Chanting "Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna," hundreds of believers of the Hindu sect dragged a crimson 30-foot-high chariot cloaked in sunflowers, carnations and roses. Wrapped in colorful clothing, they marched down Light Street yesterday afternoon and ended in the Inner Harbor, stalling traffic and drawing curious stares.
This was the local version of Rathayatra, an Indian religious chariot parade.
Figures of the three Hindu deities -- Krishna, Balarama and Subhadra -- are taken from a temple and placed on the elaborately decorated chariot. For believers, pulling the chariot symbolizes bringing the deities into their hearts, said Sunanda Das, a festival coordinator.
"The whole cart pulling is an event that has gone on for thousands of years, and it commemorates Krishna ... and the people's devotion," he said.
The multiethnic participants, dressed in vivid saris and tunics, danced to the rhythm of the chants and songs. They raised their hands in the air, clapped and chanted different variations of "Hare Krishna."
This was the fifth year that the Rathayatra parade marched through Baltimore.
"Every year, it has grown larger and larger," said Das, who estimated there were more than 200 participants.
The procession was sponsored by the International Society for Krishna Consciousness of Baltimore, based in Catonsville.
Rathayatra parades also are held in cities such as New York, Los Angeles and Washington.
"Now it's celebrated in major cities around the world, and they're bringing the culture here to share with the American people," said Jahnavi Sankhla, a 24-year-old from Brookeville in Montgomery County. Dressed in a crimson and gold sari, she and her mother held a banner that led the procession.
Followers of Hare Krishna believe that chanting will bring happiness and increase spiritual consciousness.
"When you say the Lord's name, you feel like dancing and singing," said Swati Gupta of Potomac, who brought her 3-month-old son, Krishna. "You just feel happy."
Worshipers marched half a mile while handing out religious pamphlets and bags of nuts and raisins -- which they called blessings. One befuddled bystander who received a bag of nuts stood on the sidewalk as the parade moved slowly by him.
"I don't know what's going on, but it's very upbeat," said Rich Chriscoe, 49, of Baltimore.
After the two-hour procession, there was an arts and music festival underneath rainbow awnings. The organizers also offered a free vegetarian meal of sweet and sour vegetables, curried rice with peas, farina cake and lemonade.
A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada brought the Krishna consciousness movement to the United States in the 1960s. Followers were known for their chanting and became controversial for soliciting money and handing out religious literature in airport terminals.
Source: Baltimore Sun