Govardhana Dasa shows the solid construction of the new parade carts.
Dallas ISKCON devotees have christened their new festival tour of popular parades the "Transcendental Hootenanny." Originating in 2007 as a simple float for their chanting party to ride on in the local St. Patrick's Day parade, the idea soon evolved into a major event that will hit ten parades annually in Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana and Oklahoma.
Govardhana Dasa, who began float-building for the project in August 2007, says that the light-hearted, disarming flavor of the word "hootenanny," – meaning "a party with music" – fits perfectly. "The spiritual world is also lighthearted and full of joy," he explains. "And our goal is to bring that festive atmosphere to the public, giving them a chance to reclaim their spiritual birthright."
The twenty-foot chanting party float is not alone. It will be followed by a chariot carrying forty-inch tall deities of Jagannath, Lord of the Universe, his brother Baladeva and sister Subhadra. Texas sculptor Jonas Perkins, known for an impressive body of work including commissioned sculptures for former US presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, was enlisted for the job. "It's no coincidence that his spiritual name is Jagannath Ram Dasa," Govardhana comments. "He loves Lord Jagannath, and is very keen on the project. And it's obvious that he was the right man for the task when you look at the deities' faces. They seem so joyful, so comfortable."
Govardhana is hard at work on the deities' ride, a "Vedic war chariot," designed by architect Scott Amis, who contributed to Dallas' South Indian-style temple. "It's made with wood, epoxy resin and steel, and it's solid as a rock," Govardhana assures us. "It may take some time for us to get it on the road, but once we do, it'll stay there for at least twenty-five years."
Promising to be a real stunner, the chariot is based partly on Grandfather Bhisma's from the BBT painting of Krishna charging at him with a wheel. "It's very ornate, with lots of detail and filigree," says Govardhana. "We've brought in Mark Merchant, one of the most popular tattoo artists in Dallas, to carve detailed elephants, lotuses, and crocodiles onto it."
The chariot will also sport a large flag featuring Garuda, Krishna's bird carrier, and will be 'pulled' by two near-lifesize fiberglass horses, modeled after the Arabian steeds on the cover of Bhagavad-gita As It Is.
A white pearlescent paint, to make the chariot shimmer with myriad rainbow colors in the sunlight, will complete the celestial effect. "When I'm done, it will look like Indra (The king of heaven) donated it," Govardhana says.
Lord Jagannath rides out for His first "Transcendental Hootenanny" on April 26th 2009, at San Antonio's Fiesta Flambeau. The night-time parade, translated as "Festival of Lights" draws 500,000 people, with a further 1.5 million watching the televised live broadcast. Devotees will be there early for the preceding "Fiesta week," with tents, prasadam, books, and chanting, so that by the time the parade rolls, people will already be familiar with them.
"Everyone loves a parade," Govardhana says. "But I believe there's more to it than that. People like them because they're eternal, just like us. Krishna paraded through the streets of Mathura with his entourage; Ramachandra did the same in Ayodhya. So seeing Jagannath ride down the streets of San Antonio in his chariot will strike a deep, eternal cord of familiarity."
The Transcendental Hootenanny will end with a stage show after the parade, featuring Indian dance, cultural plays, traditional music, and of course vegetarian food – prepared Mexican-style for the Texan palate.
”¦And then it's on to the next parade.
Govardhana is certain that the public reaction will be extremely positive. "We have what people want," he says. "It's colorful, totally entertaining, and spiritually enriching all at the same time. What's not to like?"
For up-to-date news and photographs, visit www.transcendentalhootenanny.com