There are some obvious signs of spring in Queens. Flowers bloom, birds chirp, and teenagers fall in love. But the surest indication is festive people throwing colorful talcum powder at each other in a good-natured manner in Richmond Hill.

Phagwah Parade 2019 will kick off from 133rd Street and Liberty Avenue and head to Phil “Scooter” Rizzuto Park for a cultural program on Sunday, March 31, starting at around noon.

Phagwah (aka Holi) is an ancient Hindu celebration of regeneration that honors fertility, love, and the triumph of good over evil. The rite is a time when friends, families, and communities get together and enjoy themselves, regardless of social status, caste or ethnicity.

It’s also known as the “Festival of Colors,” and tradition dictates that revelers playfully toss rainbow-hued powder (originally derived from a dye extracted from blooming flowers) at each other. This is a particularly beloved feature of Richmond Hill’s Phagwah Parade, where people walk up to perfect strangers and rub powder on their faces, hair, and clothes – even before the march begins.

Several thousand people will come from all over the TriState Area on Sunday, and many will march with their Hindu temple, business or social society. Wearing saris, playing Tassa drums, and chanting, they’ll walk or ride floats as music blares from speakers. The crowd will slowly wind its way west on Liberty and then north on 125th Street to Rizzuto Park, which used to be known as “Smokey Oval,” at 92nd and Atlantic avenues for a program with even more talcum powder, along with plenty of burning incense. Participants will play instruments such as sitars and tablas. Some will sing. Some will chant. Some will dance. All will get spiritual. Activities will last until dusk.

Pronounced with a silent “h,” Phagwah dates back to ancient times in India. Its earliest mention in literature is in a poem written in the 4th century. Phagwah celebrations have taken place in the Caribbean and South America since the 18th century, after India natives immigrated to the region to work as indentured servants.

Descendants of those same Hindu families from Guyana and Trinidad helped organize the first Richmond Hill parade in 1988. It has occurred annually ever since except for 2015, when it was cancelled due to organizational problems.

Images: Phagwah Parade of NY Inc.


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