On March 20th, ISKCON of Alachua hosted a Ratha Yatra in the historic city of St. Augustine, Florida for the fifth time. This year, however, both the organizers and the city made some strategic changes.
Whereas the event has previously been held in August, a suggestion by Tamohara Dasa, an ISKCON Alachua Board member after last year’s installment, resulted in its new March date, during peak tourist season.
“Part of the motivation was so we could avoid the August heat, and judging by the number of devotees who have turned out, it seems to have worked,” Tamohara told attendees.
Over a hundred participants pulled the decorated chariot along the outskirts of St. George Street, the primary pedestrian center of the city. When they arrived at the plaza for the culminating feast and entertainment, they faced a less voluntary change.
“This year, the city would not allow us to set up tables for displaying our books or serving out our food,” said Bhadra Dasa, the main organizer.
Although he had planned on using the steps of the central gazebo, ultimately the group was able to use tables for the meal, although blankets on the grass had to suffice as literature displays.
Feelings between the devotees and the city were warm and appreciative. Bhadra Dasa garlanded Vice Mayor Errol Jones and presented him with several gifts, including the Bhagavad Gita, which Jones promised to read.
The Vice Mayor attributed the good weather to the devotees, and invited them to continue bringing the event to the city.
“I understand this [Ratha Yatra] is one of the oldest celebrations in India, and St. Augustine is the oldest city in the US, so they are a natural match,” stated Jones to the crowd.
Kirtan, dances and a drama concluded the program, which will continue to be held in the spring in future years. It is one of eight Ratha Yatras within the state of Florida that are put on annually by Alachua devotees.