Religious processions planned throughout the continent
31st May 2011: Europe appears to be entering its annual Ratha Yatra, or Hindu festival of chariots, season with various religious processions planned through the streets of cities all over the continent.
This is how the calendar looks like: Heidelbergm June four; London, June 12; Berlin, June 12;, Antwerp June 18;, Crawley June 19; Paris July three; Birmingham July 2; Leicester July 31; Cologne August six; Amsterdam August 14; Leipzig September three; Brighton September 10; and Cardiff September 17.
Applauding the efforts of the organizers and European community to realize the importance of these wonderful festivals, Hindu statesman Rajan Zed, in a statement in Nevada (USA) said these would exhibit the richness of Hinduism.
Mostly sponsored by International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), these parades usually feature huge decorated chariot with colorful canopy, carrying images 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, and pulled by devotees. Usually, devotional Hindu music and dancing, backed by double-headed mrdanga drums and kharatala hand cymbals, accompany the procession and free vegetarian feast is served to the participants at the parade launching point. Most of the parade participants usually attend in traditional Hindu attire. It is like getting a taste of India and Hinduism without leaving Europe.
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.
Ratha 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.
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 Ratha Jatra’s sanctity.