August 15, 2019
On this one day in August, Madison Avenue in Manhattan is unrecognizable.
It transforms into a sea of green, orange, and white. Hands hold Indian flags. Eyes are on marching groups and floats that carry Bollywood celebrities, or on dancers gyrating to blaring tunes.
Spectators can participate in loud, passionate sloganeering — Bharat mata ki jai, or victory for Mother India. One person often yells the first three words; the crowd completes the phrase with a vigorous, thundering, “Jai.”
The India Day Parade is the world’s largest gathering commemorating India’s 1947 independence from the British. It expects nearly 200,000 attendees this year, and thousands more who will view the parade online, even in India. The parade on Madison Avenue has been going on since 1981, when it celebrated the milestone of 100,000 Indians — of 360,000 in the U.S. — living in the tri-state area. Today, over 4.4 million Indians live in the U.S. and nearly 268,000 in New York City alone. Though not all tri-state Indians are coming to the Manhattan parade — other Indian parades in the region have grown popular, and others in the subcontinent don’t always feel welcome — the Manhattan parade, on August 18, is still the biggest and oldest in the world.
This year, the Manhattan parade’s theme is to honor the Indian and American armed forces, said Ankur Vaidya, a member of the board of the Federation of Indian Associations NY- NJ-CT (FIA), the parade's organizer. “The protectors of our society are our troops, [they] are the men and women in uniform,” he said. “Let's say thank you in our small way.”