for ISKCON News on June 28, 2013
Forty-four Yajnas are performed to invoke auspiciousness on the morning of the Ratha Yatra
As we enter Ratha Yatra season, ISKCON devotees in Bangladesh are preparing for one of ISKCON’s largest Ratha Yatras anywhere in the world.
During the parade in Bangladesh’s capital city Dhaka, over 50,000 people are expected to participate as the traditional three colorful chariots carrying the Lord’s form of Jagannath, His brother Baladeva and sister Subhadra are pulled by devotees.
Interestingly, the parents of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu—the 16th century saint who founded the Gaudiya Vaishnava movement that ISKCON follows—were both born in Bangladesh, as were many of His close associates.
Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu famously danced before Lord Jagannath in the original and largest Ratha Yatra parade in Puri, Orissa. So it is significant that now His modern day followers are having such success holding Ratha Yatra in the country where many of His pastimes were held.
Of course, ISKCON joined the scene late in Bangladesh, were Ratha Yatra (or Roth Jatra as it is referred to there) is an integral part of the culture and has been observed for hundreds of years.
Fifty thousand people attend the ISKCON Dhaka Ratha Yatra
The oldest and most important Ratha Yatra in Bangladesh is that of the Yasho Madhab temple in Dhamrai, thirty kilometers from Dhakka. The parade, which started around 400 years ago, attracts over 10,000 people and features a 27-foot long, 3-storey Roth (chariot). There are also a number of other Ratha Yatras held by non-ISKCON temples around Bangladesh.
ISKCON was not established in Bangladesh until the mid 1980s, and at first its small temple in the Wari part of Dhaka City only held a very small Ratha Yatra parade.
But in the year 2000, with the purchase of its current temple in Dhaka at Swamibag Ashram, ISKCON began holding the much larger Ratha Yatra it’s now famous for.
In addition, an incredible thirty-five more Ratha Yatras are now held all over Bangladesh by ISKCON devotees every year, an extremely high number for the relatively small country.
The ISKCON Ratha Yatra in Dhaka, however, remains the biggest.
A vast sea of people reach out for prasadam
This year, the festival will run for nine days, just as it does in Puri, and will be held at the same time as the Puri Ratha Yatra – from July 10th to 18th.
Festivities will start early on the first day, with chanting beginning at 6:00am at ISKCON’s Swamibag Ashram temple, followed by an Agni Hotra Yajna at 8:00am—a fire ceremony designed to invoke world peace.
At 12:30pm, maha-prasadam—sanctified vegetarian food—will be distributed. This will be followed by a ‘discussion meeting’ about Ratha Yatra at 1pm.
“A number of senior ministers and VIPs will come,” says Satya Ranjan Barai, the President of the ISKCON Bangladesh National Committee. “Guests will include the State Minister for Religious Affairs Shahjahan Miah, and Sayed Ashraful Islam, a local government minister and the general secretary of the Awami League, the ruling party in Bangladesh. We will discuss with them the importance, traditional significance, and spiritual value of Ratha Yatra.”
After the meeting, at 2:30pm, three chariots carrying Jagannath, Baladeva and Subhadra will be drawn with ropes through the heart of Dhaka City.
Young devotees dress up as Radha and Krishna in the Parade
The parade, which will travel eight miles from ISKCON Dhaka to Dhakeswari Mandir, Bangladesh’s state-owned “National Temple,” will last three to four hours.
During the parade, devotees will chant and dance ecstatically, while over 50,000 members of both the Hindu and Muslim communities will come together to participate and enjoy the wonderful sight of the “Lord of the Universe.”
Along the way, A Food For Life van will also pass out prasadam, navigating its way through a vast sea of humanity that has to be seen to be believed.
When the parade reaches Dhakeswari Mandir, the chariots will be left there in preparation for the “Return Ratha Yatra” nine days later. Meanwhile the Deities of Jagannath, Baladeva and Subhadra will return to ISKCON Dhaka.
For the next seven days, devotees will celebrate with numerous meetings on Ratha Yatra and its impact on social and religious life; lectures on the pastimes of Lord Jagannath and Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu; joyful kirtans; and beautiful traditional dances.
Girls marching in the parade
Devotees will also distribute large amounts of prasadam to the public, expected to exceed 100,000 plates. And a number of devotional dramas will be performed, including a musical about Sri Chaitanya taking sannyasa, the renounced order of life.
At 3:00pm on the 9th and last day of the festival—July 18th—Jagannath, Baladeva and Subhadra will travel on their return parade from Dhakeswari Mandir back to ISKCON Dhaka.
Once again, thousands from both the Hindu and Muslim communities will come together to observe and chant and dance joyfully. It’s an inspiring scene that shows how even two religions with a long history of disagreement can support each other and celebrate together.
“The majority of people in Bangladesh—ninety per cent—are Muslim,” says Satya Ranjan Barai. “But the administration of Dhaka City allows us to hold both the Ratha Yatra and Return Ratha Yatra, and cooperates with us to divert traffic in the heart of the city for three to four hours. That shows how much they like it.”
In the future, the ISKCON Dhaka Ratha Yatra may grow so large that it will require helicopter security too.
“We are hoping to make this Ratha Yatra festival bigger and bigger and more and more attractive in the years to come,” says Satya Ranjan.