By Ila Garg
Chicago: On June 28, 2015 Hare Krishna devotees celebrated the 41st annual Chariot Festival organised by ISKCON. This year in Chicago, the Chariot Festival saw the participation of 5000 people, with 400 new attendees joining in the celebration. Team NewsGram too joined in this vibrant festival to catch a glimpse. The parade began at 11:30 AM at Daley Plaza (50 West Washington Street, Chicago) and concluded at 12:30 PM. The grand festival which comprised of ecstatic dancing, live music, vegetarian food, and meditation went on till 6 PM.
The organizer, Nityanand Pran Das introduced the festival. The Chariot Festival (traditionally known as Ratha Yatra) started with hundreds of people pulling a 36 foot tall Chariot in which the ancient deity form of Krishna is placed. This form of Krishna is called Jagannath (the origin of the word juggernaut – an unstoppable force) and is unique with big eyes and a big smile that will melt your heart.
One of the devotees, Yadhoda Nandana Das told NewsGram, “I came across ISKCON philosophy for the first time in 2007 and since then I am associated with it.” Yadavacarya Goswami Das, another devotee who is a native of Chicago got initiated at the age of 17. Ananda Vrindavan (now 52), a native of Philippines was only 9-years-old when she became a disciple.
The concept of the chariot has been explained in the Kathopanishada in the following words –
Atmaanam rathinam viddhi shareeram rathamevatu Buddhim tu saarathim viddhi manah pragrahameva cha. (The body is the chariot and the soul is the deity installed in the chariot. The wisdom acts as the charioteer to control the mind and thoughts.)
The festival is also known as Gundicha Yatra, Ghosa Yatra, Navadina Yatra, Dasavatara Yatra, and by a variety of other names. Here, it started in 1974 and since then the ISKCON society has been celebrating this event with thousands of people participating every year.
Ruchira Jairam provided volunteer henna and face painting at the festival while Sundar Anand Das manned the book stall. “Looking forward for more such events,” Das remarked. He has been volunteering at ISKCON events for past 10 years.