Each year the splendidly decorated chariots of Jagannatha,
the Lord of the universe, roll down the avenues of dozens of
Cities around the world—including Los Angeles, New York,
Washington, Auckland, Calcutta, Paris and London. Their towering
red-and- blue silken canopies rise into the sky as drums
and cymbals resound in joyous celebration. People young and
old, their eyes bright with excitement, sing and dance in the
street, as if swimming in an ocean of overwhelming happiness.
The Ratha-yatra Festival, new to nations outside India, is
perhaps the oldest continuously celebrated spiritual festival in
the world. As far back as human records and memory extend,
the chariots of Lord Jagannatha have rolled each summer in the
town of Puri on the Bay of Bengal, to the delight of millions of
Throughout the year, the Deity of Jagannatha is worshiped
in a great temple, the massive stone tower of which dominates
the city of Puri. The Deity is not a mere statue. By His supreme
potency, the Supreme Lord agrees to personally enter the form
of the Deity, just to accept the loving service of His devotees. In
this sense the Deity is non-different from the Lord Himself. And
once a year Lord Jagannatha comes forth in all His magnificent
splendour to enjoy the Ratha-yatra parade and show Himself to
The story of how this particular Deity came to be installed
in the great temple of Puri is quite intriguing. Many thousands
of years ago, a king named Indradyumna desired to have some-
one carve special Deity forms of Lord Krsna and His brother
Balarama and sister Subhadra. Visvakarma, an architect and
artist from the heavenly planets, agreed to make the Deities on
the condition that no one would interrupt his work. The King
agreed to this proposal, and Visvakarma set about carving the
Deities, working in a locked room. Once, however, the King,
impatient with the slow pace of the work, entered the room to
see how much progress had been made. At that instant, Vis-
vakarma vanished, leaving three incompletely carved forms. The
king, however, was so pleased that he installed them in a great
temple and worshiped them with great opulence. Each year, he
arranged a grand procession, during which each of the three
Deities rode on a large beautifully decorated cart.
Then 500 years ago, the festival became the center, of the
pastimes of Lord Caitanya, who is Krsna Himself appearing in
the guise of a great devotee of the Lord. Each year Lord Caitanya
danced and chanted in the Ratha-yatrd festival along with
His associates. To this day, the followers of Lord Caitanya
eagerly participate in the chariot procession in Puri and others like
it held throughout India, and the Vedic scriptures state that anyone
who sees Lord Jagannatha or pulls His chariot achieves immense
In the early part of this century, a young boy in Calcutta
desired to stage a miniature version of the Ratha-ydatra festival
in his neighbourhood. His father took him put to purchase a
cart, but could not afford the price asked by the local carpenters.
On their way home, the boy cried. When an elderly Bengali
lady learned the cause for the boy’s tears, she offered the boy
and his father an old cart of her own. Accepting the cart, father
and son later renovated it, decorating it exactly like the original
in the Puri Ratha-yatrd festival. Neighbourhood ladies agreed to
cook preparations for a feast, and finally the boy staged his own
Ratha-yatrd festival, to the delight of his friends, relatives; and
This boy later grew up to be His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta
Swami Prabhupada, founder-dcdrya of the International Society
for Krishna Consciousness. Srila Prabhupada,
who brought pure Krishna consciousness to the world outside
India for the first time, was eleventh in the line of spiritual masters
in succession from Lord Caitanya. During a whirlwind of
missionary activity in the last 12 years of his life, from 1965 to
1977, he journeyed to America and then traveled repeatedly
around the globe, igniting a world-wide spiritual revolution that
continues to expand. Srila Prabhupada founded over a hundred
temples, wrote dozens of books, initiated thousands of disciples.
And along with everything else, he introduced the Ratha-ydtra.
festival he loved so much.
Srila Prabhupada selected San Francisco as the first site in
the West for the annual Ratha-yatra Day celebration and in-
structed his disciples: "You must arrange a procession down the
main street. Do it nicely. They have such & procession yearly in
Jagannatha Puri." The first procession was simple: the Deities of
Lord Jagannatha, Lord Balarama, and Lady Subhadra were
taken through the streets of the Haight-Ashbury district on a
small flatbed truck, to the accompaniment of chanting and
Good evening, saintly Vaisnavas,
Having come from far and near
To behold Caitanya-candra’s
Quincentennial this year. *
May we bid you all warm welcome
To the theater we’ve now formed
So your hearts can all be brightened
And enlightened and reformed.
No frivolous amusements here,
Prepared in careless haste,
Which so commonly offend
All those of culture and good taste;
No tragic endings dramatized
That sober men would cry.
When they see their fav’rite heroes
Cruelly crushed by Fate to die.
As spring’s green buds unfold and bloom,
Awak’ning hearts’ fresh hope,
May this drama of devotion
Sanctify your vision’s scope.
Please entwine your bhakti creepers
In the tamala desire tree;
Here. Let me bring my assistant. [He calls a female assistant
ASSISTANT [Entering]. Master, I am ready, but I fear the
others are not.
DIRECTOR. After so many months of rehearsal you still
ASSISTANT. This drama is totally different from those per-
formed in the past. The parts are extraordinarily demanding and
strain the limits of our memory. And there is no scenery to help
create the mood. The directions call for unusually skillful
expression and movement. In short, we hesitate to attempt such a
daring drama when [motioning to the audience] all the eyes of
the world are upon us.
DIRECTOR. Would you have us disappoint such exalted
personalities after I have whetted their appetite? It was precisely
for their pleasure that this drama was composed, for who but
these devoted souls can fully relish the spiritual sentiments that
are the very essence of this play? Undisturbed in mind, with
senses fully alert, they can appreciate the care taken in con-
structing the plot, developing the characters, and portraying the
subtleties of rasa.
ASSISTANT. But could they not have been equally satisfied
by hearing a recitation of our holy scriptures?
DIRECTOR, True enough, there is no higher satisfaction.
And yet the art of drama has its special place as well. It is for
this reason that our great dcdrya, Srila Rapa Gosvami, has written
an elaborate commentary known as Nataka-candrikd, elucidating
the laws of drama first set forth in the Natya-sastra of
the sage Bharata. The drama we are to perform today adheres to
Srila Rapa Gosvami’s injunctions. And bear in mind the statement
of ISKCON’s founder-dcdarya, Srila Prabhupada, who
predicted: "Krsna consciousness will be established by cultural
ASSISTANT. This is inspiring! Your words fortify me.
DIRECTOR. Then kindly begin to satisfy these saintly
Vaisnavas, who, like thirsty cakora birds with their necks
stretched high, eagerly await the cloudburst of Krsna’s pastimes.
Like Indra, let loose your lightning bolt and emblazon the sky of
our consciousness, and let the shower of your nectarean words
slake our thirst. May the blessings of the assembled Vaisnavas be
our crown of success, bowed low before the lotus feet of His
Divine Grace Srila Prabhupada.
ASSISTANT. [Gesturing to the audience]
The earth’s rivers are rich with jewels,
Her mountains lush with plants,
The six seasons and heaven’s orbs
Perform a rhythmic dance.
A thousand centuries men live,
And those are free of fear,
Satya-yuga’s blessed force
Prevails both far and near.
Saint and king combine as one,
For goodness is the norm;
The sun’s race has reached its crest,
Indradyumna has been born.
Mercy, courage, steadfastness
Each trait a glowing gem
Adorn the king, who, like the Lord,
Subdues demonic men.
He puts other kings to shame
The monarch of Avantipura,
Indradyumna, all acclaim!
DIRECTOR. There’s no doubt about what you’ve said.
With his enemies subdued and his citizens so loyal, King In-
dradyumna is indeed like a blazing ray of Sarya. But at times
even the sun is covered by clouds, and so also, it now seems, is
the king’s unwavering disposition. Lately he shows little interest
in his usual duties.
VIDYAPATI [From behind the scenes]. Hey! Has this rumor
become so common that it is batted about in public?
DIRECTOR. That must be Vidydpati, the head priest.
Come! Let’s hear what he is saying.
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