ST LOUIS: International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) held its annual festival of Rath Yatra in St. Louis suburb of Ballwin in Missouri on Saturday July 30 with lot of fanfare and enthusiasm.
ISKCON chariot procession marched from Hindu Temple of St. Louis to Queeny Park in Ballwin. It was a sight to see a chariot pulled by dozens of devotees over a mile using big ropes amid playing of drums, cymbals and Lord Krishna chants.
Celebrations also included cultural program, kirtan, yoga, henna body art, meditation, free community vegetarian meal, aarti, etc. The procession road was blocked for about an hour for the parade. Few hundred people participated in the celebrations, whose organizers included Dr. Ashok Kumar, Ramacarya Das, Narayana, and others
Rath Yatra is said to be the oldest known parade in the world and it is believed that pullers of this Lord Jagannatha’s chariot receive immense spiritual benefit. Popularized outside India by ISKCON founder A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, this annual parade festival has reportedly been held annually in major cities of the world since 1960s.
The original Ratha Jatra is held on a grand scale in Puri (Odisha, India), where the presiding deities of Sri Mandira-Jagannatha, Balabhadra and Subhadra-with celestial wheel Sudarshana are driven on the chariots to about two miles north Gundicha temple in an elaborate ritual procession, where the huge colorfully decorated chariots are drawn by thousands of devotees.
After a stay for seven days, the deities return to their abode in Sri Mandira. A glimpse of Lord Jagannatha on the chariot is considered to be highly auspicious and even a touch of the chariot is believed to yield benefits equivalent to several pious deeds. Many poets have written its glories. This year, it was held on July 6.
Meanwhile, Rajan Zed, President of Universal Society of Hinduism, in a statement in Nevada commended efforts of the organizers and St. Louis area community to realize this wonderful festival, said to be exhibiting the richness of Hinduism.
Zed said it was important to pass on Hindu spirituality, concepts and traditions to coming generations amidst so many distractions in the consumerist society. Zed stressed that instead of running after materialism; we should focus on inner search and realization of Self and work towards achieving moksh (liberation), which was the goal of Hinduism.
Rajan Zed points out that ancient Hindu scripture Katha Upanishad talks about the concept of chariot, where soul is the deity, body is the chariot, and intellect the charioteer. Skanda Purana glorifies Rath Jatra’s sanctity.