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In the News:
Chariot festival at Utah temple

by Monica Joshi

Posted July 25, 2004

When Lord Jagannatha left his abode to go out into the world after recuperating from a cold, bagpipers, Indian classical dancers, and a few hundred devotees and on lookers were on hand to greet him.

The event was the June 26th chariot festival at the Radha Krishna Temple near Spanish Fork, Utah-a magnificent fortress like structure surrounded by green lawns.

The idols of Jagannatha, Subhadra and Balarama left the temple in procession, on a horse drawn chariot embellished with flowers. Three hundred devotees formed part of the procession, which also included a kirtan party, an eight foot Sita-Ram float on which four students of the Odissi Dance Circle, Los Angeles, performed, 20 mother and baby llamas, and another 15 male llamas adorned with colorful blankets.

Caru (pronounced Charu) Das, who established the temple in 2001, said ideally they would have loved to have some cows but the expense was prohibitive.

As the procession went around the asphalt road that runs the temple, passing motorists and residents watched as the devotees followed the chariot, singing, chanting, and dancing.D

"It was a terrific spectacle," said Das, pointing out that this was the first time the temple had organized the annual procession on such a grand scale. The Utah yatra seeks to emulate the Jagannatha Chariot festival in Puri, Orissa, an annual event attended by several hundred thousand devotees.

The Rath yatra culminates a series of festivities. The first is snan yatra, where Lord Jagannatha is bathed with 108 pots of water. In the process, he catches a cold, and has to stay in seclusion for 15 days, partaking of only herbs and juices.

Once he is well again, he desires to expose himself to sunlight, to see the outside world again.

"You cannot use an ordinary conveyance for Lord Jagannatha," says Das, explaining the reason for the ornate chariot.

The Utah temple's chariot is understandably not quite as massive-the vehicle is in fact rented from a local cowboy, though Das says the temple has plans to build its own in time for next year's event.

The Utah Radha Krishna temple came up in June 2001 on a 15 acre plot in Utah Valley, 50 miles south of Salt lake City, with donations from the local community.

Das and his wife, Vaibhavi, who is English, brought the idols from Orissa in 1979. Devotees volunteered to mow the lawn, clean the marble floors, and help lift heavy pillars. The local Mormon community supported Das in a big way, donating funds and about 10,000 hours of labor, he says.

Though the temple propagates Indian culture, 90 per cent of the attendees are Westerners, says Das. "Most of them are drawn by the purity of the festivals."

Das first organized the chariot festival in Melbourne, Australia, in June 1972-the same time as Puri. But June in Australia was the middle of winter, hence the festival was moved to January in 1974. Since then, it began gaining in popularity.

In the late 1970's, Das organized the yatra in San Francisco. Then in Spanish Fork a few years ago. The couple has been devoting their time and money to the construction of the temple.

"This year, we felt we could do the festival justice," he said.

For 20 years Das has owned a radio station that broadcast the Ramayana, Mahabharata, Indian music, songs and bhajans. In 1999, he leased it to the local Hispanic community in order to raise money for the temple. There is still a temple web radio station (www.utahkrishnas.com/audio.htm).

Das, who changed his name from Chris, says Caru was the name given to him by Swami Prabhupada when he got his blessings. His earlier name also was a spiritual one, derived from Christ. "But then, one's spiritual life begins at diksha, and this was a name given by my spiritual guide and father," he said.