BY ASHA MAHADEVAN
After a two-year hiatus, the annual motorcade in Richmond Hill celebrating the Hindu festival of Diwali will drive down Liberty Avenue on Saturday. More than 30 cars will be featured in this celebration of the Festival of Lights, which is traditional to West Indian and Indian communities. Each car will be decorated with flowers, lights and the rich colors associated with the festival. The three best-dressed cars will be awarded cash prizes.
While the motorcade has been an annual event for more than 15 years, the excitement is heightened this year as the event could not be organized the past two years. According to Lakshmee Singh of the Divya Jyoti Association, which organizes the event, the motorcade could not be held in 2012 because city officials were unable to spare the manpower after Hurricane Sandy. In 2013, the association’s request for a permit was denied.
The organizers had to get creative and held a “nagar” or fair where participants installed booths and sold traditional Indo-Caribbean clothes, jewelry and food, while attendees enjoyed a cultural show with dancers performing to classical songs.
“This year, for the first time, we are having both the motorcade and the nagar,” said Singh.
The festivities will begin at 3 p.m. with a “havan” or prayer to Lakshmi, the Hindu goddess of wealth, at the Arya Spiritual Center Grounds at 104-20 133rd St. The motorcade will begin from near Sybil’s Bakery at 133rd St. and Liberty Ave. at 5:30 p.m. It will be followed by a cultural program featuring classical singers and dancers.
The Natya Tilakam Dance Company is participating in both the motorcade and the cultural show, said its founder Dana Marajh. “We are performing a fusion of semi-classical tandava [a dance form] and Bollywood,” said Marajh, as she and her team strung lights and hung curtains in preparation to decorate their car.
They are hopeful about winning the motorcade competition and already have plans for the prize money. “If we win, the proceeds will go toward a clothing drive we are doing for Halloween,” said Marajh.
One of their competitors is Singh’s Roti Shop. “We are hoping to win,” said Shivani Harryginsingh, 28, the shop’s manager, adding that the celebration is a great way for the young generation born and raised in the U.S. to stay in touch with their traditions. “You cannot be a Hindu and not know what it means,” she said. “This is not something you learn in school. You have to learn on your own. It’s our heritage and culture. We need to keep the tradition going.”
The event is free and open to people from all communities.