Diwali is an annual, international Hindu ritual also known as “The Festival of Lights.” The Diwali Motorcade is an annual Queens extravaganza that honors the tradition with a multi-hour explosion of color, music, clothes, chants, incense, food and cars.

This year’s fun is set for Saturday, Oct. 14, in Richmond Hill, and it’s free.

The ceremony will unfold in three parts. Things will kick off with a Pooja and Hawan religious service at The Arya Spiritual Center Grounds at 104-20 133rd St. at 3 p.m. Henna-covered worshipers will gather outside to chant sacred verses (mantras) and offer dried fruit and nuts. They will burn oil lamps and incense in hearths adorned with sacred photos and flowers; chant together; and make offerings. Nonparticipants will be able to walk around and explore ornate booths and burning pyres.

At around 5:30 p.m., an estimated 40 brightly decorated floats carrying sari-clad women covered in sparkling gold jewelry and musicians with sitars and tablas will assemble in the vicinity of Liberty Avenue and 133rd Street. The floats, sponsored by local and national businesses and nonprofits, will be judged on beauty, creativity, originality and relevance to Diwali by representatives of the Divya Jyoti Association of New York, the event organizer. (Cash prizes.)

Then with Tassa drummers prancing around the roadway and Shri Trimurti Bhavan Hindu Temple President Dhanpaul Narine as grand marshal, the caravan will slowly roll down Liberty Avenue before bearing right at 123rd Street and taking another right on 103rd Avenue before heading back to 133rd Street for a stage show. Scheduled artists include the Shelly Ramnanan Cultural Dance School, the Natraj Center for the Performing Arts, the Sanasani Cultural Organization, the Krishna Mandir Youth Group, and the David Ali Dance Group.

Diwali is a national holiday in countries with large Hindu populations, such as Guyana, India, Nepal, and Trinidad and Tobago. (Some Buddhists, Jains and Sikhs celebrate it, too.) The ritual is dedicated to Lakshmi, the Goddess of Light. For many believers, it’s the most positive time of year, when good triumphs over evil, knowledge overcomes ignorance, and hope prevails over despair. Diwali’s roots are in ancient India, although its origins are in dispute. It might have started as a harvest festival, but some believers think it stems from the celebration of Laskhmi’s marriage to Lord Vishnu. Others argue that it began as a birthday party of Lakshmi.

Many Indians brought Diwali with them when they immigrated to Guyana, Trinidad and other West Indian islands in the 19th century. Then in the 1980s, many Caribbean-born descendants of these Indians started relocating to Richmond Hill, which is now called “Little Guyana.”

The Diwali Motorcade first appeared in Richmond Hill in 1999.

Images: Lakshmee Singh


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