Chakra:
In the News

In the News:
Hare Krsna Participation in National Parade highlights diversity on America's Birthday

by Vyenkata Bhatta das

Posted August 1, 2005

Washington, D.C. - With the Fourth of July in full swing, over three hundred thousand spectators lined historic Constitution Avenue to cheer on the National Independence Day Parade. Marching bands, military veterans, and patriotic floats formed the bulk of the procession, but what caught the attention of many onlookers was the inclusion of an authentic Indian chariot, bearing carved images of Lord Krishna and accompanied by devotees dressed in traditional dhotis and saris. The chariot, along with exhibitions and food stalls set up at the Mall, were part of the Ratha Yatra and Hare Krishna Festival of India presented by the Washington D.C. Chapter of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON).

"I think its great that the Hare Krishnas are part of the celebration today," Ann Schultheis, who drove in from Maryland to celebrate America's birthday in the nation's capitol, said. "America is not made up of just one culture, and having the Hare Krishnas here reminds us that the diversity is what this country is all about. It gives a broader perspective." Like many, Ann happily stood in a long queue to get her meal at ISKCON's "Free Feast" tent. Anuttama Dasa, one of the organizers of the Hare Krishna festival site, estimates that more than 8,000 plates of freshly made, sanctified vegetarian food (called prashadam by the Krishna devotees) were distributed, completely free of charge. "The free food is a nice drawing point," Ann admitted, "but then you want to know about the people behind the food. That is what impressed me so much—how much there is to learn about a different culture."

ISKCON has been participating in the National Parade for over twenty years, using the opportunity to also celebrate Ratha Yatra, an important event in the Vaishnava-Hindu calendar. Modeled after the ancient festival held yearly in Jagannatha Puri - where almost a million faithful throng to the city for a chance to pull the sacred carts - the Washington D.C. version also features a brightly canopied chariot (ratha), decorated deities, and a host of exuberant chanting devotees. In 1968, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, the founder of the Hare Krishna Movement, inaugurated the first Ratha Yatra festival outside of India. Since then, it has been celebrated annually in New York, London, and many other cities worldwide. The Washington D.C. Ratha Yatra, though, has the added feature of being an official part of the National Parade, and its accompanying Festival of India draws thousands of visitors, tourists, and curious spectators. Aside from the free feast, the Festival also included displays on Eastern spirituality, booths offering henna and face painting, and a large stage featuring classical Indian dance performances, bhajan singing, and dramas.

For some attendees from the Indian community, it was a pleasant reminder of their roots. "As an Indian, I feel so proud to see this Festival recognized as part of today's celebrations," beamed Chaitanya Mahajan, an engineer from Philadelphia. "Through exposure like this, ISKCON is helping to share the best of our culture with the world."

Anuttama Dasa felt that the Ratha Yatra and Independence Day celebrations were a good match. "The Ratha Yatra is a beautiful manifestation of Indian spirituality that also contributes to the diversity of the American landscape," he explained.

Tyson Rhodes, a graduate student from Boston, agreed. "It makes sense that these two events would be connected," he said, "Since America was established for freedom of religion. It's the perfect day to represent and share your culture."

For more information about the Festival of India, please visit www.festivalofindia.org.