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Shri Tulsi Mandir of Richmond Hill celebrated with street co-naming ceremony

Sep. 12, 2023 By John Schilling

Elected leaders gathered with devotees of the Shri Tulsi Mandir in Richmond Hill on Saturday, Sept. 9, for a street co-naming ceremony to honor the longtime Hindu temple and celebrate to its contributions to the neighborhood over the last two decades.

Established in 2004 in the basement of Pandit Lakhram R. Maharaj’s home, the Shri Tulsi Mandir has since grown to a larger space located at 103-24 111th St., where it has become a spiritual center open to people of all faiths to discover and learn more about Hindu culture. The temple also hosts food pantries for those in need every Sunday and has become a space for children to learn yoga, meditation, music, sculpture and public speaking.

Romeo Hitlall, Councilwoman Lynn Schulman, Assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar, Councilwoman Joann Ariola and Pandit Lakhram R. Maharaj lead the ceremony.Photo courtesy of Schulman’s office

“Shri Tulsi Mandir is such an important part of the community,” Councilwoman Lynn Schulman said in opening remarks. “With the rise in hate crimes in recent years, it’s even more important than ever that we honor and show the community what the Mandir means to all of us.”

Along with honoring the Shri Tulsi Mandir, the street co-naming ceremony took on an even larger significance, as the legislation that made it possible was brought forward by Schulman, who will officially become the area’s councilmember in January 2024 due to redistricting.

Councilwoman Joann Ariola, who currently represents the area, granted Schulman permission to move forward with the legislation, which the City Council approved unanimously. During her speech, Ariola praised Schulman for her early commitment to her future constituents.

“She wanted you to know ahead of time that she believes in you,” Ariola told the temple’s devotees. “She believes in your Mandir, she believes in Hinduism, she believes in the culture and she believes that this Mandir deserved a street to be named after it because it is such an essential part of the community.”

In further remarks, Ariola described the Shri Tulsi Mandir as “very close to [her] heart” and thanked the community for their support since her election in late 2021.

“This is a very, very auspicious occasion … because it’s a handing over of the torch,” Ariola said. “I have been so embraced by this community and so well-supported that I feel that it is really being handed over to someone who will love it and love you and support you and represent you in the same way that I did.”

“No matter how the lines are drawn, we’re still interconnected,” she added.

The street co-naming ceremony was also a special moment for Assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar. Rajkumar, a Hindu herself, reflected on her experience running for office in 2020 and how people doubted her candidacy.

“People told me, ‘Rajkumar, you’re a nice girl. You have no shot,’” Rajkumar said. “But standing on your shoulders, I won by the largest margin [of] any challenger in this state and we now have the first Hindu elected to state office.”

“But not the last,” Rajkumar added with a smile.

In further remarks, Rajkumar reflected on the accomplishments of the Hindu community, including New York City’s decision to make Diwali an official school holiday. She also pointed to the challenges faced by the Shri Tulsi Mandir devotees over the years, including a hate crime that occurred last year when a man vandalized a Mahatma Gandhi statue outside the temple.

“We stood together as a community in front of this Mandir, and we got the whole world to join us,” Rajkumar said. “Standing here in front of Tulsi Mandir, I can tell you anything is possible,” she continued. “From here, we can reach Queens, the city, and the entire world in Tulsi Mandir.”

Romeo Hitlall, a community activist who initially presented Schulman with the idea of the street co-naming, expressed his excitement over the unveiling, pointing to the event’s bigger picture.

“We are grateful for the opportunity to celebrate the Tulsi Mandir’s profound impact on our community,” Hitlall said. “This co-naming serves as a symbol of unity, reminding us of the importance of preserving and cherishing our cultural heritage.”

In addition to the speeches, the ceremony included music, singing and dancing as the Shri Tulsi Mandir’s devotees awaited the sign unveiling. After the performances, everyone proceeded up the block and across the street to the corner of 111th Street and Liberty Avenue.

Moments later, the sign, reading “Shri Tulsi Mandir Way” was unveiled with thunderous applause from the crowd. Maharaj reflected on the unveiling, thanking everyone for keeping the faith and making it possible.

“It was always my dream to build Tulsi Mandir,” Maharaj said. “[But] without you, the devotees, Tulsi Mandir would have never been successful.”

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