Founder Acharya His Divine Grace
A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada

Groundbreaking Initiative Expanding Ratha Yatra Festivals in Africa
By Atma Tattva Das, ISKCON News Staff Writer   |  Jul 10, 2023

Team ARYA visits Mpumalanga.

In the heart of South Africa, a dedicated team of devotees has come together to form the African Ratha Yatra Alliance or ARYA. Led by Baladev Jagannath Das, the coordinator of programs and logistics, ARYA has been enthusiastically working to bring the devotional vibrancy of Ratha Yatra festivals to different corners of Africa. In a recent interview, Baladev shared the inspiring journey of ARYA and shed light on the challenges they have faced along the way.

The origins of ARYA can be traced back to the first Soweto Ratha Yatra in 2007 when Baladev had a serendipitous encounter with Kadamba Kanana Swami. This encounter led to his involvement in coordinating the Lenasia Ratha Yatra festivals. When the original coordinator fell ill, Baladev took up the mantle and organized the Randburg Ratha Yatra with his team, marking the beginning of ARYA’s journey.

ARYA’s first event, held in a humble community hall in Windsor East, Randburg – Johannesburg, was a resounding success. As the years went by, the festival grew in size and popularity, eventually moving to larger venues such as George Lea Park and The Parktonian Club – Sandton. With each passing year, the festival attracted more attendees and required a larger budget, demonstrating the community’s appreciation for the event.

One of the remarkable aspects of ARYA’s work is its expansion beyond South Africa’s borders. Baladev explained that ARYA sought to establish a presence in neighboring countries, fostering collaboration and spreading the joy of Ratha Yatra. Despite facing initial skepticism, the team persevered and successfully organized festivals in Maputo, Mozambique, and Zambia. They are also discussing bringing the festival to Lubumbashi in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

However, organizing cross-border festivals has not been without its challenges. Baladev recounted the difficulties in registering ISKCON in Maputo due to political and religious tensions in Mozambique. Despite encountering resistance, ARYA persevered and recently hosted its first festival in Maputo in March 2023.

ARYA’s commitment to self-funding sets them apart. Baladev emphasized that they do not rely on fundraising efforts but use their own resources to finance the effort, “So we don’t do fundraising Per se. Everything that we spend is our own Lakshmi.” Any contributions they receive are expressions of gratitude from the organizing committees or hosts. This self-sufficiency reflects their autotelic and keen-spirited approach to serving the community.

Throughout their journey, ARYA has faced other challenges that tested their dedication and resourcefulness. From unexpected mechanical issues with the chariot to last-minute searches for common parts rendered rare by the situation, the team’s unwavering faith and determination have carried them through. Baladev shared a touching anecdote about a small part needed for the chariot’s braking system, provided for free by a kind-hearted Afrikaans-speaking gentleman in a remote workshop. Such incidents reinforce the belief that a higher power is guiding their service.

As ARYA continues to grow, its vision extends beyond Southern African borders. Their ultimate goal is to empower communities to organize Ratha Yatra festivals independently, nurturing a sense of ownership and pride. They aim to provide support, expertise, and inspiration to those interested in hosting these joyous celebrations aligned with ISKCON principles.

In conclusion, the African Ratha Yatra Alliance, inspired by Kadamba Kanana Swami, has brought the joy and spirit of Ratha Yatra festivals to a yet-to-be-discovered Africa. With their tireless dedication, ARYA has overcome various obstacles and expanded its reach to other African countries. Their commitment, resourcefulness, and resilience have been the driving force behind their success. As they continue to inspire and empower communities, ARYA’s influence will grow, spreading Lord Jagannath’s mercy throughout the continent.

To assist, encourage, or facilitate ARYA’s mission and groundbreaking initiative, we invite you to visit the ARYA Facebook page. There, you can find out more about their efforts to bring the joy and blessings of Ratha Yatra to African communities, as well as their plans for future expansion and collaboration.