Last Saturday, on September 24, history was created when ISKCON of Suriname held its first Ratha-yatra festival in the capital City of Paramaribo, with the Lord Jagannath cart parading through one of the busiest streets in the city. The festival was organized as part of ISKCON Suriname’s main 50th anniversary initiative. The procession began at 5:00 pm sharp with the ribbon cutting done by the Raghoebier family, who, over a decade ago, had kindly provided the facility in Paramaribo that ISKCON utilizes.
The parade was consecrated by offering and breaking dried coconuts, then as the cart began to move there was uproarious cracking of fireworks. The cart started moving from Lallarookh Square and ended at the front lawn of the ISKCON Centre at 459 Kwattaweg. The arrival of the Ratha-yatra cart at the temple was followed by a grand religious and cultural program featuring a drama of Lord Jagannath’s appearance, devotional music, exhibitions and discussions on Vedic spirituality—and a free vegetarian feast. The stage program lasted for full three hours.
Chanting the Lord’s name and dancing in jubilation in the warm late afternoon sun, devotees drew the canopied Jagannath Chariot through a 4.1 kilometre stretch of road. The procession was escorted by police on duty in the lead and a dozen volunteers guiding and keeping the 500 strong crowd orderly, to allow traffic to flow in one lane of the roadway. The one hundred Hare Krishna devotees present were mostly from Suriname, Guyana and some coming from as far as Holland. Hundreds gathered an hour in advance at the start point and many joined on the way, everyone coming alive to the blazing kirtan that was amplified through a high-powered sound system.
Project coordinator of the Ratha-yatra Festival, Sharmila Kalidien-Mansaram (Gitapriye-Radha devi dasi), a member of the Suriname Parliament, and Temple president Partha-sakha Das worked tirelessly and beyond the call of duty to organize the festival and meet deadlines. There were financial constraints all along, but Aniruddha Das and his wife Sanatani devi dasi generously funded most of the expenses. Especially challenging were delays and setbacks in airlifting the new set of Deities of Lord Jagannath, Lord Baladeva and Lady Subadra from Navadvipa, Mayapur, to Paramaribo. The Deities arrived only four days before the festival, which forced devotees to do a late snaan-yatra.
Hundreds of pieces of Lord Jagannath prasadam were distributed on the way. When the cart arrived at the temple ground there was a crowd build-up waiting to have darshan of the Their Lordships, and participate in the evening festivities. Over one thousand plates of full course prasadam were distributed at the program site.
There was widespread media coverage of the entire event, and our Temple is still bombarded with various media and other groups coming to enquire about the meaning and significance of the festival. Later, on Ratha-yatra evening, the biggest news network site, Star News, telecasted more than five minutes coverage of the Ratha-yatra, which was streamed throughout the country. Devotees are so upbeat about the success of this first Ratha-yatra that now they have decided to make it a calendar event in Paramaribo, that is, every fourth Saturday in September will be Ratha-yatra day.
Slightly larger than the state of Michigan, Suriname lies on the northeast coast of South America, with Guyana to the west, French Guiana to the east, and Brazil to the south. It is the only Dutch speaking country on the Continent. Bathed by the north east traded winds from the Atlantic Ocean on the North, Suriname enjoys yearlong mild climate. Influenced by numerous cultures—African, Amerindian, Asian, Jewish and Dutch—the country reflects this diversity harmoniously in its day-to-day life. The bustling capital and port of Paramaribo, stands guard over the Surinam River. And the striking architecture reminds us of its Dutch colonial past.
The first Hare Krishna devotees to visit Suriname were devotees from Guyana way back in the early 1980’s. The first Center was established about two decades ago, and now there is a vibrant preaching center in the country’s second city, New Nickerie. Today Suriname has many initiated devotees and a large congregation.
* * *
Please check the following links for live video of the Ratha-yatra:Ratha Yatra ] [ Jagannath ] [ Paramaribo ] [ Suriname ]