By Tom Momberg
The Hindu community in Queens celebrated Diwali, the ancient “festival of lights” last weekend, bringing a large cultural display of color, song, dance, feast and prayer to Richmond Hill, the heart of the city’s Guyanese and South Asian communities.
More than 10,000 spectators turned out along the parade route along Liberty Avenue, according to the NYPD.
Diwali, which coincides with the new moon night of the Hindu Lunar calendar month of Kartika, is a spiritual celebration signifying the triumph of good over evil.
The Diwali motorcade and cultural show, hosted by the Divya Jyoti Association, awarded organizations who created floats for the parade with cash prizes from various event sponsors.
The Sanasani Cultural Organization came in first place with a $1,000 award from Digicel, the Shri Krishna Mandir placed second, the Shri Durga Mandir was third, the Shanti Bhavan Mandir took fourth and Operation Dream Catchers were in fifth place.
“I wish we could give $1,000 to everyone who participated,” said Rhona Fox, a film and TV actress who was born in Guyana and served as the event’s emcee. “You can see what they put into it is definitely worth more than that. But, of course, they do it for culture and do it for their love of Diwali.”
Before the motorcade, the celebration started with the havan prayer ceremony, a ritual of setting direction for the various gods they worship by burning or sacrificing herbs and foods while in prayer.
The prayer was led by motorcade Grand Marshal Pandit Manoj Jadubans, leader of the Shaanti Bhavan Mandir in Jamaica. He was accompanied during the ceremony by Pandit Satish Deo of London and Arya Spiritual Center head priest Pandit Ramlall.
“Lead us from that which is untruth to that which is truthful, Mother, from the darkness of ignorance to the truthfulness of wisdom. Lead us from death, from losing sight and focus on life, to that which is reality, brought to us through blessing,” prayed Jadubans, Deo and Ramlall. The prayer signified the spirit of the festival in the parallel between ignorance with evil, and authenticity with goodness.
They instructed children of the Mandir templeand from the Naujavaan Mandalee spiritual youth groups through the ceremonial tradition.
“And now, you put the flowers in your hand, and please I invite everyone to join us in prayer to the universal mother,” Jadubans said, walking the youth through the havan. “Now one of you light this match (to the flowers) and as you light this flame, light the flame of love in your heart, and pray always (that) this wonderful flame (give) fragrance to this world.”
Reach reporter Tom Momberg by e-mail at tmomb