Over eighty ISKCON youth and next generation devotees participated in the Gasparilla Parade of Pirates in Tampa, Florida on January 26th, bringing Lord Jagannath and the Hare Krishna Mantra to an estimated 300,000 to 400,000 revelers.
This was devotees’ second year participating in the parade, which is part of the massive Gasparilla Pirate Festival with a host of events themed around the legend of mythical Spanish Pirate José Gaspar.
The effort was organized by Bhadra Das as part of his Festival of Chariots program, which puts on nine Rathayatras around Florida as well as events in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.
Bhadra Das previously helped organize major Rathayatras in India during Srila Prabhupada’s Centennial in 1996 with Lokanath Swami, and transplanted his enthusiasm to Florida.
While most of the Rathayatras he organizes are family events involving devotees of all ages, three see devotees participating in parades with strict rules – the Tallahassee Springtime Parade, the Jacksonville Beaches Parade, and the Gasparilla Parade of Pirates. For these, Bhadra exclusively enlists next generation devotees, who practice an immaculate cultural presentation.
Lord Jagannath’s Rathayatra cart made an attractive float in the parade
“Personally, I think they are fantastic spokespeople for our mission,” says Alachua temple president Mukhya Dasi. “Because they’re vibrant, effulgent, colorful, and enthusiastic. Their kirtans are wonderful, and they take the time to dress and decorate themselves nicely, and to dance in synchronicity.”
“That all makes a big difference, a big impression on the people,” adds Bhadra.
This year the group, which included both gurukulis and students from Gainesville’s Krishna House, took a coach to Tampa and joined the parade at around 3pm.
A pirate bows to the Lord of the Universe
They had to keep their stamina up as the Parade of Pirates ran 4.5 miles from Bayshore Blvd to Ashley and Cass Street, lasting over three hours and ending after 6pm.
The parade featured some 120 floats. The devotees’ section began with a brilliant red and yellow Rathayatra cart, carrying gorgeous Deities of Jagannath, Baladeva and Subhadra. Caring for their Lordships were an entire family of husband and wife Dharmaraja Das and Radhakund Dasi with their adult children Nitai Pran, Mirabi, Ratilekha and her fiancée Gopal, and Vrindakund – who have maintained the Rathayatra cart for many years with love and devotion.
Pulling the cart on a trailer was Madhusudana Das with his truck, upon which was affixed a powerful sound system set up by Param Birenbaum.
In front of this was the kirtan party, with Visvambhar Sheth leading the chanting of the maha-mantra, along with mridanga, kartal and harmonium players including Bali Rico and Narottama Rewah.
Visvambhar Sheth leads the chanting
Heading up the procession were the dancers, including Ganga Sheth, Syamali Dasi, Bhanumati Dasi, and many more. Dressed in coordinated sari and skirt costumes and incorporating a peacock color theme of vibrant blues, greens and purples, they danced in synchronized movements, out towards the audience and back towards each other.
With everyone including the kirtaniyas dressed in peacock colors, draped in matching Harinama chaddars, and dancing in four perfectly straight lines, the impact was powerful.
“With these parades there’s definitely a particular focus on presenting this culture to the people — singing and dancing in such a way as to share it with them,” says assistant organizer Syamali Dasi. “And the reaction is just amazing.”
As Lord Jagannath and the devotees passed them, the people crowded along the road to watch the parade shouted out, “Beautiful!” “I love you!” and “Namaste.” Many smiled, waved, and made heart signs with their hands. Some, who were University of Florida alumni and knew devotees from the Krishna Lunch program on campus, did the Gator football team “Gator chomp.”
Revelers wave and make heart signs to the devotees
“I was walking on the sidelines,” says Bhadra Das. “Everyone was reaching out to high five me. They were so happy and welcoming. Several people commented, ‘Your music is so uplifting.’ The Hare Krishna mantra was touching their hearts.”
Devotees also distributed 10,000 prasadam lollipops, which everyone accepted gratefully.
“I felt that the people could appreciate that we had come to give something special,” Syamali says. “That we were actually trying to share something with them in a loving way and make a personal connection with them. One of the pirates from the float in front of us asked my husband Bhismadeva, ‘Are you guys all about peace?’ When he agreed, the pirate said, ‘Yeah, I picked up on that.’ So people can recognize that there’s something special.”
A short film of devotees in the Gasparilla Parade of Pirates, shot by Krishna House alumni Rasaraja Das and edited by Bhismadeva, will premier at the Alachua ISKCON temple on Sunday March 10th, during Snana Yatra.
Bhanumati Dasi dances for Lord Jagannath
Meanwhile youth are already looking forward to the next Rathayatra in St. Augustine on March 23rd, where devotees of all ages will participate.
“It’s just such a nice way to come together,” says Syamali. “I feel like our community is really fortunate to have all kinds of festivals that bring us together in service.”
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