on Jan. 10, 2009
Lord Jagannatha rolls through the Woodford festival grounds.
Lord Jagannatha made his dramatic appearance for the first time at the annual Woodford Folk Festival in Australia this past December 27 to January 1.
With an attendance of over 130,000, Woodford, held on a 360-acre parkland one hour north of Brisbane, is one of the largest folk festivals in the world. It features over 2,000 performers and 400 events including concerts, dances, workshops, street theater, a film festival, comedy sessions, and a spectacular fire show. It’s so packed that if programmed events were to run end to end they would fill eighty days. Still, the festival had a spiritual lack that only Jagannatha’s eternally smiling face could fill.
ISKCON has catered at the event for the past five years. But it wasn’t until 2008 that festival organizers contacted New Govardhana farm manager Ajita Dasa and asked devotees to bring the colorful Ratha-Yatra parade, which they had heard about from other event organizers around the world, to their showgrounds.
“It was decided that an extra staff of twenty of our own volunteers was needed to pull the cart,” Ajita says. “With tickets at $400 a pop, that was a big ask. But they wanted Jagannatha bad enough that they conceded, provided that we agree to hold the procession every evening of the event.”
A team of devotees headed by Sridama Dasa spent weeks refurbishing the Ratha-Yatra cart until it looked its brightest and smartest. It was then transported by truck to the festival site – an expansive village of 29 venues, 160 stalls, a dozen bars and 40 cafes and restaurants.
Devotees, including Ramai Swami and local GBC Venu Gopala Dasa, pulled the cart through the festival’s main showgrounds, praising Lord Jagannatha with dance and chants all the while. Despite being rained out on two nights, the parade proved a huge attraction on the remaining four. Spotting the colorful chariot glowing red and gold in the night, many festival goers spontaneously jumped up to help pull it.
“The response was overwhelmingly positive,” says Ajita. “So many people came to pull the cart every evening that we kept having to extend the ropes.”
The Ratha-Yatra cart also caught the attention of ABC, one of the largest television networks in Australia. “One of the highlights, a Hindu chariot pulled by fifty people, pays homage to all the traditions and cultures at Woodford,” the network reported in its evening news coverage of the festival.
During the event, devotees also distributed over 10,000 plates of prasadam on bagasse eco-friendly plates, contributing to the green theme Woodford Festival’s organizers aim for.
Ajita Dasa was pleased at the broad demographic of people ISKCON reached at the event – attendees, 60% of whom are university educated, come from three generations and many different backgrounds.
“At one festival, attendees have a rare opportunity to engage in Krishna's service in ways that might otherwise take an entire lifetime,” he says. “Over the course of one weekend, 130,000 people had the chance to pull Jagannatha's cart, hear or even participate in the kirtana, take prasadam, read Srila Prabhupada's books, take them home, give money for the advancement of the Krishna Consiousness movement and, due the laid-back environment of the festival, associate with devotees in a family-friendly atmosphere."
"Even if born of a lowly family, a person who follows the Ratha-yatra car when the Deities pass in front or from behind will surely be elevated to the position of achieving equal opulence with Vishnu.” - Bhavishya Purana