers had at least some powder on their faces or clothes, and many were drenched in color from head to toe. Some people filled water guns with colored water and playfully squirted others, while groups of mostly teens and young adults got lost in clouds of powder as they mischievously threw it at each other. A person walking through the crowd for five minutes was virtually guaranteed to have a smiling stranger walk up to them and smear power on their cheeks.

One young man who was running through the crowd with several friends and dusting the people they passed in color said he came to the parade every year.

He said he was having a good time, which is what Phagwah was all about.

“You have to enjoy every last bit of it,” Amil Heeraman said.

Reach reporter Karen Frantz by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4538.

Posted 12:19 am, April 5, 2013
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