Rathayatra is a very special occasion. By its pure, auspicious nature, a soul can be cleansed, ignorance destroyed. Although undeserving, by the Lord's mercy I was granted the Rathayatra experience.
Rathayatra is a way to honor the Lord and His associates. It is a chance to show our devotion to Him and at the same time view His gorgeous face. We pull the Lord through the streets and sing His praise, and our thoughts focus on His sweet pastimes. We forget the miseries of this material planet and remember the glory of Krsna's abode. We mimic the beautiful gopis the cowherd girls of Vrndavana who were so attached to Krsna that they decided to pull Him back to the forests of Vrndavana.
For some, Rathayatra is a show, for others it is a dance for me it was a transcendental wonderland. The festival site was a haven of glorious goodies. Colorful tents bulged, filled with everything from enlightening displays to edible delights. The scene was abuzz with devotees, all grinning from ear-to-ear, and most of them chanting happily.
My favorite tent was devoted to the International Society for Cow Protection (ISCOWP). There, a protective mother watched over her two Brahmin calves, as onlookers begged for attention. In Johannesburg, where I live, it is hard to really get close to cows, and this was a wonderful experience for me. Somehow, "mother" and I connected, and she let me stroke her every time I came to visit. Her humility and care astounded me, and I fell in love with her big brown eyes. It was not difficult to see why these sacred animals reside in the sweet heart of our Lord. As the ultimate providers, they are our true mothers, and deserve the same respect.
My next favorite was the gift tent. Stuffed to the brim with devotional paraphernalia, it was a veritable feast for the eyes. If I were richer, I could have bought CDs, jewelry, clothing from India, or even tiles for my altar room, but I was still able to find some treasures I could afford.
Books for the World
Next on my list was the book tent, containing a miniature version of Vrndavana, including a tiny Govardhana Hill. It was a sheer delight to see the small yet powerful Yamuna River. In this tent sat His Divine Grace Srila Prabhupada in his deity form. I remembered the effect that Srila Prabhupada's books have on my own spiritual advancement. Through his books I find the truth I seek, and I realize how deeply indebted we all are to him. Srila Prabhupada gives his mercy to people all over the world, everyday, just through his books.
In front of their author, shelves and shelves of his books were displayed, along with books by his disciples and grand-disciples. I bought a little book I had never seen before, and considered apt: The Lilas [Pastimes] of Lord Jagannatha. Throughout the week I spent in Durban, this little book brought bundles of inspiration.
Of course, the tents selling or giving away prasadam were a huge success too. Govinda's Restaurant did a roaring trade in piping hot curd-and-pea samosas, which I still dream about, and cubes of channa magaj, which plagued me incessantly. I was also a regular at the Food for Life tent, and offer my admiration to all the devotees who prepared the huge quantities of food.
The main tent was almost as attractive as the Lord Himself. Dramas, traditional dancing, and wonderful singers all glorified the pastimes of the Lord, leaving audiences stunned.
In the temple tent, Sri Jagannatha, Sri Baladeva, and Subhadra Devi were adorned with garlands, and the altar bulged with fresh fruit. I remember going into the tent for a throbbing kirtana, and just staying there, taking in the beauty of the Lord. I remember marveling at His mercy that had gotten me from Johannesburg to Durban, and singing my heart out to Him. I sang and sang and sang, glorifying Him, and yet I never once felt tired. I left with prasadam and a huge grin.
Throughout the festival, two tents were used for question-and-answer sessions. Hearing the answers given by senior ISKCON devotees was enlightening and a real treat.
A Parade for All
All that is left to paint is the heart of the event: the Rathayatra procession. As thousands of people followed the chariot into one of the most degraded areas in Durban, the praises of the Lord reverberated off the walls and into my heart. I thanked the Lord for His mercy, and prayed that everyone else could get the same fortune I was getting. I saw people up in their flats looking down at the dancing mass, and hoped that they too could catch a glimpse of Him. I jumped for the Lord, I sang for the Lord, and my heart soared for all my fellow devotees, also engaged in sweet glorification.
I managed to pull the cart for just a few moments, and then decided to let everybody else have a chance. I knew that I was fortunate enough to be practicing Krsna consciousness, so I just chanted the holy names of the Lord as loud as I could, and danced as much as I could too. I caught sweets thrown from the cart, shared them, and kept a special one for myself. By the end of the procession, I was exhausted but happy.
The Lord's mercy is such that all who pull His chariot at Rathayatra are relieved of reactions to sins. For me, the mercy of Krsna did not end there. I was on the receiving end of a whole lot more, and I am ever thankful for it. Thank you, Lord Krsna, for saving me. Thank you for Your love.