Thousands flock to India Day Parade in Manhattan

Participants march on Madison Avenue during the annual
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Participants march on Madison Avenue during the annual India Day Parade on Sunday, Aug. 17, 2014. The parade celebrates India's independence from the British Empire in 1947.(Credit: Charles Eckert)

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New Yorkers celebrating India's independence from the British Empire in 1947 danced down Manhattan's Madison Avenue Sunday on elaborate floats, with two-sided drums and in vividly colored saris.

"It's a way of saluting those who lost their lives" in the struggle for independence, said Ankur Vaidya of the 34th annual India Day Parade in New York City. Vaidya is president of the Federation of Indian Associations, which represents the 500,000 Indian-Americans in the tristate area and organizes the march.

The parade is the largest marking India's independence outside of India itself, and Sunday it drew tens of thousands of spectators, several Bollywood stars and local elected officials. Some men and boys wore tunic-like kafni pajamas in white, a color that according to parade organizers symbolizes peace.

One marcher dressed as Indian pacifist Mahatma Gandhi, complete with walking staff. One float in the parade featured a replica of the 1 World Trade Center tower linked by a bridge to a miniature Taj Mahal. "Bringing America and India together," the float read. "United we stand."

"Bollywood has never seen a parade this big outside of India!" federation chairman Ramesh Patel said.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, who waved an orange, green and white flag, applauded the South Asian community's commitment to education, one of his administration's priorities. He also talked at a Pakistani Independence Day event in Coney Island later Sunday, becoming the first New York City mayor to give a speech at the event in 20 years.

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The India Day Parade is the latest in a summer lineup of about a dozen marches celebrating the city's cultural diversity.

"The fabric of New York is defined by the parades we go to," Comptroller Scott M. Stringer joked, before adding, "This is such an exciting time I think for the South Asian community and the Indian community, because like so many other groups, they are coming of age politically, culturally and as a business community."

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