Toronto Ratha-Yatra team members are being creative amid ongoing Covid restrictions on outdoor gatherings in their area, and are holding a Drive-Thru Darshan of Lord Jagannatha and a virtual online celebration for the second year in a row this weekend.
In years past Toronto Ratha-Yatra has been known for being one of the biggest Ratha-Yatras in North America, with three forty-foot plus chariots in a huge parade, and a two-day festival at Centre Island. While such a grand scale is not possible due to ongoing Covid-19 protocols and regulations, the team – led by co-organizers Anjaneya Tirtha Das and Rukmini Dasi – has found a way to continue the tradition of Lord Jagannatha coming out to see the residents of Toronto.
This year, ISKCON Toronto will be partnering with several Hindu temples in the area for the celebration. “It’s well-known that we have a very large South Asian community in the Greater Toronto Area,” says Rukmini. “And this Ratha-Yatra, they have opened up their parking lots, their volunteers, and are even providing prasadam as well. So I think it’s really nice that everybody’s coming together in an organized way to make sure that Ratha-Yatra happens this year.”
An online Pre-Ratha Yatra virtual kirtan will kick off the festivities, taking place live on Festival of India – Toronto’s Facebook page on Friday July 16th from 3pm to 10pm EST. Chanters will include B.B. Govinda Swami, Bhaktimarga Swami, Amala Kirtan Das, Kirtan Premi Das, Gaura Mani Devi Dasi, Ananda Murari Das, Ajamila Das, Akincana Krishna Das, and Krishna Gopal Das.
On the morning of Saturday July 17th, Lord Jagannatha, Baladeva, and Subhadra will leave the ISKCON Toronto temple, riding in style in Their Mercedes convertible, and will cruise down Their usual parade route on Yonge Street, known as the longest street in the world.
They will then stop at one spot in downtown Toronto, followed by the parking lots of the Lakshmi Narayan Mandir in Scarborough, and finally the Vishnu Mandir in Richmond Hill, before returning to the ISKCON temple at about 7:30 in the evening. On Sunday July 18th, the celebration will continue, as Their Lordships visit Earl Bales Park, a public park in North York, and then the popular Hindu Sabha temple in Brampton, returning to ISKCON Toronto at around 4:00pm.
Anyone looking to participate in the Drive-Thru is requested to register beforehand and specify which location they prefer to vist at https://tinyurl.com/Ratha-Yatra2021. At each location, Lord Jagannatha will spend two hours, and everyone will get to take darshan of the beautiful deities, receive gift bags of BBT books and pre-packaged prasadam sweets, and hear live kirtan (performed from a socially distanced tent by kirtaniyas from the same family).
Larger parking lots, such as those at the Vishnu Mandir and Hindu Sabha, will be divided into sections. There’ll be one section for those wanting to do drive-thru darshan and to receive books and prasad without getting out of their car; and another for those wanting to park and queue for darshan on foot to get a closer view of Their Lordships. (Those who alight from their vehicles will be required to wear masks and social distance)
Concluding the festivities will be a virtual program on Zoom at 5:00pm on Sunday evening, which will feature a talk by Urmila Devi Dasi about Ratha-Yatra, a children’s presentation with stories about Lord Jagannatha, and a kirtan by Deva Madhava Das, director of the Harmony Collective in Ypsilanti, Michigan.
Rukmini Dasi says that the Ratha-Yatra celebrations will be important for the Toronto devotees, who have been going through a challenging time during the pandemic.
“Compared to the U.S., where many temples have been open with precautions for some time, in Toronto, it’s been very hard,” she explains. “We haven’t been able to go back to the temple – only recently have things started to open up, where we have at least weekend darshan.
“I think there has been a lack of a sense of community, so it will be really nice coming back together, and seeing some devotees for the first time in a very long while, as they wait in line to see the deities.”
Congregations of the various temples where the drive-thru darshan will take place will also be participating, along with the general public. “So it’s not just beneficial for the ISKCON devotees, but for the community at large too,” Rukmini says.
Next year will be the 50th anniversary of both Toronto Ratha-Yatra, and the installation of ISKCON Toronto’s presiding deities, Sri Sri Radha Ksira-Chora Gopinatha. As the occasion draws closer, devotees are praying for an improvement in the pandemic situation.
“We grappled with the idea of whether we should continue on with Ratha-Yatra in any form, during these pandemic years,” says Rukmini. “But we decided to try to keep the tradition and the experience going in whatever way we can, so that everybody still gets to see Lord Jagannatha. And then hopefully next year, with many fingers crossed, and hopefully masks off, we’ll be able to have our proper 50th anniversary.”
To register for drive-thru darshan, click here: https://tinyurl.com/Ratha-Yatra2021
For more details, including drive-thru darshan times, visit: https://torontokrishna.com/2021/07/virtual-ratha-yatra-and-drive-by-darshan-2.html
To watch the Zoom program on Sunday July 18th at 5pm, click here: https://tinyurl.com/ISKCONTORONTO
Watch the Pre-Ratha-Yatra virtual kirtan here: https://www.facebook.com/festivalofindiato
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