An online “Sravana Festival,” with a series of Zoom talks by illustrious guests about the pastimes of Lord Jagannath and Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, is setting the mood for the upcoming Ratha Yatra celebrations at the ISKCON temple in Plainfield, New Jersey and on the Atlantic City boardwalk.
The nectarean spiritual talks, which are taking place every Sunday from 9:00am to around 10:30am EST, began on June 20th with Director of Gopal Jiu Publications Madhavananda Das, who is based in Jagannath Puri in Orissa, India. An expert parikrama guide and presenter of Gaudiya Vaishnava philosophy, Madhavananda spoke about Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s pastimes at the Ratha Yatra in Jagannath Puri from the Madhya-lila of Sri Chaitanya-charitamrita.
On June 27th, scholar and well-known speaker Amarendra Das spoke about Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s Jagannath Puri pastimes from the Antya-lila, wherein He felt separation from Krishna and exhibited ecstatic symptoms of love for Lord Jagannath. Next on July 4th, GBC and Govardhana Eco Village Director Gauranga Das will speak about the glories of the Jagannathastakam prayer. On July 11th, GBC Bhakti Purusottama Swami from Mayapur will speak about the glories of Lord Jagannath’s maha prasadam. And finally on July 18th, Sacinandana Swami will speak on the glories of Lord Jagannath.
Each talk will be followed by questions and answers, and will be available to watch on Youtube after the live Zoom session. The program is organized by ISKCON of Central New Jersey and co-hosted by nearby temples the Bhakti Center NYC, Towaco, Richmond, Harrisburg, Brooklyn, Bergen County, Delaware, Baltimore and Gita Nagari.
Devotees, inspired by the Sravana talks held so far, also observed Snana Yatra on June 24th at ISKCON of Central New Jersey in Plainfield, with Covid precautions such as masks, social distancing, and hand sanitization in place.
During the evening ceremony, devotees got the chance to bathe the two-and-a-half foot tall Utsava deities of Lord Jagannath, Baladeva and Subhadra with various ingredients. Meanwhile pujaris bathed the main deities of Their Lordships, Who were installed in 2016, by performing darpana-snaniya-dhyana (bathing the deities’ reflections in a mirror).
Devotees then recited Jagannathastakam, and had the once in a year opportunity to take darshan of Lord Jagannath, Baladeva and Subhadra in Their Hati Vesha, or “elephant dress,” created by expert artists at ISKCON of Central New Jersey. The Snana Yatra concluded with attendees receiving to-go boxes of prasadam.
Snana Yatra and the Sravana Festival are both building up to Ratha Yatra, which will take place on the ISKCON of Central New Jersey property on Saturday July 11th from 4:00pm to 8:00pm. Rath Puja will be performed in the temple courtyard, after which small deities of Jagannath, Baladeva and Subhadra, Who came from Jagannath Puri and were installed in an invocation ceremony in Central New Jersey on February 4th 2006, will be brought to Their chariot in a procession called Pahandi Bije.
Like Snana Yatra, Ratha Yatra will conclude with a takeaway maha prasadam feast.
Finally on Saturday July 17th, a second Ratha Yatra will take place in Atlantic City, with Lord Jagannath riding a large, beautiful chariot down the famous Atlantic City Boardwalk from New Jersey Avenue to Kennedy Plaza. After the procession, which will run from 2:00pm to 4:00pm, there will be kirtan, book stalls, prasadam distribution, and darshan of Lord Jagannath on His chariot at the Plaza from 4:30pm to 6:30pm.
Ratha Yatra has been held in Atlantic City every year since 2007, with the exception of 2020, and people will be happy to see it back. In previous years, many newcomers would participate.
“They would inquire about who the Lord of the Universe is,” explains Hema Jagannath Das. “And we would have a good opportunity to explain how Srila Prabhupada came; how the first documented Ratha Yatra festival outside India was held in 1967 in San Francisco; and how since then, Ratha Yatra has been happening all around the world.”
As with Snana Yatra, Covid-19 guidelines will be followed during the ISKCON of Central New Jersey and Atlantic City Ratha Yatras, with everyone encouraged to wear masks and social distance.
Making these celebrations a reality has been a team effort. “The festival coordinating team, under the leadership of temple president Madhupati Das and with guidance from vice president Devakinandan Das, has been brainstorming with other temple festival committee members on weekly conference calls to make sure all the aspects of the festivities are managed nicely without any gaps,” Hema Jagannath says.
After a year of pandemic challenges, struggles and losses, being able to once again take the most merciful Lord of the Universe out on Ratha Yatra will be a blessing.
“Ratha Yatra is a celebration of devotees’ expression of love for Their Lordships by pulling Them into their hearts, which was severely curtailed during the pandemic lockdown,” says Hema Jagannath. “Now, as we approach our first Ratha Yatra in 2021 after the lockdown, a strong outpouring of withheld emotions is being experienced amongst Lord Jagannath’s devotees.”
Watch the Sravana Festival videos here: https://www.youtube.com/user/iskconcnj
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