San Francisco Ratha Yatra
Posted August 8, 2009
Posted August 8, 2009
San Francisco/Berkeley held their Ratha Yatra this last Saturday, July 25th and it was their longest (time wise) by far. The only one to rival it, was the 30th year celebration Ratha Yatra when the procession went in the opposite direction and had to stop at the bridge to let down the towers on the carts. The San Francisco Ratha Yatra is set amid the beautiful trees and gardens of Golden Gate Park and is amongst the most picturesque. Towering Monterey pines, rose gardens, imported giant fern trees, with expansive grassy knolls. One feels the park belongs especially to Lord Jaganatha on this day. Hundreds gather before their Lordships' carts to sing their glories and dance in ecstasy while devotees pull the heavily laden carts through the tree lined road echoing the Holy Name between the trees and buildings. This year's event being held on Saturday presented a new dilemma, for the last quarter stretch of the procession. Traffic is usually closed on Sundays in the park but not on Saturday, so as a result we shared the road with oncoming traffic (ah, the glorious mercy of the Lord, again capturing lost souls as they drove by becoming engulfed in the kirtan surrounding them). It caused the whole procession to slow way down at various points throughout, allowing for extra lengthy kirtans and plenty of time to visit each cart, stay for a awhile, then move to another cart, visit and start the process over again.
Speaking of garlands, my humble offering each year is of designer style garlands for their Lordships, Srila Prabhupada, and Jayananda Prabhus (new addition for me this year, thankfully because no one else made a garland for his picture front and center). I always stress out about the garlands. Fearing they won't be worn by their Lordships or that being too late, I would miss the opportunity to go up the stairs and give them to their pujaris. This year due to the hold-ups and Krishna's mercy I was fortunate enough to present them with humility and a deep feeling of great gratitude for being allowed to participate in this most auspicious event. Again this year, I was able to purchase for $10 a huge bag of rose petals for showering on the devotees as the parade begins. I start at the beginning left hand rope line of Lord Jaganatha's cart showering three or four devotees at a time with the lovely little petals. Sometimes I place them directly on their heads, honoring each of these special devotees of Lord Jaganatha. Many smile or bow in return with folded hands. This procedure continues down the whole procession line, on to Lady Subadra's devotees, and then on to Lord Balarama's devotees, back around the back to catch rear devotees and then back up the right hand side of each cart. It seems to set a mood of auspiciousness and purity to be showered with flowers that connects all participants to each other in loveliness. Quite unusual for such a simple effort but all seem to feel blessed and especially me for playing the part of flower giver.
Every year more and more Indian devotees attend, creating an authentic feel to Ratha Yatra as they come in their most decorative attire. So many of the younger devotees really dressed up this year. Beaded sarees and skirts, embroidered shirts and colorful dhotis, many made of silk. I had the pleasure to see one Indian family dressed in their finest attire where each garment was either embroidered and/or heavily beaded. This included the whole family up to the Grandfather who looked magnificent. As I approached them and bowed in respect they seemed like royalty coming to meet Royalty and showed us all how we should dress for greeting their Lordships. The quirky and bohemian attire was also there to keep true to the San Francisco reputation but in just the right amount to add interest and flavor. The hippie look is slowly being replaced but will always be present as you know we are still in San Francisco, California. I am also noticing that more attendees are bringing their dogs (myself included, I brought my cocker spaniel Gaura Chandra) and they are a big hit with the crowd sporting their garlands and tilak or bindis. This is obviously an American style tradition beginning to be added to include the whole family, including pets.
Lord Jaganatha's kirtan was loud, ecstatic and creative. Using a variety of singers, male, female and children. Most of the Indian devotees were situated here and the melodies ran from ethnic to traditional in style. Lady Subadra's kirtan was led (I believe, my apologies if incorrect) by a nice young bramhachari and his contemporaries from the San Jose temple. Sweet and soft with a steady beat, this was the kirtan if you like to gently listen and meditate on the Holy Name. Non-traditional melodies were interspersed briefly by the traditional Maha-Mantra melody. When the kirtan leader did so, it brought us all to a higher level of ecstasy and then he returned us back to the softer and sweeter style of kirtan. "Steady as She goes", one felt this kirtan was the "heart" of the procession. This leaves the "soul" of the procession, Lord Balarama's kirtan. It was a mix of styles and by far the most varied. A portable harmonium added musical breadth along with extra cartals and drums to mostly traditional style vaisnava melodies. Nara Hari prabhu (famous Vaisnava recording artist) led kirtan for a good part of the way switching off with a tall young showman devotee who directed the singers and melodies. Keeping the pace of the kirtans he ran them from steady, to up-beat, to top ecstatic, to deep sentimental tunes bringing some devotees to tears or loud "Hari Bols". At the end of the procession he kindly shared the mic with all who dared to join in on the kirtan. Nara Hari was wearing his ever enlivened smile which bathed us with a feeling of unity and brotherhood amongst Lord Baladeva's devotees. Towards the end the Lord's jewelry glittered in the sun and His beauty caught our attention even more. Nara Hari's rip roaring performance seemed to generate an array of feelings to us all. Ecstasy and happiness to be chanting together, but sad to have to end the kirtan and move the last cart of the procession into it's final resting place. One moment we were cheering for the Lord and then in the next moment having tears run down our faces as our minds tried to grasp the reality that the parade was ending and it would be another year before we could see our beloved Lordships again in this up close and personal way.
Any comments or corrections may be sent to my email at lainav @sbcglobal.net.