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A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada

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Devotees Hold Tucson’s First Ratha Yatra in the City’s Largest Annual Parade
By Thomas Haribol, ISKCON News Managing Editor   |  Nov 09, 2023

Known for its creative and successful outreach efforts, ISKCON Tucson integrated its first Ratha Yatra event into the city’s 34th annual All Souls’ Procession on Nov. 5, 2023. 

All Souls’ Day is a Christian holy day focused on remembering and praying for the souls of the deceased. The All Souls’ Procession was the brainchild of Tucson artist Susan Johnson, who sought a public way to honor her father and grieve after his death. The multi-day event also integrates imagery from the Mexican and Central American tradition of Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) and was sponsored by Many Mouths One Stomach (MMOS), a collective of artists, teachers, and community activists.

According to the organizers, the event had over 200,000 participants. “The All Souls Parade is the biggest parade in Tucson, so it was a natural venue for Lord Jagannath to make His divine appearance,” said Sandamini Devi Dasi, Tucson’s Temple President, “We’d been doing harinam at the festivities for years, but we wanted to take it up a notch to benefit more people. The night was a perfect 75 degrees, and it seemed the whole town came out.”

Devotees from Los Angeles, Phoenix, and El Paso came to support the outreach effort. The beautiful Deities for the Ratha Yatra cart traveled from El Paso, Texas, where devotees led by Krishna Charan Das run the thriving preaching center, New Nilachal. “We were ecstatic that our Jagannath, Balaram, and Subhadra Deities could travel to Tucson for their glorious Ratha Yatra celebration,” said Krishna Charan. “I could see our Lord Jagannath grow as we dressed him and mounted him on the Ratha Yatra cart. His smile became increasingly magnanimous as we pulled Him through the procession.” 

Parade organizers were very enthusiastic about devotees participating more significantly this year and gave them VIP treatment. “Since the parade was at night, Ratnbhusana prabhu, who provided the Rath cart, decked it out in colored strobe lights and rope lights as well as a canopy of lights over the cart so it shone like the spiritual world in the midst of downtown Tucson,” said Sandamini. “Lord Jagannath stole the procession show,” said local devotee Atula Govinda Dasa. One photographer even approached Atula, saying, “This [cart] is getting a lot of attention. A lot of people are talking about this.” Atula also noted that ISKCON Tucson extended a special invitation to Hindu temples in the area, and their members also participated. 

A large banner, which proclaimed Bhagavad Gita 2:20, “For the soul, there is never birth or death,” was prominently placed on the back of the cart. Along the route, devotees shared books and cookie prasad with an invitation card highlighting another verse from the Gita affirming the eternality of the soul. 

After the two-mile walk, where many locals joined the devotees in chanting, pulling the ropes, and dancing, the Rath cart was parked in a prominent position where a tent was erected to distribute a hot prasad meal of rice, beans, bread, and halava to hundreds, in addition to a book table. “People were so grateful and appreciative we came and added such light to the festival,” said Sandamini, “We are already planning how to improve and expand for next year.”

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