ISKCON devotees joined San Diego’s Earth Day parade, one of the biggest in America, this Sunday April 20 for their 12th year in a row.
Two hundred devotees participated, pulling a modest but beautifully decorated Ratha-yatra cart from one end of Balboa Park to the other, and showering onlookers with flower petals. “It was a very appropriate gesture, as flowers are a symbol of earth-friendly relationships,” says festival overseer Mahat-tattva Dasa. “It seems to have worked -- the public reception was excellent, and two dozen people joined us, dancing and singing along.”
As the parade passed the media booth, announcers introduced each group in turn. ISKCON’s introduction was written by Dravida Dasa of the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust especially for the event:
“Cooling the earth requires cooling our passion for consuming more than we really need of the Earth’s resources. The motto of the devotees of Krishna is ‘Simple Living, High Thinking.’ When we lead a life dedicated to celebrating the glory of God, as in the Festival of the Chariots, the inner joy that ensues allows us to be satisfied with a simple life free of extravagant consumption.”
After the parade, devotees manned booths at the 19th annual EarthFair in Balboa Park. EarthFair is the largest free annual environmental fair in the world, drawing around 60,000 visitors and produced by 400 volunteers. It features more than 200 exhibitors, including special theme areas, a food pavilion, a kids’ activity area, five entertainment venues, the Children’s Earth Parade and Alternative Fuel Vehicle Parade and Show. But amongst all this, Krishna consciousness received pride of place.
“Our kirtan and book booths are in the best location, right at the entrance of the park,” says Mahat-tattva. “They’re the first things people experience when they enter every year. We attract a large crowd throughout the day, distribute tons of prasadam and books, and make lots of contacts.”
Devotees this year also transfered the entire temple gift store to a huge tent in the park, offering everything from neckbeads to saris to face-painting. But most popular by far was the prasadam booth, with three lines serving vegan food, pizza, and traditional Indian fare. “It was fantastic outreach, and a great fundraiser for the new Sri-Sri Radha Krishna San Diego temple, which will begin construction soon,” Mahat-tattva says.
It was parade organizer Ladali Dasi who decided that it would be a good idea to combine Rathayatra and Earth Day, back in 1996. “We used to hold Rathayatra on our own in the park on a Sunday, and there were never that many people around,” she says. “So I thought it would be nice to integrate Jagannath’s festival with the Earth Day festival.”
Ladali, who decorates the cart and takes care of the deities and the devotees coming for the parade, applied for permission with EarthFair’s organizers, the non-profit organization EarthWorks. Since then, devotees have been participating every year.
“They love having devotees at the event,” Ladali says. “The San Diego Union featured us and our Ratha yatra cart on their front page on three different occasions. And the crowds really look forward to us coming and chanting every year.”
She smiles. “Hare Krishnas are a very vibrant part of Earth Day in San Diego.”