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A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada

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3rd Annual Sandton Festival of Chariots was a Vibrant Celebration of Devotion and Culture
By Atma Tattva Das, ISKCON News Staff Writer   |  May 25, 2024

The streets of Sandton came alive on the weekend of May 11-12, 2024, as ISKCON Sandton hosted its third annual Sandton Festival of Chariots.  This spectacular event, steeped in centuries-old tradition, brought together a diverse assembly of devotees, spiritual leaders, and curious onlookers to celebrate the journey of Lord Jagannath, Balarama, and Subhadra. Originating from Puri, India, the Ratha Yatra festival has been observed for thousands of years, and its rich history resonated deeply in the heart of Johannesburg.

The festival commenced with a procession that spanned approximately 2.5 to 3 kilometers, making it one of the largest street parades in Johannesburg. Lord Jagannath and His transcendental siblings, adorned in magnificent attire, rode through the streets on a beautifully decorated chariot. The procession weaved through Sandton City, known as “the richest square mile of Africa,” passing under the towering Leonardo, the fourth tallest building in Africa, and looping around the iconic Mandela Square before returning to the festival site at Sandown High School.

This year, the festival was graced by the presence of esteemed spiritual leaders, Rama Govinda Swami and Svayam Bhagavan Keshava Swami. Rama Govinda Swami, a disciple of Krishna Das, is renowned for his profound knowledge of Vedic scriptures. He guided attendees on a journey of spiritual discovery, helping them apply ancient insights to modern life. Keshava Swami, hailing from the United Kingdom and on his first visit to South Africa, brought over 25 years of deep study of Sanskrit texts. He has authored ten enlightening books and created over 50 transformative courses, empowering audiences to elevate relationships, find purpose, and cultivate holistic well-being.

“The ISKCON Sandton Ratha Yatra was an incredible success, showcasing the festival’s tremendous growth and influence. This vibrant celebration, also known as the Festival of Chariots, brought together diverse communities in a joyous display of cultural and spiritual unity,” said Vibhu Caitanya Das, the Temple President of ISKCON Sandton, “The event in Sandton featured traditional processions with a beautifully adorned chariot, captivating music, mesmerizing dance performances, and a rich tapestry of spiritual expressions. The enthusiastic participation of devotees and the public underscored the festival’s remarkable ability to unite people from all walks of life in a spirit of inclusivity and celebration.”

In addition to the grand procession, the festival featured a myriad of tents and cultural exhibits showcasing the rich heritage and traditions of the Vedic East and ISKCON. Visitors could immerse themselves in the vibrant sights and sounds of Krishna Conscious culture, enjoying art, music, dance, and cuisine. The culinary offerings from Govinda’s restaurant were a highlight, with sumptuous vegetarian dishes prepared with love and devotion. From mouthwatering burgers and pizzas to flavorful curries and delectable dosas, each dish honored the principles of Bhakti yoga. Radharani’s Bakery provided sweet treats, and the Food for Life stalls served free vegetarian meals to all attendees, embodying the spirit of love and compassion.

The festival also celebrated Mother’s Day with a special Yajna ceremony dedicated to all mothers. This ancient yogic practice of making offerings into a sacred fire was a poignant moment, expressing gratitude for the incredible women who nurture and inspire us every day. Children were also included in the festivities, enjoying many activities, including Gopi Dots, Playdough Crafts, and Cake Decorating. Thrilling adventures like Go Carts, Swing Gladiator Inflatables, and Jumping Castles ensured endless fun for the whole family.

“The Sandton Ratha Yatra is a testament to the collective efforts of all involved. No one individual bears sole responsibility for its success; rather, it’s the culmination of everyone’s dedication and collaboration,” said Shakira Rajcoomar, ISKCON Sandton’s Public Relations Officer. This sentiment echoed throughout the event as participants and organizers worked together to create a memorable experience.

Reflecting on the festival, Jagannatha Priya Das, the coordinator of ARYA, shared, “Lord Jagannatha’s Lotus Eyes were wide open as He looked over all His devotees. His smile was literally from ear to ear, acknowledging with love everyone in front of Him. His arms stretched out, trying to gather us all in His loving embrace.”

The meticulous planning and seamless coordination of the ISKCON community and volunteers ensured a delightful experience for all attendees. The festival garnered widespread media coverage and engaged audiences on social media, with local news outlets highlighting its cultural significance and the infectious enthusiasm of the participants.

The Sandton Festival of Chariots has undoubtedly become a cornerstone event for the ISKCON Sandton community, bringing together people from all walks of life to celebrate and deepen their spiritual connections. As the festival concluded, there was a palpable sense of unity and joy among attendees, leaving them inspired and eager for future celebrations. With each passing year, the festival continues to grow, promising even more vibrant and enriching experiences for all who partake in this divine journey.

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