Despite proposed changes and fees, London’s 41st Ratha Yatra (Chariot Festival) will be held this June 28 on the streets of the British capital without any modifications from previous years, after extensive negotiations with government and police.
Police have offered their traffic management and security services free to the parade for the past forty years. However, due to the current economic climate new Mayor Boris Johnson decided to make cutbacks in the police department, resulting in police having to charge all protest marches, carnivals and rallies for their services.
“Ratha Yatra was registered in 1969 as a protest march, since the Lord Mayor’s procession is the only official procession the city allows,” explains festival co-ordinator Titikshu Dasa.
The total charges for hiring police escorts and traffic wardens? £25,000 on top of the already large amount of funds required for the festival.
Springing into action, Titikshu formed a Ratha Yatra task force, who arranged a meeting with the Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police. Presenting a strong case that there had been no consultation process or community impact assessment regarding the prospective change, devotees explained that this meant effectively killing an event which was now celebrating its 40th anniversary.
“After listening to our case, the police top brass were very understanding and helpful,” Titikshu says. “Almost immediately, they took full responsibility and decided not to charge at all for this year's Ratha Yatra."
Ten thousand members of the public and ISKCON devotees from all over the world are expected at the parade, where three 40-foot high colourful chariots carrying Jagannath, Baladev and Subhadra will be pulled from Marble Arch to Trafalgar Square.
Organizers expect twenty thousand to attend the after-festival at Trafalgar Square, where they will be able to sample music, food, and literature, participate in lively workshops, and try sari-draping and face-painting. The stage show will treat festival-goers to traditional temple dance, drama, and music, and free sumptuous Indian vegetarian cuisine will top off the experience.
"Each year, we aim to create a more vibrant and colourful festival for London," Titikshu says. "Now forty years since the first Ratha Yatra in the city, it’s amazing to see yet another generation of Londoners enjoying the Ratha Yatra celebrations here.”
Following this year’s parade, Titikshu and other organizers will enter into a dialogue with the police about next year’s arrangements. Judging by recent negotiations, they expect to pay a fee, but one significantly lowered from the originally proposed £25,000.