Ratha Yatra outside India started in San Francisco, USA, in 1967. ISKCON’s founder Srila Prabhupada first started the ritual outside India which has spread across 192 countries today. Ratha Yatra (Chariot Parade) is a world famous Hindu festival concerning Lord Jagannath, his brother Balram or Balabhadra and their sister Subhadra. It originated in India at Puri, Odisha, over 600 years ago and is celebrated across the whole of India. Baring Antartica, Ratha Yatra is celebrated in every other continent, mostly through ISKCON (International Society of Krishna Consciousness), Hindu Societies and/or Jagannath/ Oriya Temple Societies.
Ratha Yatra, the festival
The priests carry the deities out of the temple and place them on their respective Rathas (chariots) or a single ratha. Devotees gather firstly to pull the chariot’s rope as a step to salvation or moksha. Secondly, they sing, chant, dance, play drums (khol), khanjanis, flutes, harmoniums and even modern western musical instruments. Third, tasty prasadam is distributed. Indian cultural functions take place. It is said that the British officers from East India Company were awestruck with the overwhelming aura and pompousness of the festival at Puri. Hence, they coined the term, ‘Juggernaut’, meaning ‘a huge, powerful, irresistible and overwhelming force’. Lord Jagannath, another form of Lord Krishna, was already known to the west. So the festival of Ratha Yatra outside India spread across the globe in almost no time at all.
Ratha Yatra Outside India: American parades
Let’s begin with United States of America where almost every state celebrates the Ratha Yatra. USA probably witnesses the most popular Ratha Yatra outside India. San Fransisco, Los Angeles, Berkeley and Simi Valley in California, Nashville in Tennessee, New York City, Washington DC, Florida, Nevada and Alabama celebrate Ratha Yatra gloriously. Whether an Indian or not, a Hindu or not, people from all across the specific areas join the parade of joy and colors. They dance with the musical chant “Hare Krishna” or “Jai Jagannath” and enjoy Indian cultural activities like Odissi Dance and classical singing . Here in this section, I am sharing pictures of Simi Valley, California, clicked by Debidatta Pradhan, sent by my friend, Sohini Mukherjee.
Ratha Yatra Outside India: UK Vibes
In this section for Ratha Yatra outside India, we will see Great Britain’s unmatched grandeur. United Kingdom is popular for Ratha Yatra in various places. London in England, Edinburgh in Scotland, Cardiff in Wales and Belfast in North Ireland celebrate Ratha Yatra vibrantly. However, the celebrations at London are world famous.
The procession at London starts from Hyde Park, moves through Piccadilly and ends at Trafalgar Square. London’s Ratha Yatra is enormously popular and the festivities continue for the whole day. My friend, Aparajita Chakraborty, took part in the blissful celebrations and I am sharing her clicks here.
Ratha Yatra Outside India: European Panache
When it comes to Ratha Yatra outside India some of the European cities are extremely popular for celebrating Ratha Yatra with panache. Czech Republic’s capital and fairy tale city, Prague, is well known for its 40 feet high rath (chariot). It was way back in 1981 at the Tuscan town of Viareggio when the first Ratha Yatra in Italy was held. Now Italy celebrates Ratha Yatra at the capital city, Rome and Florence with hundreds of devotees joining the parade. The Berlin Ratha Yatra is historical and is being held for more than 40 years now. Heidelberg and Cologne in Germany also celebrate Ratha Yatra pompously. I am sharing a video of Berlin’s celebrations by iskconnews.org because it is one of my favourites. The devotion reflected in the magical video brings tears to the eyes and joy to the soul.
More of Europe:
Paris (France) Ratha Yatra Parade comes with a model of Indian Village where cultural dance, music and drama are performed. Prasadam or vegetarian food is served. Zurich in Switzerland and Barcelona in Spain have the coolest procession possible. Irish capital Dublin, Antwerp in Belgium and Budapest, the capital of Hungary, also host the Ratha Yatra ceremoniously. Austria’s Vienna has recently started Ratha Yatra from 2017. Croatia and Ukraine take part in this festival too and in Bulgaria Ratha Yatra is celebrated by Bulgarian kids.
Ratha Yatra Outside India: Indian Subcontinent
Ratha Yatra outside India is also extremely popular in the Indian subcontinent. Bangladesh, Nepal and Srilanka celebrate Ratha Yatra with great enthusiasm, zeal and fervor.
First, Dhamrai Bangladeshi Rath Yatra is immensely popular. Thousands of Hindu devotees pull the chariot. Rather mela (fair at the Chariot parade) is something the people wait for.
Second, Bhaktapur in Nepal, has an ancient Jagannath Temple and celebrates the Ratha Yatra blissfully. The chariots are drawn through the narrow lanes gracefully.
Finally, In Colombo, Sri Lanka, the Chariot Parade starts from the ISKCON Temple. Annadanam Prasadam is one of the chief attractions of the parade.
Ratha Yatra is a massive global event
It is clear that the aura of Lord Jagannath, the Lord of the Universe, and the fame of Ratha Yatra outside India is wide spread. Once devotees pulled Jagannath Chariot in the snow at Moscow, Russia. Sau Paulo, Brazil, to Bahrain in the Middle East, celebrate Ratha Yatra full scale. The vivid celebrations at Auckland, New Zealand, is worth watching. Ferrari rides of the deities during Ratha Yatra in Durban, South Africa, is unbelievable. Hare Krishna parades at Brisbane and Melbourne in Australia are mesmerising. Ratha Yatra at Singapore is elaborate. The sprawling Indian fair is what the people wait for. Toronto and Vancouver in Canada list Ratha Yatra as one of their major summer festivals since four to five decades. The Odisha Community of Tokyo, Japan, is celebrating for more than a decade now.
Mercy On Wheels
Last year, ISKCON arranged virtual (live) Ratha Yatra celebrations for the devotees all across the globe, keeping the pandemic in mind. It was world’s first digital Ratha Yatra and was called ‘Mercy On Wheels’. Devotion, love, music (Kirtan) and fun are the crux of the festival of Ratha Yatra, making it divine. It is a lifetime experience to pull the ropes of the chariot and dance to the ‘Hare Krishna’ beats. May Lord Jagannath, the god of surplus, grant abundance to all.
Jaya Jagannath. Hare Krishna.