Sixty devotees from ISKCON Dallas participated in their local St. Patrick’s Day Parade on Saturday March 13, which drew over 80,000 people—a record attendance, according to Dallas police.
The ISKCON group—which included many youth, as well as senior devotees, families, and congregational members—were at the front of the parade, appearing as the eleventh entry in over one hundred.
This is the fourth year in a row that Dallas devotees have been part of the show, and although they didn’t win any awards this time around, (they were dubbed “best represented organization” in 2008) organizer Dharma Dasa feels that this year’s offering was their biggest and most ambitious so far.
“The most devotees participated, the biggest crowd turned up, and we distributed the most prasadam (sanctified food),” he says. “Over 6,000 peanut-butter burfis and home-made cookies, all individually bagged with invitations to our Radha-Kalachandji temple.”
This year also marked the first year that ISKCON entered two floats into the St. Patrick’s Day parade—a customized trailer complete with a sound system for the kirtan band, and a full-size Ratha-Yatra cart pulled by a truck for added speed rather than the traditional devotees on foot.
Dancers, led by twenty-five young devotee women decked out in colorful saris and “gopi dots,” appeared at the head of the ISKCON entry. With synchronized moves, they drew the appreciation of the crowd as well as the local NBC affiliate, who featured them in a clip on the evening news.
The customized float, carrying an enthusiastic kirtan band dressed in their robes and saris—with added green garlands, novelty hats, and other St Paddy’s day regalia—came next. With its colorful Indian-style arches, fowers and four-leaf clover decorations, and Happy St. Patrick’s Day and Hare Krishna mantra signs, it drew plenty of attention.
Finally came the Ratha-Yatra cart, towering impressively above the crowd with its beautiful red and gold canopy. Upon it rode large deities of Lord Jagannath, Baladeva and Subhadra, a murti (likeness) of Srila Prabhupada, and their priests.
“The deities belong to Chaitanya Chandra Prabhu, a Prabhupada disciple and ISKCON Dallas stalwart who really put his heart and soul into this event,” says Dharma Dasa. “He decorated and dressed his deities very nicely, and arranged the extremely successful prasadam distribution.”
A varied crowd of young St. Patrick’s Day revelers and families with children smiled and waved at the devotees as they passed down the mile-long parade route, soaking up the sun and clear blue sky. Everyone gasped in awe as they saw the Ratha Yatra cart, with some kids jumping up and down excitedly. Some of the crowd chanted along with the kirtan, while others danced, connecting with the devotees through the parade route barriers.
“It was an incredible experience, the result of so many devotees’ concentrated effort, and of course it’s great exposure,” Dharma says.
He explains that while ISKCON Dallas holds an annual more traditional Ratha Yatra in their local neighborhood, the community had been looking for a more public venue to share their Rathayatra with a large audience.
“Dallas is a very suburban town—it’s tough to find a place where you can congregate,” he says. “So joining in an already established parade was perfect.”
He does acknowledge, however, that downtown Dallas is beginning to flourish as a night-time hotspot; and that the local devotee community holds public chanting performances called Harinamas there, and at other locations around the city, at least once a month. They also hold mega-Harinamas for events such as Gaura Purnima, Janmastami and other major Vaishnava festivals.
“For the past two years, we’ve also held a “Halloween Harinma” as part of the annual Halloween Parade in the Bohemian Cedar Springs area,” Dharma says. “It has been hugely popular, with young people joining the chanting and dancing, and several visiting the temple the next day.”
Not wanting to limit themselves to local areas, the Dallas devotees also plan to participate in parades in other Texas cities. In April, they will appear in San Atonio’s Fiesta Flambeau, while in May they will attend Houston’s Art Car Parade.
Next year, a custom-made Jagannatha float built by Dallas local Govardhana Dasa will be added to their repertoire.
Every time we participate in a parade, we hand out invitations to the temple, and many people repond to them and visit us,” says Dharma. “We’re excited to keep getting more exposure, and to keep introducing new people to the spirituality of ancient India.”
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