Devotees in Kolkata, West Bengal celebrated their 43rd annual Rathayatra – their biggest festival – with two massive parades on June 29th and July 7th this year.
“Srila Prabhupada first arranged and celebrated Rathayatra at the age of five on the streets of Kolkata with his neighbors and friends,” says organizer Ananga Mohan Das. “He always wanted the ISKCON Kolkata Rathayatra to be the second largest in the world after the one in Jagannath Puri. And since he established ISKCON in Kolkata in 1971, it has been growing, with an ever-increasing number of attendees.”
From months before this year’s event, Rathayatra fever gripped ISKCON Kolkata, bringing together everyone from congregation to youth to temple residents, as they all worked to put on the best festival they could.
They raised funds, fixed budgets, allotted services, secured government permissions, and invited many senior devotees and sannyasis to grace the occasion. They used billboards, visual media and social networking to promote the event, and enlisted award-winning animators to create special Rathayatra movie trailers.
“On June 29th, the day of the Soja Rathayatra, we were afraid that not many people would turn up to pull Lord Jagannath’s chariot, as it was a Sunday and the parade route went through office districts,” Ananga Mohan says. “But as the time arrived, by Lord Jagannath’s mercy lakhs (hundreds of thousands) of citizens came to watch the parade and pull the Rath.”
ISKCON Governing Body Commissioner Jayapataka Swami and other senior devotees began proceedings by offering puja and sweeping the road before the chariots according to tradition. Meanwhile, Mayor Sri Sovan Chatterjee, MP Sri Subrata Bakshi and other dignitaries and celebrities joined them in inaugurating the festival.
Starting from Park Circus Maidan and traveling nearly five kilometers to the Gundica Mandir in the heart of the city, the parade itself was a grand affair.
First came a car fixed with a PA system to announce the Lord’s arrival. This was followed by 108 male devotees carrying sankirtan flags, 108 female devotees carrying kalashes and other auspicious items, Ekalavya Das’s Bhaktivedanta Band, children dressed as different characters from Lord Krishna’s pastimes, and finally the three chariots carrying Lord Jagannath, Baladeva and Subhadra, each heralded by their own enthusiastic kirtan party.
More than two hundred thousand packets of sanctified food, or prasadam, were distributed along the parade route, and citizens from far and wide traveled to see and pay their respects to the “Lord of the Universe.”
Upon the parade’s conclusion in the evening, Chief Minister of West Bengal Srimati Mamata Banerjee visited the Gundica Mandir, where Their Lordships would stay for the next week, to offer Them Their first arati. Guests then enjoyed Odissi dance by the renowned Srimati Dona Ganguly.
The entire Rathayatra was covered by most electronic and print media, with hundreds of photographers snapping away throughout.
For the next seven days, thousands attended Bhagavatam lectures at a huge pandal (tent) program by sannyasis, enjoyed stage programs including kirtan by international devotees and various Odissi dances, and were served prasadam meals. They also enjoyed spiritual competitions participated in by students from more than thirty schools and colleges.
Visitors stopped by stalls for groups such as Bhakti Vriksa, ISKCON Youth Forum, Namahatta, and kids’ programs, while Govinda’s Restaurant and Mahaprasad stalls were kept busy packing delicious Prasad for customers.
“The Question and Answer booth, Go-seva (cow protection) stall, and Rathyatra photography contest stall were always crowded,” says Ananga Mohan. “The Matchless Gift stall distributed thousands of Srila Prabhupada’s books and other devotional items, and thousands donated to support Mayapur’s Food For Life program and its Temple of the Vedic Planetarium. Everyone returned home in the evenings with smiling faces and the ‘Jaya Jagannatha’ chant on their lips.”
The week of festivities concluded with another Rathayatra in Ulta on July 7th, again drawing thousands to chant and dance and pull Lord Jagannath’s chariot, this time back to His home at ISKCON’s Sri Sri Radha Govinda Mandir.
Next year, Kolkata devotees hope to put on an even bigger festival.
“We’re excited to try to realize Srila Prabhupada’s dream in a grander way than ever before,” Ananga Mohan says.
For more photos, please visit https://www.facebook.com/ISKCONKolkataRathyatra[ kolkata ] [ ratha-yatra ] [ yatra ]