Jagannath Ratha Yatra (Hindu Festival of Chariots) have been planned in the four cities of Florida (USA). Starting with Daytona Beach on Memorial Day May 30, this annual parade will be held on the streets of its largest city Jacksonville (June 18), Tampa (July 10), and Clearwater (August six).
According to reports, these processions, featuring huge decorated chariot with colorful canopy, will be carrying statues 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. Pulled by devotees with about 100 feet long thick ropes, it will also carry the image of Hindu deity Hanuman. Devotional Hindu music and dancing, backed by double-headed mrdanga drums & kharatala hand cymbals, will accompany the procession. Free vegetarian feast will be served to the participants at the launching point of the parade. Most of the parade participants usually attend in traditional Hindu attire. It is like getting a taste of India and Hinduism without leaving Florida.
Meanwhile, Hindu statesman Rajan Zed, in a statement in Nevada (USA) today, applauded efforts of the organizers and Florida community to realize these wonderful festivals, exhibiting the richness of Hinduism.
Rajan Zed, who is President of Universal Society of Hinduism, further said that 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.
Besides the above four, five more cities in the state of Florida reportedly celebrate this annual Ratha Yatra: Miami (March five), St. Augustine (March 26), capital Tallahassee (April two), Gainesville and Orlando.
Florida parades are reportedly sponsored by International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON). 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 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. This year, it will be held on July three.
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.