CHICAGO, Illinois – Devotees from around the United States gathered to perform the public singing of the holy names and pull Lord Jagannath’s chariot as part of the 78th annual Bud Billiken Children’s Parade in Chicago on August 11. More than 1.5 million spectators lined the streets as the parade wound its way through the south of the city.
An estimated 25 million viewers saw the festivities via television coverage, and about 2,000 plates of sanctified food were distributed at the park.
At the invitation of Chicago temple president Gauramani das and his wife, Syama Priya dasi, the devotees had participated at the parade finale two years ago, where they were so inspired by the response they applied to put Lord Jagannath in the parade itself last year. Although a 195cm deity of the Lord was delivered from the New Talavan farm in Mississippi, the group found themselves placed towards the rear of the parade. However, when the public saw the larger-than-life form of the Lord atop his chariot the parade ended with a roar when it reached the park.
For this year’s event the devotees were determined to get closer to the front of the parade so as to facilitate greater media coverage of Lord Jagannath and the dancing and chanting. To ensure maximum visual impact, Kuvaleshvara das carved a 213cm deity of the Lord (with the features painted by Kanta dasi), while Vakreshvara Pandit das and Kamagiri dasi led the enthusiastic chanting party.
Jaya Jagannath das and Kalki das set up the tents at the park (as well as arranging accommodation for the visiting devotees), and Bhaktivinoda das and his team prepared the sanctified food for the pleasure of thousands of festival attendees, who were also in receipt of Srila Prabhupada’s books explaining spiritual life.
The Chicago devotees are now conducting weekly home programs. As a result of publicity generated by the appearance of Lord Jagannath, a temple facility on the city’s south side became available just days after the parade. Srila Prabhupada once said: "Not paid servants, but servants by affection." Motivated by sincerity and affection for Prabhupada, who made sacrifices and suffered inconvenience travelling around the world to deliver conditioned souls back to Godhead, working together as a team is making headway.
(More photos are at www.harekrishnatempleoftheheart.org).