Lord Jagannatha’s mercy inundates the land of five rivers.
The state of Punjab situated on the confluence of five rivers is the pious land of Sikh gurus and acharyas where the devotion of the Lord flows in the hearts of the people. Although a witness to a large number of battles, Punjab has in no way allowed this to affect its heart in its leaning towards the Supreme. Its industrial capital, Ludhiana, is a city full of warm reception for all kinds of devotional festivities. Thus, Ludhiana is a most suitable place to host Lord Jagannatha, the Lord of the Universe. Every year Lord Jagannatha, His elder brother Balarama, and sister Subhadras it on a grand chariot in Their magnificence and ride through the city. The love and affection the people of Ludhiana feel for the Lord is visible in the way they receive Him. The Lord’s supreme attractiveness is what makes everyone young and old, men and women, poor and rich prepare for months in advance to welcome Their Lordships.
My husband and I have been ardent followers of Lord Jagannatha since the time we first became Hare Krishna devotees. This devotion has pulled us to many Ratha-yatras in and around Delhi, our hometown. The Ludhiana Ratha-yatra has always been our favorite. Both of us feel at home there as we share not only the local language but also the emotions of the local devotees. Every year since the year 2000 we have traveled to Ludhiana for the annual Ratha-yatra festival, and every year we have seen a steep rise in the number of devotees that participate. Right from the day of its origin, the Ludhiana Ratha-yatra has been at the top of all such festivals organized by ISKCON all over the world.
The seed of this grandiose festival was planted more than fifteen years ago during Srila Prabhupada’s Centennial celebrations in 1996, when Saksi Gopala Dasa and His Holiness Gopala Krishna Goswami, ISKCON GBC and the Zonal Secretary for North India, organized the first Ludhiana Ratha-yatra. And since that time there has been no looking back. By the mercy of Srila Prabhupada, millions now participate in the festival of chariots in the city of Ludhiana. It has become compulsory for all ISKCON devotees in India to witness the fervor, dedication, and passion of the people of this great city.
His Holiness Gopala Krishna Goswami and Saksi Gopala Dasa have put great effort into making the festival an overall success. Various preaching strategies, like nama-hatta programs, corporate preaching, special pandal programs, and door-to-door programs, have all contributed to the present success of this grand festival. Slowly, the people of Ludhiana have come to fill their hearts with great love for Lord Jagannatha.
Every year I impatiently await this grand festival, carefully keeping track of the passing days. Any devotees who travel to Ludhiana from other temples are provided with a nice comfortable stay, and the generous local devotees freely give gifts, such as necklaces and Lord Jagannatha T-shirts, to their guests. One can really feel the principles of dadati pratigrhnati, offering gifts in charity and accepting charitable gifts, being enacted by experiencing the warmth and affection of the devotees of Ludhiana.
Dedication in Action
At the first light of dawn on 11 December 2011, my husband and I drove from Delhi to Ludhiana to take part in this much-anticipated event. To our pleasure, a plethora of big and small billboards advertising the Ratha-yatra greeted us. No matter in which direction we moved our eyes, it was hard to miss the colorful advertisements. Driving on, we found the whole city decorated with flyers, banners, and placards displaying beautiful pictures of Their Lordships and Srila Prabhupada and giving relevant details of the magnificent festival. In the form of these advertisements, a chance was offered to everyone to take part and eternally benefit. We were later informed that there had been nearly five thousand billboards of various sizes all over the city.
We proceeded to the Durga temple, where the Ratha-yatra procession would begin. Arrangements were already in place for the parade, the surrounding roads barricaded for traffic. Almost the entire city could be seen walking towards Their Lordships’ wide ratha. That giant vehicle was twenty feet long and fifteen feet wide. Like the carefully chosen palette of a painter mixing vibrantly on canvas, the sight of thousands of people dressed in bright colors walking shoulder-to-shoulder made for an enchanting sight.
We parked our car and cut through the thick crowd, walking briskly towards the majestic chariot to have a glimpse of Their Lordships. All our efforts bore priceless fruit when the beautiful forms of Jagannatha, Baladeva, and Subhadra presented Themselves before us, dressed in multicolored clothing and decorated with jewelry and flowers.
The security arrangements astounded us. The area surrounding the ratha was cordoned off by three rings of security personnel. Hundreds of policemen had been deployed throughout the city. Police jeeps were moving around the city to secure easy passage for the Lord’s chariot. One officer remarked that he was astonished to see the roads completely packed with people, remarking, “It seems as if the whole city is out on the roads!” When asked about the security arrangements, senior officer Dharamjeet Singh informed us that the ISKCON Ratha-yatra has gone way ahead of all other religious processions in the city in the matter of participation by the common man. “Never in any other spiritual processions have I witnessed such big crowds and such enthusiasm in people. Only the Hare Krishna people can work such wonders,” he commented.
Next to the chariot was a stage where the VIPs were seated. Among the dignitaries were Gopala Krishna Goswami, Navayogendra Swami, Vedavyasa Priya Swami, and Mahamana Dasa. The guest of honor, Mr. Veer Bhadra Singh, central minister for micro, small, and medium enterprises, inaugurated the festival. He spoke to the assembled throng, giving credit to ISKCON for invoking universal brotherhood, as seen in the presence of Hare Krishna devotees all over the world. Mr. Singh also said he sought the blessings of Lord Jagannatha. He therefore maintained the tradition of the original Ratha-yatra at Jagannatha Puri where the king takes up the service of sweeping the road before the Lord’s cart by using a broom with a golden knob studded with diamonds to prepare the way for the Lord.
The Ecstatic Journey
As the procession started, there was a sudden upsurge in the energy of the crowd, and a number of kirtana parties enthralled everyone with transcendental music. The crowd of thousands very soon grew into lakhs, with not an inch of space left on the roads. More than four hundred stalls were set up along the eight-kilometer-long stretch of the parade route to welcome all who took part. Colorful rangoli patterns decorated the road as offerings for the pleasure of Their Lordships. In addition to the people, beautifully decorated elephants and horses also took part in the procession, adding to the grandeur of the occasion. Groups of artists from various local communities, as well as from the states of Rajasthan and Himachal Pradesh, all performed for the Lord’s pleasure in the grand parade. Even the Namadhari Sikh community participated, with members of all ages standing on a raised platform and singing beautiful verses (shabads) from the Guru Granth Sahib that extol the glories of Lord Krishna, Vrindavana, Yashoda, and Devaki. It was a perfect tableau of communal harmony.
The locals have been actively participating in this Ratha-yatra since its inception. “We are thankful to ISKCON, for we could serve the Lord,” said Amrik Singh, a resident of Pratap Nagar. This year, care was taken to send a personal invitation to every single family with a school-age child in Ludhiana. Thus, parents and children alike happily participated in this happy affair. The youth of the city dressed in identical “Lord Jagannath’’ T-shirts to express their solidarity with the yatra.
The city roads were brightly lit with thousands of strips of lighting. At every few steps stood beautifully decorated welcome gates where prasada was on offer and loudspeakers filled the air with the maha-mantra and Radha-Krishna bhajanas. Only a few could resist the pull and keep themselves from tapping to the music.
The parade’s total distance of eight kilometers was covered at a snail’s pace, as the devotees were reluctant to let go of even a single moment in the Lord’s presence. It was as if time had no influence on them. Nonetheless, well past midnight the ratha eventually reached its final destination at the famous Nava Durga temple, but the spiritual excitement was no less intense once the procession had concluded. The thought of another year’s separation from Lord Jagannatha was too much to bear, so the kirtana only grew louder and more energetic.
The Fruit of Sacrifice
Rajasuya Dasa, the president of ISKCON Ludhiana, and Raksanatha Dasa, the vice-president, are the primary sources of inspiration and enthusiasm for the congregation there. The active participation and sanguine advice of these two devotees have guided the festival to its present success. Bhakta Satish Gupta, chairman of the Ratha-yatra organizing committee, very humbly recounted several interesting stories about various individuals’ eagerness to serve. He pointed towards a ten-foot-wide stall where a team of ten people was distributing pav-bhaji with full enthusiasm. The vendor was a simple man who daily sets up a small handcart at the same venue to sell pav-bhaji. On the day of the Ratha-yatra he pledged to distribute 100,000 rupees worth of pav-bhaji as a service to the devotees of the Lord. Such exemplary dynamism among the people of Ludhiana dominated the festival, thus there were plenty of stories like this one. For instance, Balakrishna Dasa recounted how to promote the event devotees staying in different parts of the city formed groups and participated in harinama-sankirtana every single day for many days in all parts of the city. The overwhelming success of the entire festival could only point to the tireless efforts of the organizing devotees. Satishji should be congratulated for his extraordinary planning and management of the entire event.
To find such a confluence of enthusiasm, sacrifice, and hard work is indeed rare. Over the years, I have realized that unless such a combination stands on a foundation of divine love for the Lord, it will not stand the test of time. Having personally witnessed the growing success of the Ludhiana Ratha-yatra over the last fifteen years, I am confident that devotion to Lord Krishna still lives in the hearts of devotees in modern times. And much to our good fortune, it is thus clearly visible for all to behold and derive inspiration from.
Radhika Krpa Devi Dasi is a disciple of Gopala Krishna Gosvami. She stays in New Delhi along with her husband, Rasapriya Dasa, and two children. She and her husband travel all over the world spreading the message of Krishna consciousness.