By Dr. Dhanpaul Narine
It was spectacular and unforgettable. The crowds took over the entire block, many bedecked in traditional wear and to the sounds of music for Diwali. It was the annual Diwali “Light Up Liberty Avenue” celebration and was aptly held at the junction of Liberty Avenue and Lefferts Boulevard, in the heart of Little Guyana. The weather was set fair for a grand celebration and hundreds poured in from Richmond Hill, and elsewhere, to witness a wonderful display of culture. Diwali is known for the lighting of diyas, or earthen lamps, to welcome the return of Lord Rama and his entourage from exile. The festival represents the triumph of good over evil and light over darkness.
Diwali or Deepavali originated in India thousands of years ago and was taken from there to other parts of the world. It became an important observance in the lives of indentured immigrants in the Caribbean. A good number of countries have declared Diwali as a national holiday, including Guyana. When Indians migrated to North America, they took their festivals and cultural practices with them.
Diwali was celebrated in a big way since the seventies in New York, and some would argue that it may have been earlier. Diwali is widely regarded as a Hindu celebration but the festival is also popular in the Sikh and Jain communities. Its popularity has resulted in Diwali being proclaimed as a school holiday in New York, and this will take effect in 2024.
The celebration in the Indo-Caribbean community was given a great start by Pandit Ramlall and the Arya Spiritual Center. It was taken to another level by the Divya Jyoti Association. It started off small, like most events, but it grew into a motorcade that attracted wide participation with attractive floats on Liberty Avenue and culminated with a grand cultural program at the Arya Spiritual Center Ground. The past three years has seen the program at the Liberty Avenue and Lefferts Boulevard site, that is co-named Little Guyana, and it has lived up to expectations. It should be noted that during Covid 19, the Divya Jyoti Association found a way to hold a public Diwali event in the community.
The 2023 program was elaborate, well-planned and inclusive. This was evident by the great turnout. There were several booths that catered to the needs of the community. It was a ‘back-home’ atmosphere in the heart of Queens, New York. Pandit Bharat Singh from the Arya Spiritual Center set the tone performing the havan, or prayers, and Pandit Krishna Inderjeet from the Shri Durga Mandir gave his blessings. His mandir also decorated a booth with the children depicting various characters from the holy Hindu texts.
The proceedings began with Pratima Doobay, from Shridevi Arts, giving the opening prayer, and setting the mood. Vashtie Doorga’s performance was memorable, as was the item from the Wendy and David Ali Dance Academy. Pandit Vijay sang the glories of the Lord most admirably and Kimberly Raghubar excelled in her presentation. The Saraswati Dance Academy was impressive and left everyone wanting more. It was now time for Pandit Navin Doobay from the Shri Trimurti Bhavan. He read beautifully from the Shri Ramcharitmanas and expounded on the meaning and significance of Diwali. Nashley and Vikash Persaud dedicated their song to Mother Lakshmi and many in the audience sang along with them. Sattie Ramnarine, and her husband Kesh, sang the glories of Mother Lakshmi to an appreciative audience.
Shivana Subir has been a dancer in the community for over twenty years. She was the first Mother Lakshmi that walked in the Diwali Motorcade. She performed a special Diwali mix at the 2023 event that went down well with the audience. The performance by Navin Ramsaran Maharaj was like a majestic white tiger and it embodied the true spirit of Diwali. Anil Sukul is one of the most passionate and genuine performers in the community. He touched the hearts of everyone with his performance.
The Sanasani Dancers have become one of the main attractions at Diwali. This year’s presentation lived up to the high standards as the audience recorded every move with their smart phones. Lisa Hariprasad used her wonderful talent to spread the message of peace and love and this went down well with all. Pally Dass is Mr. Versatility. He is one of the most recognized singers around and has been the lead singer in many local bands. He brought sunshine with his melodious voice. Natasha Sundar captivated the audience and created a sense of togetherness with her heartfelt lyrics. Rajiv Ramdeen from Trinidad and Tobago created harmony with beautiful melody and brought the audience to their feet with his performance. Sindu Harripersaud joined the Nirvana Humanitarian Foundation at a tender age and has used dance to create awareness and to support many worthwhile activities. Randy “Recklez” Ramdin is the total package as he sings and dances and brings cheer to light up the lives of others. He was memorable at the event.
A number of community leaders spoke about the magnificent program, including this writer, as well as Naro Balli and Pandit Bharat Singh from the Arya Spiritual Center, Balram Rambrich from Arya Samaj USA, and Japneeth Singh from the Sikh community. The program also honored members of the 106 police precinct on stage. The Divya Jyoti Association would like to thank Moheed Oasman for the Diwali sign at the junction of Lefferts Boulevard and Liberty Avenue, and all the sponsors for their generous contributions. Toro Sound was crystal clear and Roshan Shiwcharran’s all-round contribution was invaluable. Leon Suseran brought the community live feed on social media; Buddy Singh took wonderful pictures and Dev Dilchand and Saleena Ram (Miss Lotus 2023) were excellent MC’s. Surujpaul and Val Singh from Top Notch Decorations were fantastic.
Finally, Lakshmee Singh’s vision must be commended. In London, Diwali is associated with Trafalgar Square, and in other countries, it is in the main cities. In New York, the Diwali event has become synonymous with Richmond Hill, in Queens. This could only happen with vision, thinking big, and planning on a grand scale.
Lakshmee Singh embodies the vision to put Little Guyana and Trinidad, Surinam, India, and other communities, on the map. It should be supported.
The views expressed in this column are solely those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the THE WEST INDIAN.