for ISKCON News on Aug. 12, 2011
ISKCON Los Angeles celebrated Lord Jagannath’s Ratha Yatra on July 31, 2011 with great pomp and fervor. This is the biggest and most exciting event organized by the local temple. Their Lordships Jagannath, Balabhadra and Subhadra gave unlimited mercy to countless people by coming out of Their temple and riding magnificently on Their gorgeous chariots. LA’s New Dvaraka temple was a site of great joy and festivities as scores of devotees came to attend this colossal event.
The day dawned bright and crisp with blue skies and gentle breezes. The Deities, both the large as well as the small ones were transported from the temple to the beginning of the yatra site in smart Mustang cars- one car for each Deity. Srila Prabhupada’s murti was ceremoniously carried in a fourth car amidst loud and ecstatic chanting by the assembled devotees. The Deities were dressed in a stunning new orange outfit and adorned with fresh and sweet smelling flowers. It was evident that They were very pleased by the devotion of the devotees based on the big smiles on Their faces! This procession of cars carrying the Deities left the temple at 8 a.m. for Santa Monica and was guarded in the front and back by security officers who made sure that the roads were cleared for the Lord of the universe.
Upon reaching the destination, the Deities were transported with great fanfare onto three massive chariots made by Ratnabhusana Das who spent months constructing new carts for each of the Deities. These chariots had bright canopies made of stripes of red cloth combined with yellow (for Jagannath), green (for Subhadra) and blue (for Balabhadra) colors and were festooned with massive balloons, marigold and rose flower garlands, colorful flags as well as intricately designed cows and chakras. The chariots rolled out of Santa Monica at 10 a.m. sharp with a massive entourage of devotees singing “Jai Jagannath” and the Hare Krishna mahamantra.
The Los Angeles devotees pulled Subhadra devi’s chariot while the San Diego devotees pulled Lord Balabhadra’s chariot. Lord Jagannath’s chariot bearing a beautiful picture of Jayananda Prabhu in the front was pulled by a large assembly of devotees from all over the country. The procession lasted for two hours and passed through the glamorous streets of Santa Monica, winding its way to Venice beach where the Festival of India was going to be celebrated. Although the weather was comfortably warm, a gentle drizzle showered on the dancing devotees for a few minutes reflecting the auspiciousness of the moment. Along the way hundreds of people watched the stunning cavalcade, waving and clapping joyfully. Little did they realize how fortunate they were to be able to see Krishna and His siblings in this manner.
The procession was moving along smoothly for about an hour when Lord Balabhadra suddenly decided to show His transcendental lila! At about 11 a.m., the chariot on which Lord Balarama was travelling broke down! The entire right wheel of the cart tilted by about 15o and rested dangerously at an angle causing the chariot to come to a standstill. The pujaris who were serving Him had no idea about the mishap until six police cops on bicycles who were constantly riding alongside the cart told everybody to get off the cart immediately. The Police Chief and the Fire Marshall arrived shortly who ordered all devotees off the cart.
However, some pujaris stoutly refused to get down and leave dear Lord Balarama sitting all alone on the chariot. This was not allowed by the law enforcement authorities and finally upon the advice of the senior devotees assembled there, all devotees did descend from the cart. It was very difficult to get close to the carts because they thought it might turn over.
The LA temple president Svavasa Prabhu also arrived immediately and tried to explain to a policeman that Lord Balarama was up on the cart and that He needed to be moved down. However, the policeman wouldn't budge and this went on for at least 15 minutes. While the devotees were blissfully chanting and dancing ahead of Lord Jagannath’s and Subhadra Rani’s chariots, completely unaware of what trick Lord Balarama was up to, plenty was going on in the background. The stress and anxiety was building up fast amongst the devotees who were walking around Lord Balarama’s chariot with a lot of pandemonium all around. All devotees gathered there were in deep anxiety wondering what to do and how to get on the cart to get Lord Balarama. Krishna was very merciful because finally the policeman felt the mood of the devotees and kept calling his superior to get permission to be able to get the Deity off the cart which was eventually granted. Svavasa Prabhu sent Ananta Acarya dasa and another devotee up on the chariot to bring Lord Balarama down.
The devotees acted very swiftly; Lord Balarama was brought down and held by Naikatma and Bhagavata Krpa Prabhus in seconds. They were then told to run as fast as they could and get Lord Balarama on Subhadra devi’s cart which was made to halt in order to accommodate Her brother. The two devotees had quite an uphill task as Lord Balarama was very heavy and they had to run at least a half mile to get to the other chariot. But these devotees were totally focused on getting Lord Balarama to Subhadra devi’s cart and did not waver for a second. As they ran, hundreds of people just moved to the side to let Lord Balarama through and they were jubilantly crying out Balarama’s name! Some were trying to touch the body of Lord Balarama, some were trying to help carry Him and some were moving the crowd back. However, the transcendental nectar did not end there. Subhadra Rani’s chariot was already quite full as it carried Her, the small set of Deities and a big murti of Srila Prabhupada. But She is so kind and loving that She willingly surrendered Her own seat for Her darling brother. Lord Balarama was placed on Subhadra devi’s original seat, She was placed one level below on a make-shift dhoti asana and the small Deities were moved and placed on a pujari’s lap peacefully resting on a chadar! To make things more charming, this chariot now accommodated pujaris for both Balabhadra and Subhadra. What a transcendental lila some of us got to witness!
Meanwhile, the damaged chariot was somehow fixed temporarily and towed to the festival site. So, what was the reason for the Lord displaying this pastime? One pujari said that Lord Balarama had looked a little boozy when He was being carried out of the temple (maybe He had too much varuni) and got too heavy for His cart; another said that He wanted all along to ride with His sister, hence he broke His own cart; a third pujari said that maybe He was not getting enough attention and this was His way of ensuring that all eyes are on Him.
No matter what the reason, the Lord’s apparently prankish pastime will be remembered by all for a long time to come. The devotees can rest with satisfaction because after the yatra was over and the Lordships returned to the temple and were tucked into Their cozy beds, all three had the biggest smiles on Their faces!
At 12.30p.m. the chariots reached Venice beach where all three Deities and Srila Prabhupada’s murti were placed on a single chariot facing the beautiful Pacific ocean with tender winds caressing Their charming faces and giving amazing darsan to thousands of people assembled there. Throughout Their adjourn at the beach, the Lordships were being offered aratis, fans and a wide assortment of foods in the form of fresh and dry fruits, savories and sweet delicacies which were then being handed out to the public as mahaprasad. At the beginning of the festival site were three large booths- one dedicated to guest services providing informational items about the Ratha yatra to the public, a second one entitled “Books on Yoga and Meditation” housing Srila Prabupada’s books for sale and distribution and a third one entitled “Illustrations from the Bhagavad Gita” displaying the timeless wisdom of the Gita in the form of large poster-boards.
In all, there were more than 15 different booths including the Pizza booth selling hot vegetable and cheese pizzas, the smoothie booth selling cool mango and strawberry lassis along with delicious watermelons, the curd steak stall selling absolutely divine juicy paneer slices soaked in a delightful tomato sauce, a booth selling colorful chilled snow cones, a snack stall selling a variety of Indian snacks, a booth selling fresh soft coconuts, a booth entitled “Questions and Answers” encouraging people to know more about Krishna Consciousness, a booth advocating vegetarianism and the benefits of a vegetarian diet, a booth selling Spanish Krishna conscious books, the Hare Krishna Food for Life booth, a booth dedicated to memories of Srila Prabhupada in the form of DVDs and books, the ITV (Iskcon Television) booth, the Children’s theatre booth which was filled to capacity with little children, a booth on yoga experience and several display stalls related to Vedic concepts such as reincarnation.
Lastly but not the least was the booth of Govindas gifts which was remarkably popular and packed with people buying all sorts of exotic and devotional items. A very large stall was distributing a tasty free vegetarian feast and had long lines of people waiting for some wonderful pasta salad, peanut butter burfi and savories. The entertainment was performed on a main stage and consisted of Indian classical dances, plays, discourses, kirtan and bhajans. A second stage was dedicated to the performance of the Hare Krishna mahamantra in a variety of styles and had a lot of people tapping their feet and dancing to the beats and melodies. People were very relaxed, sprawled on the green grass on this crystal clear day and soaking the mercy of the Lord in the form of His darsan and Holy Name. The mood was that of exhilaration and awe, of amazement and respect and of gratitude and piety.
We were especially blessed to be graced by the presence of Giriraj Swami, Hrdayananda Goswami, Bhaktimarga Swami and Danavir Goswami at this wonderful event. The Ratha Yatra is a true feast for all of our senses- a festival suffused with devotional sentiments for the Lord and an amazing opportunity for purifying ourselves. All devotees expressed their deep appreciation for the festival and their gratitude to Srila Prabhupada who gave us this mercy. All glories to the most benevolent Lord Jagannath, Lord Balabhadra and Subhadra devi!
For pictures of this event, please visit the following sites: