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Utah Largest Daily On Rathayatra

By Amy Choate, Deseret Morning News
submitted by Caru das

Posted July 11, 2004

Monday, June 28, 2004

Chariot fest rolls into Sp. Fork

SPANISH FORK - Dark clouds filled with rain weren't enough to stop Lord Jagannath from going on vacation Saturday night.

The Hindu deity was ushered by a horse-drawn carriage and entourage of llamas, bagpipers and spectators Saturday in the Krishna Temple's first public chariot festival.

"Rain is very auspicious," said Caru Das, a main coordinator of the event. "In India, to have something like this and then to have rain is the ultimate blessing."

The festival originated in India several thousand years ago and was introduced to the United States in 1968. The largest festivals in the world take place in Puri and Ahmehabad, drawing crowds of thousands.

The crowning event of the festival includes a parade, in which a form of the deity Jagannath is placed on a chariot and accompanied across the city in a mass procession. The parade represents Jagannath's chance to leave the temple for awhile, go on vacation and survey the land. Jagannath's five-story chariot in Puri is pulled by faithful followers who think the opportunity to be involved so physically is a blessing.

"Many people think it is a benediction, a blessing to touch the rope," said Yogi Shah, a festival attendee. Shah, originally from Ahmehabad, now lives in Murray and attends the festivals in Spanish Fork as part of his religion. "I think people sleep out the night before just so they can have a chance to pull the rope."

Though on a much smaller scale, Saturday's festival did include a horse-drawn carriage, homemade food and authentic Indian dancers from the Odissi Dance Circle of Los Angeles. The dancers performed in several styles specific to celebrating the occasion, acting out invocations and salutations.

"This is the first year," Shah said. "I think it's been perfect. I wouldn't be surprised if next year we had double (in attendance) what we had this year."

Das began planning chariot festivals in 1972, first in Australia, then in San Francisco, then in Spanish Fork. The festival has been celebrated in major cities across America since it was introduced by Swami Prabhupada, who came to the United States in 1965.

The first celebration in San Francisco, planned by the Swami, drove the deity around in the back of a flatbed truck as his chariot. Since then, the festival has become one of the most celebrated Indian holidays in the United States.

Das said he is pleased that he can finally celebrate the festival at the Spanish Fork Krishna temple as he would like to. For several years the celebration has been small and closed to the public because of a lack of funds and location, as the temple was under construction.

"For the last three years we've been able to show him (Jagannath) what we've been planning," Das said. "Now is the best time to fulfill our promises to him. We feel it's time to do something nice for him."