This was my going to be my first ever witnessing of Lord Jagannath’s Ratha Yatra. The previous 2 years I had missed them and I felt miserable. Last 2 years, I had also wanted to go to Jagannath Puri but that didn’t happen as well. So, I was a bit lucky that I had no other agenda this weekend but spend quality time with the devotees on the streets of Melbourne.
Luckily, I woke up early today at 2:30am ! After a nice cold shower (forgot to turn that hot water system again !!), I reported for Mangal arti by 4:20am. There were already a few devotees there and as usual we had a nice morning session. The highlight today was the return of Lord Jagannath back to the altar.
This was the first time I had seen the deities with the bright gold plated weapons in their hands. They looked great and powerful. Everybody in the room was mesmerized with the beautiful floral decorations, the colorful garments and the ecstatic kirtan in the background as well. I couldn’t take my eyes of Them. I must have clicked some 30 pics in that one sitting. And Srimad Bhagavatham class had already started and I didn’t want to stop.
The Srimad Bhagavatham talk was given by Jagannath prabhu on Canto 11, Chapter 5, Verse 9. In the class, he picked out King Indradyumna as an example to highlight his interest in devotion to God rather than just politics, as a result of which he was the king of the universe. He cited the pastimes of Lord Jagannath and the advent of the 3 “strange” forms of Lord Jagannath, Lord Baladeva and Lady Subadra for the benefit of humans in the Kali yuga. Jagannath prabhu mentioned that simply by desiring to want to go to Jagannath Puri, the holy abode of Lord Jagannath, one is delivered. This statement pleased me very much.
After a very quick breakfast prasadam, I stepped out into the temple compound and witnessed the quick preparation of the chariot. Our heart can be compared to a chariot and we should pray to Krishna, “Please come and sit in my heart“. This is how the gopis of Vrindhavan prayed to Krishna when they met Him at Kurukshetra, “You should come and sit in our hearts“.
I took the tram with other handful of devotees to the Gopal’s Vegetarian restaurant on Swanston Street. The entire 25 mins odd ride, I was listening to a nice kirtan but in my heart, I was thinking about the wonderful opportunity to be able to carry the chariot through the streets. I was nervous. What if I trip? What if I take a wrong turn? What if I don’t have enough time to hold the chariot on my shoulders? Perhaps, I should have spoken to the organizers and fixed the length of time and stretch I would have done. It was too late now. I will just have to see what happens as the tour progresses. Just as we reached the restaurant, the yatra started. Wonderful timing, I thought.
The procession was awesome. The beautiful and “cute” little deities looked so attractive in the late morning Melbourne sun. It was a Saturday and there were plenty of people around.
I think almost all of the Melbourne temple devotees were present on the streets, all well dressed, bright tilaka marks on the forehead and a beaming smile. A perfect way to greet the Melbourne citizens in the new year.
The first part of the kirtan was taken charge by Bhakta prabhu who has a wonderful voice and knows exactly how to get the young devotees up and dancing. He also kept an eye out to ensure that everyone stuck to the street and not on the roads.
The kirtan was accompanied by enthusiastic young devotees on the mrindangas, karatals and even a flute.
The team of Krishna Amrita, Krishna Graja, Ganapati, Pavan and Arun prabhus was a sight to watch with their fantastic enthusiasm and rhythm. We could see people move to those drum and metal beats.
There were 3 classes of people who passed the chariot. One set didn’t bother. The other set stood and gazed with a firm look. But a good majority were in the 3rd category of standing, watching, smiling and slightly swaying to the music. We also had devotees distribute some dry eatables to the onlookers. Srila Prabhupada explains how great this benediction is in chapter 9 of “Nectar of Devotion”:
“In the Brahmanda Purana it is said: “A person who sees the Lord’s Ratha–yatra car festival and then stands up to receive the Lord can purge all kinds of sinful results from his body. ‘A similar statement is there in the Bhavisya Purana, in which it is said: ‘A person who follows the Ratha–yatra car when the Rathas (Deities) pass in front or from behind, even if born of a lowly family, will surely be elevated to the position of achieving equal opulence with Visnu.”
We ensured that everything went well on the streets. Some devotees were deputed to ensure that we didn’t block the path of people who used the sidewalk. They also ensured that we didn’t venture out into the traffic in our efforts to click photos and be in the front.
Many of them took the responsibility of seeing that we stopped at major intersections and waited for the right traffic signal before we crossed.
I am a big fan of Krishna Graja prabhu, the most photogenic devotee at the temple, a great kirtan leader and a bit naughty. When I first stepped into the Melbourne temple, I used to relish in watching him do the pujari (priestly) work, clean the temple floors, singing in beautiful variations, pull the legs of junior devotees and offer advice on many issues. He always has a nice smile. When he took charge on the streets today, everybody went wild !
I must say that the matajis who were right in front of the yatra were the best of dancers. And many of the street onlookers couldn’t take their eyes of them, scanning their Indian outfits and the big smiles.
They kept an eye out for the best places to get their coordinated dance steps. Here they are in front of StarBucks cafe. I could see many coffee drinkers immediately pull out their cameras.
Ciranjeev prabhu got the dancing devotees to dance more, guiding them with his own moves. He held a strong kirtan in front of the church as we waited for the traffic lights to change.
Rasanandini mataji was more energetic that me. I thought I was all over the streets taking photos. Nope. She ran, climbed and hid to get as many images as possible. I think she will be posting her collection on the Melbourne temple website soon.
I could see so many people wonder what was in the chariot as it moved past them. Many of the onlookers got close to the deities to get a better photo.
This prabhu was the most enthusiastic on the roads. Like a grasshopper, he jumped here and there, yelling “Hari Hari !!”. He was also the subject of many stares and photos.
The matajis were over the moon when they got their chance to carry the chariot. The best part about them was that they carried on with their dancing even while carrying the chariot…not wild ones but nice smooth moves.
Many devotees used the dirty streets to pay obeisances on the streets. Others hungrily walked over to the moving chariot to touch the little Lotus Feets of the Lords, hidden somewhat amongst the flowers.
Every now and then, besides taking photos, I was also looking for a chance to touch the feet but more importantly a chance to carry the chariot. It wasn’t happening! There were many devotees who waited eagerly for the precious moments. And I didn’t want to budge in and carry it for my own selfish motives. Who could I go and ask? Everybody were in an ecstatic mood. I didn’t want to intercept their activity. But I want to carry ! So sad. Anyways, I thought to myself that at least I got a chance to make it to the festival and taking these photos could be somewhat of a small service I can do. Maybe, when I attend the temple more often and work hard seriously like all these devotees around me, I will get a chance too. With that motivation, I assumed the monkey form and began jumping here and there in front and beside the procession to take more snaps.
Before I knew it, we had made a complete circle from the starting point. And preparations were being made to carefully load the deities back into the back of the temple van. The Lord had finished His task of showing Himself to the public on the streets for the year. And there went my chance of carrying Him too.
As I walked beside the van to take more photos of the deity being loaded, I ended at the drivers seat. It was Adrian. We had just spent the past 4 days with him in catering for a rock show (post coming soon).
Me : “Can I take a snap of you?”
Adrian : “Sure”
And I take the above picture.
Me : “Can I get in to take a snap of the deity being loaded?”
Adrian : “Sure”
By the way, Adrian doesn’t talk much. A few words here and there. But its always clear. I climb in and I start clicking away.
Me : “Is the van now going back to the temple?”
Adrian : “Yes…any minute now…”
Me : “Who is sitting with you here?”
Adrian : “I have no idea…but I need to get out of here quickly…there’s much traffic behind”
Me : “Ummm…can I…like accompany you…I mean I can take more snaps…and that too with your camera….”
Adrian : “Sure”
WoooooHooooo !!! Hooray !!!!!!!! I get a chance to be with the deities !!! How about that !! I proceeded to give Adrian a satisfactory hug.
Adrian : “I think it would be a good idea if you fasten your seatbelt instead…we are leaving…”
And with that we zoomed out of Swanston Street. I turned and began to talk a few more shots.
There were only 7 passengers in the van. Adrian, Bhaktin mataji, Rasanandini mataji (in pic), myself and our beloved Lord Jagannath, Lady Subadra and Lord Baladev. Rasanandini mataji slowly fanned the Lords the entire way. I put on a nice melodious kirtan of BB Govinda Swami from my iPod which I had downloaded the day before. It was a nice, peaceful trip.
Few minutes later, we reached the temple. Just as I got down, so happy with the opportunity to have ridden with the Lords…Rasanandini mataji asked around: “We need someone to help carry Lord Jagannath back to the altar.”
What? Say that again….you are looking for someone to carry the Lords…and there is no one….
WooHoooo !! Hooray !!
Me : “Me, Me mataji….I am Manoj…I can carry mataji…please….”
With that I threw my shoes away and quickly took the right side of the chariot. Adrian prabhu took the back section and 2 other devotees took the left side of the chariot. I was now carrying. I got my chance. I was thinking how merciful Lord Jagannath is. Just an intense desire to serve in some capacity bears so much opportunities for a devotee…even if he is a useless one like me.
Right from the van, past the temple compounds, into the temple room and back to the altar area, I carried Him with others. I was happy. Very Very Very Very Very happy ! I could see visitors and devotees fall in front to pay their obeisances. I was giving some instructions from the front informing the others when to go low to avoid overhead branches, when the steps to the temple began, informing them of prostrated devotees in the front etc.
Then Bhaktin mataji carefully and very lovingly transferred the little deities back into the altar room. And I watched with a huge, big and massive smile. My heart was full of glee. What a perfect way to finish the holidays.
Then we took the empty chariot of the Lords into the theatre room and carefully placed them in the theatre room where a large portrait of His Holiness Jayapataka Swami was present. After paying obeisances, we moved out of the room.
WoW !!! What an experience ! I got what I wanted so badly. Now, it was time for the arrival of the devotees from the city and then prasadam !!!
Once the devotees from the city procession arrived together at the temple, there can only be one possibility – kirtans, quick drum beats, dancing ! Here you can see all those present jumping up and down with their hands up in the year.
Once the kirtan finished, there was a quick scramble to get the best position in the line for prasadam. We knew it would be a feast. As we waited, we could see devotees carry subjis, pooris, cakes, gulab jamuns, water melon drinks, rice and desserts. Then seated amongst the young Melbourne devotees, I honoured the food with much gratitude and without talking finished everything !
My heartfelt thanks to all the devotee cooks again who couldn’t attend the yatra but spent cooking all these delicacies. My deepest thanks to all the devotees and kirtaneers who gave everyone a chance to participate in this wonderful event. But I would also like to take the time to thank Srila Prabhupad who inaugurated the Lord Jagannath Ratha Yatra in the lands outside of India. As well as his special devotees who assisted him much. Very much. And its our duty, I feel that we always remember their efforts rather than our own.
The first Ratha Yatra was held in 1967 at San Francisco, USA. Srila Prabhupad had organized his followers to arrange for a chariot to deliver the Lordships out onto the streets of San Francisco. Shyamananda and Jayananda prabhus constructed the first 2 1/2 ton chariot which allowed the westerners to have a glimpse of the Lords for the very first time. An important event in the history of earth. The above poster was designed by Haridas prabhu with simple sentences :
“The Rathayatra Festival of India, a sacred celebration in worship of the Supreme Lord, Krishna, will be enacted Sunday, July 9, for the first time in the western world. People and cars meet at 1 p.m. at corner of Haight and Lyon to form a processional to the sea. There will be 8 days of festivities, chanting, dancing and feasting on ocean beach. All are welcome to this joyous event!”
You can watch the video of this first yatra at
“The Ratha Yatra festival was performed with great pomp. More than five hundred people followed the procession to the beach, and there were about two dozen cars. They distributed thousands of chapattis and at last Sri Jagannatha, Subhadra and Baladeva, kindly came to stay in our house.” — Srila Prabhupada (in a letter)
Their Lordships Jagannatha, Subhadra and Balaram aboard a bright yellow Hertz Rent-a-truck. Within the next ten years, Srila Prabhupada held Ratha Yatra festivals in major cites around the world.
Second “thanks” to Malati Devi Dasi for having walked into an import store and discovering the “3-inch wooden doll with a flat head, a black, smiling face, big round eyes, stubby figure, forward-jutting arms and a simple green and yellow torso with no visible feet“. And then later, on Srila Prabhupad’s command, running back to the store, with her husband Syamasundara Das, to fetch Lady Subadra and Lord Baladev as well.
Third person to thank would be Syamasundara Das who was asked to carve the first ever 3 foot high copies of the little 3 deities. Based on the details he received from Srila Prabhupad, he carved the intended size from 3 large hardwood blocks in his balcony.
And there was one special devotee who made the actual ratha yatra possible.
Although a mechanical engineer by degree, he worked as a taxi driver. He never fitted into the rat race and did not consider himself as very religious. However, he came across an article on Srila Prabhupad and decided to “check him out”. After listening to the lecture and buying some volumes of Srimad Bhagavatham, Jayananda continued with his visits, chanting, singing, honoring prasadam, performing Deity worship, buying supplies, helping new devotees, taking the trash out, cleaning the kitchen etc. He would often remark, ‘Krsna consciousness is so sweet“.
He worked hard and gave his earnings to Srila Prabhupad for his mission. In fact, in the “Nectar of Devotion” book, Srila Prabhupad thanks Jayananda, “I beg to acknowledge, with thanks, the contribution made by my beloved disciple Sriman Jayananda Brahmacari “.
Srila Prabhupada had an intense desire to organize a ratha yatra. And that’s where Jayananda would contribute every inch of his determination to please his guru and in turn please the rest of the world. Starting with a basic truck, he put together a chariot with whatever help he could get. He also took the responsibility of getting the permits, the publicity and even bake pies for the police and officials he interacted with. He would sleep with the chariots he built and often slept little to finish the tasks that lay ahead. He knew only 2 truths – Krishna and Srila Prabhupad. And he wanted to give them to the people as much as he could till he passed away.
Srila Prabhupad often expressed his deep gratitude for Jayananda. When he passed away, Srila Prabhupad instructed that his photo be carried on one of the chariots at every ratha yatra.
I am sure that Srila Prabhupad is looking at Jayananda Dasa and all those early devotees who put their heart and soul to kick start the first ratha yatra right down to us Melbourne temple devotees and saying,
“Thank You Very Much“.