Europe appears to be entering its annual Ratha Yatra (Hindu Festival of Chariots) season with various religious processions planned through the streets of cities all over the continent.
Mostly sponsored by International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), these parades usually feature huge decorated chariot with colorful canopy, carrying images of the Hindu deities Lord Jagannatha (a form of Krishna), Balabhadra (Krishna’s elder brother) and Subhadra (Krishna’s younger sister), wearing silk outfits and decorated with flowers, and pulled by devotees.
Usually, devotional Hindu music and dancing, backed by double-headed mrdanga drums and kharatala hand cymbals, accompany the procession and free vegetarian feast is served to the participants at the parade launching point. Most of the parade participants usually attend in traditional Hindu attire. It is like getting a taste of India and Hinduism without leaving Europe.
This is how the calendar looks like for Ratha Yatra 2017 in European cities
18 June 2017 – London, England
24 June 2017 – Rijeka, Croatia
30 June 2017- Aarhus, Denmark
1 July 2017 – Copenhagen, Denmark
2 July 2017 – Malmo, Sweden
2 July 2017 – Paris, France
3 July 2017 – Gothenburg, Sweden
6 July 2017 – Olso, Norway
8 July 2017 – Stockholm, Sweden
16 July 2017 – Leicester, England
22 July 2017 – Oxford, England
23 July 2017 – Birmingham, England
29 July 2017 – Dublin, Ireland
29 July 2017 – Aberystwyth, Wales
5 August 2017 – Cardiff, Wales
28 August 2017 – Aberaeron, Wales
9 September 2017 – Brighton, England
Ratha 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 over 50 major cities in USA, Canada, Europe, etc., since 1960s.
The original Ratha Jatra is held on a grand scale in Puri (Orissa, 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.