New York Ratha-Yatra 2004 report
Posted July 29, 2004
(For more photos, visit us @: http://www.radhagovinda.net/ry2004.htm)
Dear Devotees and Friends,
Sri Jagannath Swami Ki Jai!!
The 2004 New York Ratha Yatra and Sankirtan Festival was celebrated with great jubilation from June 9 to June 13, 2004. Hundreds of devotees converged from all over the world converged to Sri Sri Radha Govinda Mandir to take part in the kirtan and hari-katha programs to glorify the pastimes of Lord Chaitanya at the Ratha Yatra Festival.
The New York Temple community worked intensely to prepare the temple to receive the hundreds of esteemed guests. Many congregation devotees went above the call of duty, and gave their hearts in service to Lord Krishna. For the previous 2 weeks, the temple was abuzz with activity as devotees pitched in the upgrade. Because of the dedication of the New York devotees, the majority of the festival preparation was complete before the evening kirtan began on Friday June 11, 2004. Devotees came from all corners, and took part in garland making, vegetable cutting, and other sublime forms of service to Lord Jagannath. Thus the temple was ready in record time and everyone was able to enjoy hearing the transcendental pastimes of Lord Chaitanya (see below).
On June 5th, 2004 the Ratha Yatra and Sankirtan festival was inaugurated with the "special" Snana-Yatra (bathing festival) of Lord Jagannath Swami. It was a nice festival and many eager devotees lined up to bathe the Lord with their love and devotion. The air was thick with excitement as devotees waited with enthusiasm to pull Lord Jagannath down Fifth avenue the following week.
The New York Sankirtan Festival was celebrated from June 9-11, and it featured an intense book distribution seminar with HG Vaisesika Prabhu and HG Dayananda Prabhu. After presenting different seminars every morning, they took 20 devotees out every day to various locations in Manhattan, and encouraged them with their guidance and leadership as they preached to the people of New York. HH Jayadwaita Swami and HH Kadamba-Kanana Swami also took part in the book distribution activities, noting high book scores.
On June 9th, after the evening kirtan, HH Jayadwaita Swami set the scene for the festival by giving a talk from the Bhagavad Gita As It Is, reminding the audience of Lord Krishna's supremacy. In the Bhagavad Gita, 9.11, Lord Krishna establishes His authority as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, by declaring that only fools cannot accept the authority of God. Maharaja explained that this verse is significant because it helps to understand that God has a personal form.
On June 10 2004, the whole temple atmosphere was electrified by the superexcellent kirtans and lectures of His Holiness Radhanath Swami, who commenced the first of a 2-part lecture in celebration the upcoming Jagannath Ratha Yatra. He spoke Lord Chaitanya's pastimes during the Gundica Marjana ceremony. Maharaj illustrated the story of King Prataparudra and how he ultimately achieved the mercy of Caitanya Mahaprabhu, by rendering menial service to Lord Jagannath, and taking great care of the devotees of Lord Chaitanya. Maharaj stressed that we should consider ourselves fortunate if we are given the opportunity to perform even the most menial task in the service of the Lord, because that is the key to receiving Lord Krsna's mercy.
The celebration continued on June 11, 2004 with another transcendental kirtan and lecture program on the pastimes of Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. This was heralded by the transcendental arrival of Lord Jagannath, Lord Baladeva & Lady Subhadra from ISKCON Baltimore. The newly painted deities made their entrance amidst the kirtan and dancing by the hundreds of devotees who came to the temple that evening. After the Lord was escorted to his apartment, HH Radhanath Swami began his progam by singing the bhajan "Jaya Jaya Jagannath Sacira Nandana" with such intensity that captivated the devotees and made them eager to hear the stories of Lord Jagannath's Ratha Yatra. Maharaj told the story of Gundica Marjana, the cleaning of the Gundica temple in preparation for the arrival of Lord Jagannath's Ratha. Lord Caitanya personally led a Sankirtan party to the Gundica temple and showed the Vaisnavas by cleaning the floor how to serve in the mood of selflessness and bereft of false pride. He further described the ecstatic symptoms the Lord experienced during the Ratha Yatra. Maharaj stressed that we should not be envious of others, and we should become pleased if others receive more mercy and association than ourselves. He explained that this pleases the Lord, but if we become envious, Krsna removes his mercy. HH Radhanath Swami kept the devotees enthralled till late in the evening.
On Ratha Yatra day, the devotees made their way from all corners of the world to New York City, to pull the Lord's chariots down the most "famous street in the world" Fifth Avenue. This year, the Ratha Yatra Festival committee worked to ensure a smooth and safe parade. A team of 8 parade marshals and 12 wheel guards worked together under the leadership of H.G. Bindu Madhava Dasa to keep the devotees safe and blissful as the beautiful carts made their way down Fifth Avenue. Under clear blue skies, and perfect temperatures, thousands of devotees from all over the world came together to pull the ropes of the mighty chariots down Fifth Avenue. There was no distinction of race, creed, color or position as people from all walks of life took part in this celebration.
HH Lokanath Swami took the microphone in front of Lord Jagannath's chariot and sang the entire length of the parade. In front of Lady Subhadra's cart, many of the visiting gurukulis came forward to lead the kirtan. Likewise, in front of Lord Baladeva's cart, many of the great New York kirtaneers took the microphone and chanted the whole way down 5th Avenue. All of the participants in the parade chanted and danced in ecstasy.
At Washington Square Park, visitors and devotees alike were treated to a terrific afternoon of spiritual entertainment from 2 different stages this year. Also, there were 4 question and answer booths, featuring different leading sanyasis who took questions and engaged in serious dialogue. There were different prasadam booths, selling all sorts of items from curd steaks to samosas, attracting the minds of the many tourists who came to the festival. The Free Feast prasadam was, once again, a feast for all of the senses. Two subjis, puri, laddu, rice, halavah, and lemonade were offered to everyone who were eager to receive it.
This year's stage programs featured some of the best artists from both the ISKCON community and from outside. Pandit Satyanarayan Charka, and his troupe of Kathak artists, performed a wonderful rendition of Krishna-lila pastimes, featuring Krishna's battle with Kaliya serpent and his dances with the gopis. Different ISKCON devotee musicians performed traditions bhajans and kirtans with a modern flair. Karnamrta dasi, one of the original ISKCON gurukulis, also came to the stage to sing a couple of songs from her album.
According to Madhuha Prabhu, the "best act in the show" award went to Anapayani devi dasi and her Bharatanatyam students, from Florida. Their performance was full of flair and grace, and kept the audience enthralled and amazed.
Finally, at about 6:30pm, HH BB Govinda Swami and the Silk Road Band (of devotees) from ISKCON Kazakhstan set to take the entire city of New York back to the spiritual world with their transcendental kirtan program. The devotees' ecstasies went higher and higher, until 7:30pm, when the festival had to come to a close.
With the loving memories of HH Sridhar Swami within their hearts, many of the devotees stayed to help clean up the park and take down the Festival of India tents and exhibitions. As we know, Sridhar Maharaj took it upon himself to rally the devotees to assist Madhuha Prabhu in cleaning up the park for quite a few years, until his departure this past March to the Spiritual World.
Sunday June 13, Yogini Ekadasi, will be the day to remember for New York Ratha Yatra 2004. In the morning, HH Lokanath Swami gave a terrific Srimad Bhagavatam class, which he interspersed with different nice kirtans of Hare Krishna Mantra. The morning class led into a simple but sweet Memorial program for HH Sridhar Swami. Many Godbrothers and sisters, and disciples of Sridhar Swami came forward to share their fond memories of "the Jolly Swami". Devotees also watched a small video presentation of Sridhar Swami, and saw many of his different preaching moods.
The program continued till noon time, where the devotees were treated to a terrific Ekadasi lunch prasadam. It was so opulent that no one knew that it was a day of fasting. Potato Salad, palak paneer, fruit salad, Banana chips, Strawberry-Mint Lemonade were some of the items on the Ekadasi lunch menu.
At 4:45pm the girls from Mother Laksmimoni's ashram performed a nice rendition of "the Age of Kali." on the temporary stage which was erected in the Temple Room. The girls worked hard to convey the atmosphere which we now live in Kali Yuga.
Then at 5:30pm, Srila Prabhupada's guru-puja was performed by HH Radhanath Swami and the kirtan was led by HH Vedavyasapriya Swami. At 6:00pm Sri Sri Radha Govinda's Arati commenced, as the curtains revealed their Lordships in a stunning black and yellow dress, covered with yellow roses and gardenia flowers. The crowd of 700 devotees then continued to dance and chant to the kirtans led by Laxmi Nrsimha Prabhu, Urjasvat Prabhu and HH Radhanath Swami.
At 7:00pm the crowd of 1000 devotees settled down, as Ramabhadra Prabhu took the stage and introduced HH BB Govinda Swami and the devotees from Kazakhstan. He announced that on this night, he challenged the devotees to keep chanting till midnight, and Maharaj accepted that challenge. Also, he announced that the Deity curtains would remain open till midnight, so that the deities themselves could enjoy this once in a lifetime kirtan. Maharaj then expertly guided the kirtan to many different levels of bliss, as one moment the devotees were in a meditative state, and the next they were jumping for joy. HH Radhanath Swami also took the microphone and led a kirtan from about an hour and also kept the devotees ecstatic.
Around 9:00pm the devotees began to serve prasadam in the two prasadam halls, and kept going till midnite. Devotees were able to take a break from the kirtan, to honor prasadam, then return to the excitement. Gauranga Potatoes, Srikhand, Carrot Halavah, Ekadasi fritters, Raita, Mango drink, were some of the many items that kept the devotees energized. Special thanks go to Srikanta Prabhu and his team of chefs for organizing the opulent feasts all week long.
Around 11:30pm the devotees took a break from the kirtan, and witnessed two Mataji disciples of HH BB Govinda Swami performed a Bharatanatyam and Kathak dance each. Then for the finale, 4 gurukula alumni, headed by Vishwambhar prabhu performed a Mrdanga exhibition glorifying the featured instrument of Lord Gauranga's kirtan. Their intricate beats and choreographed rythyms amazed the devotees who stayed till the end. Thus, as announced, the Sankiirtan festival concluded exactly at 12:00am leaving the devotees already in anticipation for Ratha Yatra 2005.
This year's Ratha Yatra and Kirtan Festival was a sight to behold and an event to remember as devotees from all over the world came to share the bliss of chanting the Lord's holy names.
New York ISKCON
Sri Sri Radha Govinda Mandir