Over the past two weeks, ISKCON devotees held several chariot festivals all over the world. Reports from Malaysia, India, Hungary and the USA.
CAMERON HIGHLANDS, Malaysia
– For the first time, a Ratha Yatra or Chariot Festival was held in Cameron Highlands, Malaysia. Situated 6000 feet above sea level, the hour-long windy road is quite a feat to drive. Cameron Highlands is one of the most popular highlands retreat around Malaysia. It has a charm of its own with its Tudor architecture style buildings, tea plantation with its soothing greenery and breathtaking scenery. In Malaysia alone there are over 30 Ratha Yatras in a year. This new location chosen by the ISKCON Malaysia Youth Council was a refreshing change for Malaysians. They managed to gear up youths from all over Malaysia here for the day. A crowd of approximately 1,500 devotees gathered for this festival. The new mascots donning the masks of Lord Gauranga and Nityananda were quite a hit amongst the people there. Smiling and dancing all the way, they charmed many hearts. The Chariot Festival ended in a local Subramaniam temple where sumptuous prasadam were served and the crowd was entertained with musicals, drama and videos.
: Thousands of Kolkatans came out on the streets to participate in the celebration. The procession started from the Park Circus Maidan, went down AJC Bose Road and SN Banerjee Road to reach the Ganga Sagar Mela ground near Babughat. The chariot will be kept here till Ulta Rath when it will be pulled back to the place of origin. Apart from those who pulled the ratha right from the beginning, thousands of devotees stood on the route to touch the rope pulling the chariot. Even policemen on traffic duty were seen pulling the rope briefly. "I was walking from Sealdah station when I saw the chariot passing. I joined the procession and participated in the Ratha Yatra till Esplanade. This is first time I have done this and I feel blessed," said Bipul Nath of Beliaghata.
: Andra Pradesh`s Chief Minister's son-in-law, along with other business tycoons inaugurated the festival. Children dressed as different characters from the Ramayana and Mahabharata entertaining the crowd, decorated horses and continuous mass prasadam distribution of was part of the procession. Since this was the second Ratha Yatra, the turn out was more than last time and the chariot had to be frequently stopped since more shopkeepers offered puja
to the Lord. The procession ended at the Gurujada Kalakshetram open air Auditorium where the deities were taken on the stage and offered 501 varieties of foodstuff.
Thousands of festival-goers, pilgrims, and devotees from all over the world hand-pulled the 40-foot high colorful chariot carrying the sacred deities of Lord Jagannatha, Baladeva and Lady Subhadra. The giant chariot was accompanied by a procession of singers, musicians, and dancers. The program incorporated a Bollywood dancing show, a children`s theatre performance,
and a drum show.
At Vörösmarthy tér, where the procession concluded, families enjoyed cultural and educational displays and exhibitions revealing the spirituality of Vaishnavism.
NEW VRINDAVANA, USA:
New Vrindaban’s annual Ratha Yatra drew over 350 people from across the United States to Marshall County last weekend. “I can’t believe the entire parade lasted 90 minutes! Once I started singing along with everyone else, the time just flew,” said Jenny Santilli, a Spanish teacher at South Harrison High School in Clarksburg, WV. “The chariot was gorgeous. There was so much decorative detail – paper swans, cow-shaped and parrot-shaped balloons, and garlands of fresh flowers.” Santilli, who is working on her doctorate in Curriculum & Instruction at Marshall University, attended the Ratha Yatra to fulfill part of her Multicultural Studies requirement. Her assignment was to visit a community that is different from her own. “I am a practicing Catholic, so the Hare Krishna community is definitely different. But after talking with the devotees, I can see many similarities in our fundamental belief systems.”
: The decorated chariot begun its journey at the railway station. Member of Parliament Balkrishna Shukla emulated the ancient ritual enacted yearly by the Gajapati Maharaja of Puri, in which he symbolically swept the road in front of the cart of Lord Jagannath to inaugurate the event. From the railway station, the procession moved throughout the main roads of Vadodara. Trucks carrying more than 15 tons of prasad that was distributed joined the yatra, followed the rath. In front of it in the procession there were bands, children in traditional dresses, singers on bullock carts, chariots, horses, camels, youth in costumes portraying various scenes from puranic' literature and ISKCON devotees from around the world engaging in continuous harinam.