Another brilliant London Rathayatra yesterday. Weather was perfect: heavy rain to wash the streets the previous day, then a hot day with plenty of sunshine with just enough cloud and light drizzle to stop the devotees melting.
I was again lucky enough – and it is always a privilege – to lead the front kirtan for Balarama from the beginning of Picadilly Street down the hill and up again to the Ritz Hotel. It’s at that point that you can look back and observe a sheer river of devotional humanity stretching out for maybe half a mile. Always an impressive sight and an annual witness to just how many people take pleasure in this ancient festival.
The chariot festival is a occasion for everyone. The very nature of the event is inclusive, as it takes God out of His temple to all those who may not see Him year round. Those who pull the ropes are said to gain eternal blessings.
Yesterday was also Hera Panchami, a day celebrated at the original Jagannatha temple in Orissa, eastern India. During that public festival, Lakshmi, the eternal consort of the Lord, comes out of the Jagannatha temple, and processes down the city’s grand road to the Gundicha temple where Jagannatha has been residing for one week. Her attendants demand that the priests of Jagannatha make immediate arrangements for His return, since He has been away from home for a long time.
It is at this point that a light-hearted theatre begins. Jagannatha’s priests are forcibly brought out into the crowd and made to pay obeisance to the priests of Lakshmi, since it is they who are responsible for separating God and Goddess. After being humiliated publicly, the priests hurriedly make arrangements for the return of Jagannatha. Thus the entire traditional festival takes one week.
No such extended festivities for us yesterday. Westminster City Council gives us from 9.00 am to 5.00 pm to set everything up in Trafalgar Square and to pack everything away again, and to keep the decibels down. And to make sure that all Health and Safety measures are enacted throughout. And, as helpful as the police are in blocking off traffic through central London, we are still only given around two and a half hours for the chariot procession. Still, that’s long enough for thousands of people to have a great street party, for hundreds more to be introduced to Krishna for the very first time, and for 15,000 plates of blessed vegetarian food to be handed out.
And to bring us from ancient days into the 21st century, yesterday’s festival was the very first to be broadcast live online. Viewers all over the world could watch it, and hear it, as it took place. All courtesy of http://www.iskconlive.com.
If you missed London Rathayatra, you might like to add your very welcome presence to the festival when it takes place in Paris on the 5th of July. Smaller crowds, one chariot, but the same enjoyment for all.