On February 11th, a Ratha-yatra festival was held in Amravati, the second largest and most populous city in Maharashtra’s Vidarbha region in India. Jagannatha Ratha-yatra, the Festival of Chariots, is originated in Jagannatha Puri, Odisha, and has been celebrated there since time immemorial. ISKCON’s founder-acarya, Srila Prabhupada, introduced the festival at ISKCON centres around the world, beginning in San Francisco, California, in 1967, and declared that “if you participate in these chariot festivals and see the Deities riding on these chariots, you will go back home, back to Godhead at the end of this life.”
This year’s festival was the second Ratha-yatra organized by ISKCON Amravati, the first being held two years ago.
The preparations started in December 2018 and continued for two months. The temple management arranged harinam thrice weekly to create awareness of the Ratha-yatra along the route it would take, distributing invitation cards and asking for donations and informing residents and shopkeepers about the Ratha-yatra. Hundreds of banners and posters were printed to display across the city, a service diligently handled by the ISKCON Youth Forum (IYF). A group of boys would go every evening to put up the posters and hoardings. They also placed banners on auto-rikshaws, thus spreading news of Ratha-yatra throughout Amravati.
As Ratha-yatra day drew near eagerness increased amongst the devotees and whenever they met each other they would say “Jagannatha aa rahe hai,” meaning Lord Jagannatha is coming. We even got posters made which read “Jagannatha aa rahe hai” to keep enthusiasm burning in our hearts.
Jagannatha, Baladeva and Subhadra along with the ratha were brought to Amravati from Nagpur. The devotees decorated the temple with flowers, with a separate altar made especially for Their Lordships, who were welcomed with a powerful sankirtan and a shower of flowers. When They were installed on Their altar, arati was performed and then fifty-six bhogas the congregation matajis had made were offered to Them.
Western devotees perform kirtan with a guitar
Many more devotees arrived early on Ratha-yatra day. All the devotees were busy in their respective services. The ratha had been sent overnight to the place Ratha-yatra was going to start, where it was decorated by the IYF boys, and a stage was made for the inauguration ceremony.The guests, honoured by garlands and shawls, included Mr Himanshu Ved (Senate member of the Sant Gadge Baba Amravati University), Mrs Seema Savle, Mr Shivraj Kulkarni, Mr Tushar Bhartiya and Mr Parneet Soni of Bharatiya Janata (BJP), and Mrs Navneet Rana, all of whom glorified ISKCON for organizing the festival. After the maha-arati by Lokanath Swami the Ratha-yatra began.
The chariot was pulled enthusiastically by the devotees and from time to time by people in the crowd, all blessed by the darsana of Their Lordships.There were various jhakis (costumes), such as Caitanya Mahaprabhu dancing in front of the chariot, Radha-Krsna, Vitthal-Rukmini, and Ram, Laxman and Sita. A group from the Scholars’ Convent presented a Lezim dance (a Maharashtra folk-dance formnamed after a small musical instrument with jingling cymbals carried by the dancers) along with a Warkaris jhaki.
A young devotee dressed as Lord Caitanya
As it is said, “rathe ca vamanam drstva punar janma na vidyate: simply by seeing the Lord on the chariot, one makes advancement for stopping the repetition of birth and death”, so the devotees relished the opportunity to dance enthusiastically in front of the ratha. A major attraction was the international devotees of the Mayapur preaching team, who inspired the crowd by dancing and singing in front of the chariot in the Indian tradition.
The roads were decorated with rangoli by the Pune devotees, flowers were showered on the chariot from a bridge above, and the ISKCON Girls’ Forum (IGF) matajis distributed books along the route.
Lokanath Swami was pleased with the arrangements of the temple management, especially the prasadam distributed from the chariot. It was unending and the distributors were tired but after the festival prasad still filled the boxes. Later it was distributed to the devotees. Lokanath Swami said, “People were so eager to receive the prasad that they pulled my dhoti, saying ‘Uncle please give prasad,’ so today Lord Jagannatha made me Uncle.” The management also presented Jagannatha caps to the devotees who joined Ratha-yatra. They were glad to receive this small gift.
Lokanath Swami distributing prasadam to the crowd from the chariot
Srila Prabhupada made Ratha-yatra a global event to give those devotees who cannot travel to Puri the opportunity to experience the festival in their city or country. Devotees believe that a person who pulls Lord Jagannatha’s chariot attains the spiritual abode after death and the Lord personally comes to take his soul to the spiritual world.
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