ISKCON Kwa-Zulu Natal (South Africa) hosted the 30th Durban Festival of Chariots over the Easter Weekend (30 March – 2 April). The four day festival is a flagship event on the Ethekwini Municipality calendar, promoting social cohesion through song, dance, food and discussion. As with previous years, there were over 150 000 enthusiastic guests enjoying all that was on offer.
A special feature is that the festival engages with people at all levels. Children are treated to the Blue Mountain Theme Park where games are fun, yet has a spiritual focus. Youth participate in interactive sessions in the Bhakti Cloud arena which offers practical topics for a deeper understanding for the challenges faced at that age. The main entertainment arena which is a massive tent housing 1,500 seats is always upbeat with song, dance, drama, discourse and much more. For those who are looking for healthy living – the Lifestyle arena showcases vegetarian cooking demonstrations and health and wellness talks. The Ask, Discover, Explore booth is where curiosity is piqued with interesting holistic discussion. This festival is an innovative way of spreading love of Krishna in a relaxed, modern day environment that appeals to the cross-cultural divide.
As a special offering for the 30thyear of the festival, the three chariots were totally revamped mechanically and also aesthetically with a splash of fresh colour, lighting and intricate designs. The traditional chariot parade took place on Friday, March 30thwhen the chariots were pulled in true pomp and cheer along the the Durban beachfront. At the start of the parade, Deputy Mayor of Ethekwini Municipality, Ms Fawzia Peer delivered a message of support from local government and acknowledged ISKCON’s contribution in bringing about social cohesion in the city. She also thanked the Founder Acharya of ISKCON, His Divine Grace A.C Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada for all the efforts in spreading peace, love, spiritual knowledge and also for allowing the festival to reach cities outside of India.
Prince Mangusutho Buthelezi (leader of the Inkhata Freedom Party and Prime Minister of the Zulu Nation) visited the festival on Saturday, 31 March. Prince Buthelezi who will turn 90 years old in August this year is currently the most senior statesman in the government cabinet. The distinguished guest was escorted around the festival grounds in a golf cart where he visited the various tents and met Bhakti Caitanya Swami (GBC, South Africa), Kadamba Kanana Swami and Mahatma Das. After indulging in prasadam (sanctified food), and having talks with local temple presidents, Prince Buthelezi delivered a speech to a packed audience at the main entertainment arena. He highlighted his long-standing relationship with ISKCON dating back to the 1980’s and recalled his presence at the Sri Sri Radha Radhanath Temple opening ceremony. He fondly recollected his discussions and association with Bhakti Tirtha Swami at that time.
Vibhu Caitanya dasa (President :ISKCON Durban and chairperson of the Durban Festival of Chariots), Prince Mangusuthu Buthelezi (leader of the Zulu Nation), Prabhanu dasa (President: ISKCON Phoenix) and Mahaprabhu dasa (President: ISKCON Soweto).
Also at the festival, Shubha Vilas Dasa launched his new book complimenting the series Ramayana: The Game of Life. Shubha Vilas Dasa was also hosted on national radio discussing topics around the Ramayana. Special guest at the book launch was Ms Ela Gandhi (grand-daughter of Mahatma Gandhi, peace activist and a member of parliament from 1994 – 2004).
Once again, the drama produced and directed by Bhakti Marg Swami proved to be a hit in the entertainment arena. This year the drama titled “The Queen’s Secret” based on the Mahabharata took the audience back in time delving deep into the life of Queen Kunti. This thought-provoking and moving presentation had the audience glued to their seats. The deep message came through with superb enactment of the pastime.
Mr Ravi Pillay (MEC for Human Settlements and Public Works / Chief Whip of the ANC) attended the festivities and also joined Bhakti Marg Swami on a morning walk along Durban Beachfront. The walk was an exciting new addition to the festivities, billed as: Walk with the Monk.
With a special interest in the drama production the South African Broadcast Corporation was present at the festival to film the drama and also interviewed Bhakti Marg Swami on the technicalities of staging a theatrical production using a local cast and completing it in just a few days!
Also a new flavour to the event was the dandiya dance-off that saw hundreds of visitors participate in a group dance. A sound evolution concert enthused festival-goers where hip-hop, reggae, jazz and other genres of music came together. The highlight was a string-quartet of the Sri Brahma Samita led by Mahatma Das.
The dandiya dance
The festival once again enjoyed wide media coverage. For the first time the Festival of Chariots featured in a four page spread around an entertainment pull-out of a provincial morning newspaper. Radio, television and print media showcased the festival in its great magnitude and wonderful splendour bringing this dynamic outreach initiative to the fore.
Jun 25, 2022
Radhapriya Chawla, ISKCON Toronto Communications