There was a glittering Diwali motorcade Saturday November 4 evening in Richmond Hill. It was organized by Guyanese and Trinidadian Hindus spearheaded by popular TV personality Latchmee Singh of East Bank Demerara. The motorcade has become an annual rite the weekend before Diwali which this years is observed on November 6.
Saturday's motorcade attracted hundreds of celebrants dressed in traditional attire and thousands more of onlookers in the parade route cheering the floats and marchers. Diwali related songs were sung or played on electronic devices along the way. Business people and temples distributed mithai and other snacks along the parade route.
Diwali celebrations were also held the last couple weekends at Guyanese temples and catering halls in Queens and Bronx with cultural variety shows. Most Guyanese temples will hold their Diwali celebrations on Tuesday evening (November 6), the day recognized by New York City with official parking cancellation and excused absence of students and staff from attending school.
Open public Diwali celebrations among Indo Caribbeans in New York started about two decades ago in Richmond Hill. Celebrations were held in school auditorium much earlier. The idea of a Diwali celebration in the park and a motorcade was conceived by religious leaders. The motorcade started out very small and has grown over time. Initially, at the vacant ground of the Arya Samaj on 133rd Street just off Liberty Avenue, there was a celebration of lit deyas and singing of Diwali related songs accompanied by traditional music as well as tassa drumming. The following year, it included a procession of people with lit deyas and candles and a few cars decorated with lights on Liberty Avenue. In following years, there were more vehicles or a small motorcade of well-lit and decorated vehicles with young ladies dressed beautifully as Mother Lakshmi atop SUVs. Some years later, a flat bed truck (with well dressed personnel) joined the procession of other brightly decorated vehicles. Over the last several years, the motorcade was transformed modeled after the ones in Guyana organzed by the Hindu Dharmic Sabha. From a small procession and vehicles, it has now grown to include several floats that traverse Liberty Avenue. A prized competition was added to its feature in last few years.
Saturday's parade began at 133rd Street proceeding to 123rd Street right onto 103rd Avenue and back to 133rd Street past Liberty Ave into the Cheddi Jagan Square (Arya Samaj) ground for a cultural variety concert. The floats depict various forms of Goddess Lakshmi; she is propitiated during Diwali celebrations. The few floats showed varied designs and displays of meaning behind Diwali. Several homes were brightly lit lights for the occasion. Businesses and mandirs along the parade routes were also well decorated and lit up. The parade included New York City Indo-Caribbean and South Asian police in a large gathering. Richmond Hill police closed off roads to vehicular traffic to facilitate the motorcade; traffic was diverted. There was a contest for the best float with a prize of $1000 donated by a sponsor. At the ground, several booths promoted their goods including selling traditional Indian clothing. Organizations also distributed free cultural delicacies and hot and cold beverages. A public puja (including havan ceremony) was also conducted at the ground. Many non Hindus partook in the celebrations that involved lit clay deyas, candles and electronic lamps; they also sampled the snacks and took in the concert of singing and classical dances.
Latchmee Singh thanked the volunteers, sponsors and those who assisted with the planning and organizing of the parade and the celebrations at the park. She also praised the booth owners fir displaying their products.
Diwali was also observed in preceding weeks by the immigrant Indo-Guyanese and South Asian communities in New York at South Street Seaport in downtown Manhattan and in Elmhurst, Queens in the business district. Thousands attended those celebrations. New York City Council and Queens Boro observed Diwali last week. State Assembly and State Senate Members from the Queens area where Guyanese are settled will also host celebrations this week.
Liberty Avenue has been well decorated with Diwali paraphernalia. Diwali music and songs emanate from stores including those owned by Koreans and other non-Indians. Shops are stocked with lights and Diwali related goods (deyas, ghee, foods, clothing, etc.) for the festival. The avenue is teeming with shoppers as celebrants make preparation for the festival on Tuesday.