ISKCON Kolkata celebrated the 40th Rath Yatra festival with much fanfare on 3rd July. Hundreds of thousands of people participated in the festival. Mula vigaraha of Lord Jagannath, Lord Baladev and Subhdra Devi were taken from the ISKCON temple to the Park Circus Maidan, the venue from where the Rath Yatra procession began, at around 8:30 a.m. At the Park circus maidan, Lokanath Swami delivered a class on the importance of the Rath Yatra festival and the contribution of Srila Prabhupada in making Rath Yatra a global festival.
At around 11 a.m. Lord Jagannath, Lord Baladev and Subhadra Devi left the Park Circus Maidan to enthrone the beautifully decorated huge chariots. Lord Baladev’s chariot Taladhwaja with a red flag was in the front, Subhdra Devi’s chariot Dwarpadalana with a green flag was in the middle and finally Lord Jagannatha’s chariot Nandighosa with a yellow flag was at the end. Jayapataka Swami, Lokanath Swami and Bhakti Purushottam Swami were present on this auspicious occasion. They also addressed the crowd. Many devotees of ISKCON from different parts of the country and also from different parts of the world had flocked to the city of Kolkata, the birth city of Srila Prabhupada, to participate in this wonderful festival.
Sovan Chatterjee, the mayor of Kolkata, swept the road with a gold plated broom to flag off the Rath Yatra procession. With the chant of Jay Jagannath and Hare Krishna the ropes of the chariots were pulled. Leading Bengali actors Jeet and Chiranjit were also present during the occasion and along with the mayor of the city, they too pulled the chariots. Hundreds of thousands of people who were eagerly waiting for this moment enthusiastically started pulling the ropes. Everyone was in the festive mood. The conch shells were being blown, people were playing cymbals, mridangas, and everyone was singing the heart – rendering Hare Krishna Mahamantra.
The chant of Hare Krishna and Jay Jagannath surcharged the festive atmosphere. The Lord had very mercifully landed on the streets of Kolkata. Throughout the journey thousands of people were standing on both sides of the road eagerly waiting to welcome the Lord, people had climbed to their rooftops, were on their balcony and were peeping through their doors & windows to have the glimpse of the Lord. Everyone participated in the event – men, women, children, rich, poor, and people irrespective of their caste, creed and religion. The Lord was continuously being offered fruits, sweets and other delicious foodstuffs and the Prasad was distributed to all.
The theme of the Rath Yatra was Green & Clean. On this auspicious occasion ISKCON Kolkata pledged to plant 16,000 trees in the city. Messages were displayed everywhere urging people to save the environment. Banners, posters, T-shirts, stickers displayed the messages like: ‘Blue Lord Returns to the Green Paradise’, ‘Without Yamuna there is no Braj – Vrindavan’, ‘Green & Clean Kolkata’, ‘Save Plant, Save the Nature, Save the World, Save the Humanity’. If we do not heed to these messages and do not stop exploiting the environment for our selfish motives then massive natural disasters are inevitable.
Bhaktivedanta Band was one of the major attractions. Led by Ekalavya Das, the band enchanted the people with their melodious kirtan. The Rath Yatra procession looked very beautiful. Small children were dressed as Radha, Krishna, Balaram, gopis and gopas, hundreds of ladies wearing colourful sarees were singing Suswagatam Jagannath, Suswagatam Baladev and Suswagatam Subhdra, hundreds of young men were carrying white umbrella in front of the chariot of Lord Jagannath, the roads leading to the TAI Brigade Ground were being cleaned with brooms, colorful flowers were spread on the road, colorful rangolis were made at different places, scented water was being sprinkled and throughout the journey everyone joyfully danced and heartily sang for the pleasure of the Lord. It was shown live at www.iskconkolkata.com and www.mayapur.tv. Many people from outside India and within India too watched the Rath Yatra live.
The chariots finally reached the TAI Brigade Ground (Near Park Street Metro), the venue where the Lord stayed for 9 days, at around 5 p.m. The venue was buzzing with people. A makeshift Gundicha temple had been built where Lord Jagannath stayed with his brother Lord Baladev and sister Subhdra Devi. Many stalls such as Question Answer stall, Rath Yatra prasadam stall, Bhakti Vriksha stall, Youth cultivation stall, Kid’s corner, Book display counter etc had been set up. Everyday Rath Yatra Mela (fair) was being held from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. Drama, Jagannath Katha, Kids fest, Kathak Dance, Prerna the youth fest, Dancing kirtan etc were organized. More than 5 lakhs people participated in the Rath Yatra festival.
The Rath Yatra festival culminated with the Ulta Rath Yatra, the return journey of the Lord, which took place on 11th July.