The speed of the parade necessitated something other than hands pulling ropes.
The Tallahassee Ratha Yatra went off with a hitch this year. That's right, a trusty station wagon bedecked with calendar cut-outs of famous Krishna art wheeled Lord Jagannatha, Lord Baladeva, and Lady Subhadra's cart down the main street of Florida's capital. The Springtime Tallahassee Festival gathers a culturally diverse and impressively sized crowd of participants and observers each year. It is the devotees who never cease to provide the otherwise lacking spiritual spark at such events, as this year’s lively crew again proved.
Fifty or more sari and dhoti-clad devotees from Alachua and Tallahassee gathered in line for the parade while lively kirtan invited Their Lordships onto the colorful cart. The ignition turned, ‘Jagannatha Swamin nayana pata gami bhavatu me’ resounded prayerfully through the streets, and the cart sped off behind a marching line of floats, limos, and charter buses. My heart began to flitter a little faster. My first eye-witness account of such a festival was a hair short of one year ago. With only a dozen or so in my memory, the anticipation that accompanies pulling the Lord closer to my heart and the hearts of all passersby is a very new and incomparable feeling.
Glancing down at the car which would lead the cart, we knew pulling the Lord down Monroe Street could not be accomplished in any traditional way this year. “Since there aren’t any ropes, maybe we can tug on the side windows,” I deeply considered during a conversation with my Krishna House sister Ali Krishna Devi. She brilliantly suggested we tie our shoelaces to the bumper to supply the extra pull. But alas, we were quickly handed decorative flags for waving at the crowd, and so began devising intricate and coordinated dance steps to please both the Lord and those who would soon see him.
The cart rolled up and down a series of mild hills in a relatively short stretch, lasting around 40 minutes and spanning the distance of a mile amidst the capitol building and downtown area. With the cart behind us, the crowd control personnel signaled the group of dancing devotees to veer right at the last stretch of the parade.
Just then, the widely dreaded, completely predictable, and nearly unstoppable phenomenon within all Hare Krishna events worldwide occurred- a glitch in communication. All the devotees bared right onto the intersecting street to behold a dreaded sight behind- the Lord and His cart pushed forward!!!
Having turned off Monroe and clustered away from the main parade, we stood in near shock, in separation of the Lord, of His cart, and of all those deliciously sought after sweets he’s eaten with his eyes and left for us. It only took moments for the group to rejoin and begin chasing after the cart. The chanting never stopped, the dancing never stopped, the flags never rested.
The Springtime Tallahassee Festival culminated in a large food and craft festival which covered large blocks of downtown park and street space. After offering our respects to the departed cart, the devotees marched onward to meet a growing mob of hungry paraders. Smoke rose into the air, dispelled from countless food stands and lit cigarettes. Sunburned people stood in the hot sun waiting in endless lines for crafts, snow cones, philly cheese steaks and margaritas. Thick smells of barbecue, kettle corn and draft beer permeated the air.
So to did the melodious voices of Jagannatha's devotees. The Hare Krishna maha mantra penetrated throngs of cheerful locals. An hour-long harinam ensued, as everyone continued to dance and sing, sharing information and the Holy Names with an enormous and pleasingly open-minded crowd. Krishna Krpa prabhu, arguably one of ISKCON’s most enthusiastic harinamers, exclaimed this to be one of the best harinams he’s been a part of.
The exhausting harinam culminated in a much-awaited and spectacular 15-course feast prepared by the famous Daru prabhu, temple president of ISKCON Tallahassee and chef extraordinaire.