Today has been the London Rathayatra. The sun shone pleasantly, and with just a little cooling breeze, a river of Vaishnavas flowed down Piccadilly Street, Piccadilly Circus, Haymarket then flooded into Trafalgar Square. I am always delighted each year when I now habitually pause at the Ritz Hotel to gaze at the thousands of happy faces stretched out for almost a mile. Hands are raised in blissful dance and at least four kirtans echo off the high buildings.
Dozens of brightly coloured, red, blue, green and yellow awnings set up amidst the fountains of the famous Square played host to devotees attracting tourists and fellow devotees to Krishna in a variety of ways. There’s a Musical Mantra Meditation stall, a Japa booth, Vedic Science, the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust from Sweden displaying their books in many languages; the main stage with the steps to the National Gallery forming a perfect amphitheatre; each of them was busy all day as Trafalgar Square was thronged with a sea of faces.
Our congregationally-run “Questions and Answers” tent has been a real team effort today. Dave Edwards organised the rota and brought the cloths and decorations, Marianne was first at the stall while the procession was on, then Gail, Mandi, Sejal, Dipti, Chris, Alan, Justin, Lisa, Tribhangananda, myself and many more manned the stall during the day. Our pleasant task was simply to ask everyone whether they were adequately ‘connected’ to the Vaishnava network and, if not, to suggest ways in which they might take advantage of our services.
We explained about ISKCON membership and the benefits we send out; our various groups dotted around the country; and other festivals and events they could attend. Although we have many functioning groups there are hundreds of other devotees who are missing out on information, knowledge, good association and many experiences of Vaishnava life. Congregational development means to try to ensure that our organisation caters for those who wish to have our services. Many people gave us their personal details to stay in touch after the festival.
I met many interested people, quite a few of them fresh to Krishna, there in the Square simply because they’d always heard about the devotees but saw an advertisement in a paper for musicians. I met Amanda and Jane, two young women who’d been to Goa, got interested in Hinduism and now wanted to pursue their interest. I also met John, a musician from the Scissor Sisters band, and I also met many, many old friends who, concerned about my health, asked me: “How are you?”
Best of all was that the numbers who turned out for Rathayatra were not disappointed in their desire for a big Vaishnava day out – and that in a month which has seen the worst British weather for many years, it didn’t rain once!