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Richmond Hill celebrates Phagwah with parade

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Teenagers cover a girl with yellow powder. Photo by Christina Santucci
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Toys and treats are thrown out to spectators on Liberty Avenue. Photo by Christina Santucci
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Councilmen Eric Ulrich (c.) and Ruben Wills toss glitter into the crowd as Queens Borough President Melinda Katz speaks. Photo by Christina Santucci
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The crowd cheers when asked if anyone is from Guyana. Photo by Christina Santucci
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Sisters Alissa (l.) and Alanna Fields take a "selfie." Photo by Christina Santucci
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Drisana Duran is doused with powder. Photo by Christina Santucci
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Kuntie Devi Dasi (l.) takes a photo of her daughter, Rohini, wearing a mask of Lord Vishnu. Photo by Christina Santucci
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A dancer's face is decorated with colorful powder. Photo by Christina Santucci
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Youngsters (l.-r.) Maranda Durgana, Julia Singh (front), Emily Budhu and Ariana Durgana throw their colors in the air. Photo by Christina Santucci
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Rajiv Japsi (l.) responds to a face full of pink powder. Photo by Christina Santucci
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Dru Persaud (c.) from Boston plays percussion. Photo by Christina Santucci
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Maria Batista (c.) and friends wave Guyanese flags. Photo by Christina Santucci
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Ramdaye Baboolal sports face decorations. Photo by Christina Santucci
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Girls toss color on one another. Photo by Christina Santucci
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Organizer Vedo Basdeo tosses glitter in the air. Photo by Christina Santucci
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Twins Shivana (l.) and Shivani Harbhajan smile mischieviously. Photo by Christina Santucci
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Raj Singh from Trinidad waves two flags on Liberty Avenue. Photo by Christina Santucci
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Brandon Ganpat throws confettit from a float. Photo by Christina Santucci
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Adrian Bachu (front) and Jarbin St. Juste (l.) dance to the music. Photo by Christina Santucci
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Young people playfully decorate one another. Photo by Christina Santucci

Despite temperatures dropping below freezing Sunday, thousands welcomed spring in Richmond Hill with colorful powders, glittering confetti and plenty of dancing.

Crowds lined Liberty Avenue to watch a parade march by in honor of the Phagwah Festival, a Hindu celebration of the triumph of good over evil and the beginning of spring.

Gaitri Mattai watched as drummers, floats filled with dancers and others shaking to DJs shouting above drum beats proceeded toward Phil “Scooter” Rizzuto Park.

“It doesn’t matter how cold it is people always turn out,” Mattai said. “We’re excited. Spring is here.”

For 26 years, the Guyanese enclave of Richmond Hill has marked Phagwah with a parade and informal color war, where passers-by fling bright powders and occasionally use water guns full of dyed liquids to color one another.

The tradition dates to India, where Hindus mark the holiday known as Holi by wearing all white and throwing a liquid red dye called abeer on each other.

Indians brought the holiday with them when they migrated to the Caribbean.

In Queens, the Phagwah Festival has grown to attract revelers of many backgrounds and become a showcase of Southeast Asian and Caribbean cultures. The borough’s tradition attracted people from Canada to California, as well as a few elected officials.

Queens Borough President Melinda Katz and City Councilmen Ruben Wills (D-Jamaica) and Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) wished attendees a happy spring.

Ulrich said he enjoyed the many traditions immigrants have brought to the borough.

“We are a better city because of you,” he said.

Many followed the parade, which headed west from Liberty Avenue near 133rd Street and then north on 125th Street toward the park, waving flags from Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, Suriname and Jamaica.

Once in the park, crowds gathered to watch dancing groups perform to Hindi and American songs.

Latchmin Sultan threw powder into the air, dancing as it rained down on her and her friends.

The Richmond Hill resident said she could not get off from work early enough to watch the parade, but took off in time to watch the performances in the park.

“Today is really exciting, just so many people, everyone’s so happy,” she said.

Reach reporter Sarina Trangle at 718-260-4546 or by e-mail at strangle@cnglocal.com.

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