Dramas and feasting enlivens New York Ratha Yatra
by the devotees of New York ISKCON
Posted July 11, 2003
Many thanks to the thousands and thousands of devotees who visited the city of New York to take part in the 2003 Ratha Yatra & Sankirtan Festival!
For 9 glorious days, Sri Sri Radha Govinda's Temple resounded with the holy name as devotees from around the world took part in wonderful kirtans, book distribution, festivals, and sumptuous prasadam. This year, devotees came from Argentina, Germany, Slovenia, India and throughout North America. 13 devotees came for the first time from Ghana, at the invitation of their spiritual master Bhakti-Tirtha Swami, enlivening the devotees with their African-style kirtan and dancing. Approximately 120 devotees came from the Alachua Krishna Community in Florida, along with many youth who traveled with Manu das prabhu on the New Krishna Youth bus.
The famous Bhaktivedanta Players came again to entertain the devotees with their transcendental dramas, which were received with enthusiasm. Every evening, after the Sandhya Arati kirtana, the players performed superexcellent dramas from the Ramayana, Mahabharata, Bhagavad-gita, and Srimad Bhagavatam. After the plays, the devotees were treated to prasadam cooked with love and devotion by Srikanta prabhu and his team of helpers and volunteers.
Svavasa das and Vaisesika das prabhus gave a three-day book distribution and sankirtan seminar, to the delight of many book distributors who came from all over the country. After each morning session, they took the devotees to Union Square Park to distribute books. Many had wonderful adventures as they preached in the city of New York.
On June 13, hundreds of devotees came to the temple early in the morning to help with the preparations for Ratha Yatra. They strung garlands, cut vegetables, packed peanut prasad for distribution, and loaded the many trucks bound for the festival site. The Festival of India truck came with 15 devotees to set up tents and displays at Washington Square Park. The whole festival, managed by Satya dasi prabhu and her team of helpers, was a sight to behold as every detail of the festival was handled with meticulous care.
Bhajans and kirtans resounded in the temple room all afternoon, and escalated to an ecstatic kirtan to greet Lord Jagannath, Lady Subhadra & Lord Baladeva as They arrived from Baltimore for the parade. 150 devotees chanted and danced outside on the street as the Lords of the Universe were escorted to Their suite for the weekend festival. Later, the evening festival resumed in the temple room with a dynamic kirtan, and a tremendous performance of the Ramayana by the Bhaktivedanta Players. That night, the whole temple was abuzz with excitement as the trucks were loaded with paraphernalia for the festival, and the feast for the park was prepared. With help from Rtadhvaja Maharaj's students, everything was loaded in record time.
On Ratha Yatra morning, the festival began at 4:30 am with a traditional New York style Mangala Arati and kirtan led by Urjasvata das prabhu. The temple crowd of about 500 devotees chanted and danced with ecstasy in the kirtan. Romapada Swami gave a morning class, continuing with the readings of Lord Chaitanya's Ratha Yatra pastimes from the Chaitanya Caritamrita.
After breakfast, devotees assembled at the Ratha Yatra start location at 59th Street & Fifth Avenue in New York City. There were about 5,000 devotees from all over the world to greet Lord Jagannath as He ascended the cart for the festival. Lord Jagannath's pujari, Mahesvara das prabhu, dressed the Lord on Ratha Yatra Day, and decorated all three Deities with specially made Sri-Hasta (lotus hand) and Sri-Payara (lotus foot) ornaments. They wore traditional headdresses, also crafted by Mahesvara das for this special day.
This year's festival was blessed to have so many senior devotees in attendance. Radhanath Swami, Sacinandana Swami, Jayapataka Swami, Bhakti-Tirtha Swami, Jayadvaita Swami, Radha Govinda Swami, Sridhara Swami, Romapada Swami, Danavir Goswami, Amiya-Vilasa Swami, Vedavyasa Priya Swami, Kadamba-Kanana Swami, Rtadvaja Swami, Vakresvara Pandit das prabhu, Yadubara das prabhu and many other senior devotees came to the parade and weekend festival. It was a blessing for the New York devotees to have all their association at once for this festival. In addition, buses of devotees came from New Jersey, Philadelphia and Baltimore temples for the parade.
As the parade made its way down Fifth avenue, there were huge crowds of onlookers on the streets. Thanks to the beautiful sunshine, after days of endless rain, many more people got the supreme benediction of Lord Jagannath's darshan, and the sound of the holy name. TV crews from NBC, the local New York Channel 1, the local Indian station ITV and other world news shows covered the parade from beginning to end. The festival was mentioned in local newspapers like the New York Post, Daily News, and Timeout NY. It was truly a sight to behold as the mammoth chariots moved their way down Fifth Avenue, "The world's most important street, in the world's most important city." Under the management of Bindu Madhava das prabhu and the team of marshals and wheel guards, the whole parade moved peacefully down Fifth Avenue.
Once at the park, visitors, devotees and guests were treated to an afternoon of delight. Despite on-and-off rain showers through the afternoon, many stayed for the free feast, traditional Vedic entertainment, or to see the various booths and presentations. This year, there were four question and answer booths, the most popular being the one moderated by Jayadvaita Swami and Sacinandana Swami. Their tent was full past capacity all afternoon. The Bhaktivedanta Players staged a rendition of Sita's Wedding to the delight of the crowd, followed by a kirtan finale led by Uttama Bhakta das prabhu and other Hare Krishna youth, and the cleanup was organized by Sridhara Swami.
For the first time, a Vedic wedding was a feature of this year's Festival of India. Renowned and beloved ISKCON pandit Caturatma das performed the wedding ceremony of gurukuli Raghunath anudas and his fiancee, Anna . The wedding was well attended by family members and curious visitors who wanted to take part in the fun of a traditional Vedic wedding.
The day after Ratha Yatra was a memorable day for the estimated 1500 devotees who came to the temple for the second part of the Ratha Yatra festival. The morning class was given by Sacinandana Swami who enthralled the crowd with his reading from the Chaitanya Charitamrta, interspersed with kirtans. He spoke for almost two hours before the 10-course breakfast prasad, which was more opulent than a Sunday feast. After that, devotees rested and met one another like old friends, glorifying Lord Jagannath and Srila Prabhupada. After a kirtan to bid farewell to Lord Jagannath as He left for Baltimore, Dayananda das prabhu, a senior disciple of Srila Prabhupada, led a session of Prabhupada Remembrances with other godbrothers and godsisters as they recalled Srila Prabhupada's pastimes, especially at Ratha Yatra.
The long-awaited Sunday Maha Kirtan started at 5:30 pm with a rousing Guru-puja. At 6:00, the devotees took a pause while chanting the Govindam prayers as they greeted Sri Sri Radha Govinda, who wore stunning dress and flower decorations for the evening. The Deities were expertly dressed by their longtime pujari, Ramabhadra das prabhu. Thereafter, until about 8:30 pm the 1000 or so devotees who crammed into the temple chanted and danced in ecstasy as the kirtan was led by so many wonderful kirtaneers. The floors, walls and ceilings shook as the entire temple room moved to the sound of the Holy name.
Then, the Bhaktivedanta Players, with assistance of actors from the New York Temple's New Vaikuntha players, performed an amazing rendition of the Story of Abhimanyu. 1400 devotees were in the temple room to watch the story of the Mahabharata's most tragic hero. Expertly performed, the play had superb fight scenes, heart-wrenching moments of pain, and some lighter moments as we all saw the Kauravas gang up on the lone Abhimanyu, and then Arjuna fulfill his vow to destroy Jayadratha.
Finally, the prasadam feast was fit for the Gods. A 12-course feast, with four subjis, two sweets, nectar drink, papadam, puris, rice, chutney, and halavah was prepared to feed all the devotees who came for the festival. Once again, Srikanta Prabhu and his dedicated team of helpers churned out a nectarean feast of prasadam unexcelled in taste and quantity.
After the feast, devotees performed bhajans all through the night, helped clean up the entire temple, and said goodbye to each other, as the 2003 Ratha Yatra & Sankirtan Festival came to a close. All in all, it was a festival to remember, and will remain in the memories of all who attended. Many have already made plans to attend next year's festival.
(for more photos please visit: http://www.radhagovinda.net/ratha)