London and Paris have much in common as far as Krishna Consciousness is concerned. Srila Prabhupada visited both cities many times.
He installed Radha Krishna Deities in both places and gave Them similar names…Radha-London Isvara (London) Radha-Paris Isvara (Paris). He also installed Jagannatha, Baladeva, Subhadra, and Gaura Nitai in both cities.
London Rathayatra 2021
Rathayatras in both places attract thousands each year, around 20,000 people in London (since 1969) and around 5,000 people in Paris (since 1982).
These twin cities also share one of the sumptuous Rathayatra chariots, built and driven by Titikshu das, who recalls the historical background below:
“I worked with Mayesvara Prabhu, from the US, on the 1982 London chariot which was also used the same year in Paris. Mayesvara Prabhu was on Jayananda Prabhu’s team which built the 1976 New York chariots. Jayananda Prabhu had told him his idea was to have chariots that could very quickly be disassembled and transported, so many cities could have Rathayatra. The London 1982 chariot was built like this with sliding sections and can be compacted and loaded onto a flatbed truck in 75 minutes. The intention of the GBC for southern Europe at that time was that it could be used throughout the zone. The first Paris Rathayatra was in 1982 with this chariot, and Madrid was in 1984. In 2004, two more chariots were built in London”.
In 1995 Titiksu das was approached by the french Rathayatra organisers, Advaita Chandra das (who left his body on December 24th, 2019) and Nitai Gaurasundar das, then Paris Temple president. They invited Titiksu to come with one of the three UK chariots, for parading Lord Jagannatha in the streets of Paris. Then for 25 years, this UK chariot was used in the Paris Festival.
Paris Rathayatra 2021
In terms of time management and organisation, the London Rathayatra has been scheduled each year (until 2019) 2 or 3 weeks before the Paris one. In between, Titiksu would go to Budapest, and sometimes Prague. But the Covid-19 pandemic brought a stop to this European Tour of the UK chariot, as all big events were canceled in 2020.
Lord Jagannatha’s devotees then experienced a big feeling of separation, and the pressure came on the English and French organisers, to not miss the opportunity to organise the 2021 parade throughout the streets of both city’s capitals, in between two waves of the world pandemics.
Applications were made in both places for August 2021, and some way or other were granted for August 8th in London, and August 28th in Paris. As scheduled London Rathayatra took place from Hyde Park to Trafalgar Square.
Titiksu dasa: “In London this year Lord Jagannatha played a trick to get the permission. When giving us the date, He caused the lady at the Trafalgar Square authority to forget that there was a permanent exhibition on the only part of the square we could put three chariots. We should never have been offered that date. They did not know we could put all the Deities on one
chariot and use a different part of the square. When I suggested this they readily agreed”.
Although London and Paris could be seen as twin spiritual cities because of Srila Prabhupada’s mercy, the material world’s organisation does not always follow the vision of the pure acharya. As such, on the top of the worst pandemic the world has ever known, 2021 was also the first year for the UK to exit Europe, and this also had consequences on the Rathayatra organisation. For the first time after 25 years, Titiksu was unable to come to Paris with his truck, due to customs complications, and compulsory quarantine for his co-driver.
The French Rathayatra organisers had to find an alternative chariot and finally got the one from Benelux conceived by Hrday Chaitanya das and built by bhakta Peter. Peter himself brought it to Paris and fixed it up with Kapila Muni das on august 28th on Place de la Chapelle, in the Little India area of Paris. Three ambassadors (from India, Nepal, and Mauritius) came for the inauguration of the festival, offering a basket of fruits and lamps to Their Lordships, and broke the coconuts to open the route,
making sure to sweep the road in front of Jagannatha. A crowd of 2000 pulled the chariot for 2 hours in the streets of Paris, finally arriving on Place de la Republique, where they were served take away prasadam on this beautiful sunny Saturday afternoon.
(Right to left) HH Janananda Swami, a consular minister from Nepal, Ambassador of India in France, Mr. Jawed Ashraf, Ambassador of the Republic of Mauritius in France, Vijayen Valaydon, and Mrs. Kamala Devi Valaydon, Gauda Mandala das, ISKCON Paris Temple President, Nitai Gaurasundar Das, Rathayatra Coordinator
It is also important to note that as a powerful preaching opportunity, Rathayatra brings auspiciousness to the French yatra. Scheduled this year 2021 in a sandwich right after the Balaram festival of New Mayapur (on August 22nd) and the Krishna Janmastami festival (on August 30th), the festival (on August 28th) brought together for one day the French sankirtan distributors in Paris. Not only did they distribute a good number of books on that day, but succeeded, under the inspiration of HH Janananda Gosvami to make the month of August all together their best month of the year in the global world sankirtan results. From a total of 1327 book points in January, France went up to 3175 in August 2021, a humble way to show its gratitude to ISKCON’s founder-acharya Srila Prabhupada, who placed his worshipable lotus feet for the first time in Paris exactly 50 years ago, on June 25th, 1971.
Aug 06, 2022
Brahmatirtha das Director, Bhaktivedanta Institute for Higher Studies