for The Hour (Montreal, Canada) on July 11, 2009
Montreal, Canada: You can bet that any festival that has been celebrated for thousands of years has a lot of life in it. Plus, what could be better than free curry and pointers on reincarnation?
A mini version of the Festival of the Chariot, known as Ratha Yatra in India, takes place all this weekend, starting with a big parade on Saturday at 11 a.m. at the corner of Sherbrooke and St-Laurent and settling down on Sunday in Jeanne-Mance Park.
Ratha Yatra is India's biggest festival, a Hindu celebration to commemorate Krishna's joyful return to his home in Vrindavan after a long period of separation from the people there. Over a million pilgrims gather at Puri in the state of Orissa during June or July to haul gigantic chariots through the main street, the air filling with the reverb of metal gongs, meditative chanting and the blowing of conch shells and trumpets.
"It's less well known here," says spokesperson Jean-François Jetté, a member of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON Montreal), which hosts of the event along with the Indian community of Montreal.
"But this year marks the 31st year of the re-enactment in Montreal, which includes the parade, colourful costumes, classical Indian music, dance and drama and plenty of culinary delights - including a veggie feast for 5,000," says Jetté, who expects around 15,000 people this year. There are also cooking and reincarnation demos, workshops on the importance of sacred cow protection and an illustrated version of the Bhagavad Gita, which depicts the practices of mantra meditation and bhakti yoga.
Ratha Yatra was first celebrated in North America in San Francisco in 1967, more than 30 years after the international Hare Krishna movement first started to attract followers in the West. It's now celebrated annually in over 50 cities worldwide. The parade and festival are free and open to all.