South Africans celebrated the Festival of the Chariots in Durban this past weekend.
First-time, non-HareKrishna attendees at this year's spectacular Festival of the Chariots would have been amazed to find that they could join a queue and receive a generous portion of savoury breyani, tinged with the unique flavour of woodsmoke, completely free.
The practice of providing free food for the public is entrenched in the belief structure of followers of Lord Krishna.
While festival organisers estimate that by this evening, when the festival culminates in a moving torchlight chariot procession on the beachfront, as many as 175 000 plates of breyani will have been devoured.
Each year Hare Krishnas provide millions of meals to people in both third- and first world countries around the globe. You don’t even need to be poor to qualify, just hungry.
At the festival tented village on the grounds of the former military museum on the beachfront, the four-day festival was a godsend for Durban’s street people.
Standing alongside well-heeled dowagers in gorgeous
saris, and small children out for some weekend fun, hollow-cheeked men and women proffered
their paper plates for what was, in many instances, the first solid meal they’d had in days.
“I come twice a day, on each day of the festival,” said the almost emaciated mother of a small boy. “We have lost everything and are staying in a shelter, but it is hard to find enough money each day to pay for the shelter and food. Thanks to the Hare Krishnas my child has got a full tummy for once.”
While his mother watched, the little boy played delightedly on the jumping castle that was one of the attractions provided for children. He then gamboled over to the enclosure where two contented cows were being fed mielie husks by other excited children.
The cows, from the Sri Krishna Gowshala cow sanctuary, were visitors to the festival for the first time this year. They proved an instant hit. The cow is sacred to Hare Krishna followers, who recall that Lord Krishna spent his boyhood as a cowherd.
The gentle and affectionate nature of his charges resulted in his ever more devoted care of them. Krishna is known as Gopal (protector of cows) or Govinda (one who gives pleasure to the cows). Lord Krishna may well have been stifling a grin on Monday.
The two festival cows were enjoying the attention of their crowd of admirers when one lost interest and wandered off. Keen to bring him back onto centre stage, one of the minders gave the animal a prod.
Without missing a beat, it head-butted him hard enough to catapult him over the enclosure’s picket fence. The crowd scattered in fright, while another caregiver admonished the beast in the most loving of tones.
“Naughty boy. Mustn’t do that,” he crooned, and then promptly rewarded the cow with a tidbit. For parents looking for a great way to entertain their offspring, while teaching them compassion towards their fellow creatures, you could do worse than take a drive to the Gowshala.
Take the N3 towards Pietermaritzburg, turning off at the Umlaas Road/ Richmond offramp. Follow the road towards Thornville for almost 10km, and you will spot the Sri Krishna Gowshala signboard. For group tours call 084 208 7337 or e-mail: email@example.com
# The Festival of Chariots provides a superb opportunity to learn more about Hindu culture and the Hare Krishna religion. Durban is a rich blend of very diverse groupings.
If you enjoyed the 20th Festival of the Chariots this past weekend, and would like to learn more about Hare Krishna, or simply absorb more of he benign ambience of its followers, make a trip to the magnificent Temple of Understanding (Sri Sri Radha Radhanath) in Chatsworth.
You will find the Temple of Understanding at 50 Bhaktivedanta Swami Circle, Chatsworth. Phone 031 403 3328, or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org