Founder Acharya His Divine Grace
A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada

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Celebrating Unity and Devotion: The 47th Annual LA Ratha Yatra Festival
By ISKCON News Staff   |  Aug 17, 2023

In a harmonious blend of spirituality, culture, and community, the 47th Annual LA Ratha Yatra Festival illuminated the heart of Los Angeles with vibrant colors, soul-stirring kirtans, and a deep sense of unity. Hosted by the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), this cherished event showcased the collective devotion of thousands of participants, bridging distances and backgrounds for a celebration unlike any other.

Devotees from across the US and beyond converged at Venice Beach to lend their efforts to celebrate this auspicious occasion. The festival was graced by special guests like Vaisesika Prabhu, Agnideva Prabhu, Amala Kirtan Das, Gaura Mani Dasi, Param Das & Family, who, with their profound wisdom and devotion, added layers of meaning to the event’s proceedings. The presence of the ISKCON Youth Bus Tour devotees was a bonus, infusing the atmosphere with youthful exuberance and enthusiasm. The Festival of India Team also played an instrumental role in creating the ambiance and set up at Venice Beach. 

The preparations leading up to the festival were a testament to the spirit of service that defines the ISKCON community. Devotees led by Yamuna Devi Dasi dedicated an entire week to cooking the sumptuous free feast, a gesture of selfless love that extended to all who attended. As the devotees worked tirelessly to set up the festival grounds, a heartwarming spirit of camaraderie enveloped them, turning every task into an offering of devotion.

One of the cherished aspects of the multi-day festival was the kirtans. The two days leading up to Ratha Yatra saw a harinam to Culver City and two evenings of kirtan mela, totaling 10 hours of kirtan before the Ratha Yatra. Devotees surrendered to the enchanting melodies and immersed themselves in the presence of the Holy Name in preparation for Lord Jagannatha’s grand appearance and festival on Sunday.  

Saturday brought about an abundance of devotees as preparations for the big day were in full swing. Following an uplifting and spirited morning program, which included an ecstatic guru puja led by Agnideva Prabhu and a special Jagannathastakam kirtan led by Vaisesika Prabhu, many devotees were engaged in a plethora of service opportunities. From setting up the elaborate chariots to crafting exquisite garlands, cooking delicious feasts, to packing books for distribution, each contribution formed a tapestry of devotion. Prema-vrsti Devi Dasi recalls that “the common theme this year was that so many devotees stepped up to support the successful implementation of the Ratha Yatra Festival.” Devotees from ISKCON Silicon Valley joined hands to pack 8,000 books, along with Jagannatha stickers and lollipops, culminating in a seamless consummation of service and devotion.

Sunday morning brought with it unparalleled excitement. The air was charged with devotion as Mangal Arati commenced, and Lord Jagannatha, Baladeva, and Lady Subhadra’s radiant convertibles awaited their grand appearance. Following the morning’s deity greeting, Lord Jagannatha, Baladeva, and Lady Subhadra made their much-anticipated appearance, one at a time, as they were carried to their convertibles to be taken to the Ratha Yatra parade start. The recitation of various slokas, as spoken by Chaitanya Mahaprabhu in front of Lord Jagannatha, was led by Vaisesika Prabhu. This devotion captured the essence of the Ratha Yatra festival, allowing devotees to truly immerse themselves in its spirit. As the police escort led the convertibles from the temple to the parade start location in Santa Monica, the devotees were very joyous, immersed in the various sound vibrations from the kirtan and recitation of slokas. “Witnessing Lord Jagannatha, Baladeva, and Subhadra the morning of the Ratha Yatra parade is truly heartwarming,” reflected Madhuri Sakhi Devi Dasi.

Not long after, devotees began arriving in Santa Monica, where the Ratha Yatra parade was due to start. All three adorned chariots—each standing side by side—were captivating as devotees arrived and made for a beautiful start to the day’s festival and a stunning darshan. The joyous parade saw the chariots traverse Santa Monica’s streets, captivating onlookers with their splendor. An unexpected treat awaited those enjoying their Sunday morning at the cafes as the chariots rolled by, enveloping the atmosphere with divine vibrations. As the parade proceeded, many books were distributed as well. “Along the parade route, people were leaning over balconies to catch book packages that devotees were throwing up to them. This was very inspiring to see,” reflected Vaisesika Prabhu. As the chariots wove through the parade route, the iconic Venice Beach Boardwalk came alive with the grandeur of the procession. Lord Jagannatha, Baladeva, and Lady Subhadra graced the streets with wonder, giving Their merciful darshan with the jubilant kirtan embracing each passerby, creating a deeply spiritual and joyous ambiance.

This procession was not just a mere sight but a divine spectacle that left an indelible mark on both devotees lovingly absorbed in this powerful pastime and curious bystanders alike. With its blend of devotion and cultural celebration, the parade stood as a testament to the profound connection between the divine and the human spirit, uniting all in a shared celebration of spirituality and unity. It culminated at the Venice Beach Festival site, which featured a fusion of spirituality and culture through stage performances, various food booths, and many exhibits for curious festival-goers. 

The festival site buzzed with activity, hosting a plethora of food and non-food booths, from a free feast to fresh mango lassis and henna stalls. The resounding success of these booths, marked by their nearly sold-out offerings, attested to the festival’s grandeur. The free feast was truly a feast of love, nourishing the body and soul. In the words of Divyadristi Devi Dasi, “We are just puppets, and Lord Jagannatha is the controller.” This sentiment encapsulates the collective heart of the festival, a shared experience that resonated deeply with all participants. From newcomers to seasoned devotees, this event fostered an atmosphere of unity, devotion, and celebration.

Echoes of kirtan and the aroma of prasadam lingered in the air as the sun set on the 47th Annual LA Ratha Yatra Festival. The event’s success was not solely attributed to meticulous planning but to the heartfelt dedication of countless individuals. “Serving with all the devotees, whether in the kitchen, festival set up or logistical planning, is one of the festival’s major highlights. I hope that we can continue to try to serve Lord Jaganntha and Srila Prabhupada through this Ratha Yatra festival for many, many more years to come,” reflected Dhruv. From the stories of unity and service emerged a beautiful tapestry woven with love for Lord Jagannatha and Srila Prabhupada.

As we reflect on this joyous celebration, one truth remains evident: the 47th LA Ratha Yatra Festival was not merely an event but a journey of the heart, an expression of unity, love, and devotion that continues to resonate within the souls of all who participated. As anticipation for the next festival grows, visit the website for more information. Additionally, a captivating slideshow of festival photos by Dvarakarani Devi Dasi is available, preserving the vibrancy of this spiritual celebration.

A special thank you to Dhruv Prabhu for the many hours of information gathering for this article, compiled by Atma Tattva Das. Photos courtesy of Dvarakarani Devi Dasi.