New Orleans Plans Nov. 20 Rathayatra
Posted November 3, 2010
2010 promises to be the best-ever Rathayatra with a two-day event: Saturday, November 20 in Washington Square Park on 706 Elysian Fields with the traditional parade coming from Canal Street down Decatur to the park; and Sunday, November 21 with a return parade from Elysian Fields to Saint Claude, to Saint Bernard, North Broad, Esplanade and back to the temple. The park fest will include professional music, dance, drama, food and exhibitions provided by Madhuha's Festival of India.
This year, with Indian bhajan singer Anup Jalota performing live on the stage, we are sure to get more Indians in the crowd. Titksava Karunika and the temple bhajan band will electrify the evening with their music. We fully expect that it will be the biggest and best Rathayatra in the southeastern United States. The Lords of the Universe will again visit the Streets of New Orleans for the second time in one year and grace all the unfortunate conditioned souls with benediction smiles and offer them all prasadam and liberation from the world of birth and death.
History of the New Orleans Rathayatra
The Rathayatra extravaganza of Lord Jagannath and company first graced the denizens of "The Big Easy" (New Orleans) way back in 1975 as a modest, palanquin-style parade drawn joyfully down the oak-lined quiet avenues leading to City Park. Two years later the first major handbuilt cart was engineered by New Orleanian Tapan Misra prabhu, who had been a San Francisco protégé of the renowned Rathayatra impresario, His Grace Jayananda prabhu. Lord Jagannath showered his mercy profusely that year upon throngs of well-wishers and amazed onlookers along the main thoroughfare of that parade-loving city and ended His big ride in the world-famous Jackson Square Park overlooking the mighty Mississippi River. The route and wonderful venue would become a New Orleans staple for the next seven years, with ISKCON and local dignitaries alike attending, speaking and offering blessings to the crowds. Joined annually by the powerful Atlanta yatra and their own Deities, the event became a grand, beautiful festival for devotees in the Southeastern regions.
In 1984 a major change took place in the scope and concept of the Rath event. After deep consideration by all the local devotees, temple president Ranganatha prabhu, with much input and inspiration from H.H. Jayapataka Maharaja, decided to expand the impact and outreach of Lord Jagannath's benediction by initiating Rathayatras on the famous New Orleans Mardi Gras day. It began with a big bang. Three Mardi Gras truck floats — one with a massive Jagannath in the front, one with the Head of Lord Krishna, and one called the Vaikuntha Ship — travelled in the Crew of Crescent City Truck Parade on Mardi Gras day. Hundreds of thousands of people on the streets received this special darshana of the temple Deities, Lords Jagannath, Baladeva and Srimati Subhadra. The devotees threw transcendental paraphernalia to the crowd, and everyone chanted Harinama Sankirtana.
After several years, financial considerations forced devotees to scale the parade back to one cart. Ranganatha prabhu and family continued the tradition until 1994, when New Talavan temple president Yogindra vandana das took over as the principal organizer. With cooperation from devotees at New Talavana — where the cart is parked and refurbished each year — and the New Orleans temple, that tradition is continued to this day. With the cart having been burned by vandals in 1997, devotees raised money the next year to purchase a new cart.
Two years during this time deserve special mention: the Srila Prabhupada Centennial Year of 1996 and the 2000 Mardi Gras. For the Centennial Mardi Gras Rathayatra the devotees united together and asked Vrikodara prabhu to act as chairperson for the Centennial committee. Vrikodaraji was one of the directors of our vibrant community-based wholesale business, and his heading the committee brought leadership and funding to the Centennial event. The cart was completely renovated and painted in a unique fashion, and scored higher than any year before or afterwards in the competition for best cart in our parade group. Specially designed necklaces with pictures of Lord Jagannath were thrown to the bead-craving public. Sumptuous prasadam was served on and off the cart. Everything was exceptional and wonderful.
2000 was dynamic in that it occurred just a few weeks after the infamous Y2K scare. The cart was called Y2Krsna. Prahlada Nrisimha das painted the cart solid black and etched images of universes, symbols of Vishnu and pictures of Govinda on it. The cart was impressive, and the name was catchy. Prahlada Nrisimha prabhu had also painted the cart previously, and many of the judges for Best Cart Award noted his artwork each year.
A feature of this type of Ratha Yatra is that hundreds of thousands of people on the parade route expect the riders on these carts to throw some gift to the public, especially to the children. We always distribute as much literature and prasadam as possible — although due to local restrictions, we must be somewhat discreet. Hence the profusion of Jagannath paraphernalia in the form of stickers, buttons and beads.
Some annual donors should be noted, such as Madhava das of Slidell and Dulal Candra of Benediction Moon who have sponsored many books; Devala Rishi prabhu for Lord Jagannatha hats and traditional New Orleans tourist hats; the New Talavana temple for stickers, incense and hats; Drumila prabhu, who is always the biggest financial donor and fundraiser; Mr. Shah, from International Foods, for incense and candy; and Maharani dasi. whose wholesale company Lotus Feet has donated incense and various items. We must also mention Jayantisakhi dasi and Kalindi dasi from New Talavana for decorating the cart every year. Once, a local fashion store going out of business donated their entire inventory of new clothes and jewellery — items which, when thrown from the Mardi Gras Rath cart, created quite a frenzy.
In 2009 a long-cherished desire was again expressed. Many devotees, and especially our resident Bengali Gaudiya Vaisnavas, have always wanted to again conduct the traditional Ratha Yatra. Sraddha Deva Manu prabhu led a large group of devotes on a quest to fulfil that dream, which was realized on Nov. 21, 2009 as the Lord of the Universe stepped out from the crowd to reestablish His very own celebration and parade. New laws enacted since the 1980s prohibited a return to Jackson Square Park, so the most strategic lot on the most prominent tourist avenue in the French Quarter was chosen: on Decatur Street, between the Jax Brewery and Hard Rock Cafe.
With over 140,000 square feet (13,000 m²) of space and the return of Madhuha prabhu's famous Festival of India, the devotees manned a huge event and paraded Lords Jagannatha, Baladeva and Srimati Subhadra devi down Decatur Street to Canal Street and back to this site, where they spent the rest of the day in a beautifully constructed temple and listened with hundreds of guests to expert musical entertainment while thousands of plates of Krishna prasadam were distributed. Devotees came from Dallas, Atlanta, Florida and Alabama to help the local devotees please Lord Jagannatha and His brother and sister.
Honorable mention has to be given to New Orleanian Kalavati devi, who arranged for a special guest of honor, her old school friend City Council member James Carter of the French Quarter District. Without his help it would have been difficult for us to meet all the needs of city administrators in a timely fashion. This was the first year that Lords Jagannath, Baladeva and Srimati Subhadra devi personally gave darshana to people on the streets of New Orleans twice in one year. All the devotees believe this is the real reason that the New Orleans Saints won the 2009 Super Bowl NFL Championship.
I hope this short account of the 30-plus years of Rathayatra history in the City of New Orleans makes everyone happy and eager to serve the Lord of the Universe. May all of you find the nectar of pure devotional service and taste its nectarean flavors again and again.
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