10 March 09
And today was the ratha yatra and the excitement was everywhere. Especially within me. I had been waiting for it since morning and here it was…
There were plenty of people already gathered near the entrance to the temple to participate in the ratha yatra. It was only at this point that I came to know that the chariot would travel only within the temple grounds. I was of the belief that it would venture out and make a tour of the Mayapur town. Since the world was within our temple complex, perhaps it was a better idea to conduct it inside.
People cheered as the deities of Lord Jagannath, Lord Balaram along with Lady Subadra made it to the chariot top. People paid obeisances on the dusty ground while the young devotees prepared to dance. At some point, perhaps after sounding the conchshell (not sure if what I heard was the conch), the chariots slowly began to move forward. The kirtan started and almost immediately the devotees started their dance in front. The 3 chariots made its way over the cemented path, now completely covered by people.
In the above picture, you can see the chariots in the distance and even more interesting the number of people gathered. There were so many. I had my own fan following who were all interested in my camera. You get so much respect when you have a large camera with a tripod. Everyone makes way for you.
An ephelant ! That’s what I used to call an elephant as a child. Its been such a long time since I last saw one. Ever since I came to Australia, I have missed this creature. In our village home, we always to have elephants from the temple come to our house. As a child, I used to take part in the temple functions. And towards the middle of the festivities, the children of the major households in the area had to climb up the elephant to lead the procession. Boy, that was fun !! Here too, there was much excitement once the elephant took to the path.
Plenty of people chased the above poor devotee. Whenever people see the lamps, they run after it like mad. They push, pull and fall over. In a way, its nice to see that they are after the Lord blessings in such a desperate manner.
The world’s best dance floor has to be Mayapur. It doesn’t take too long for people to warm up to get their body moving. It was the same above. I used to wonder how they never get tired. The village folk and other visitors were completely absorbed in watching the foreigners take such an active part without feeling shy. Some mothers pushed their sons to be a part of the dancing group. But they were too shy.
Lord Jagannath’s chariot was the most popular. Everybody wanted to be with it. And that’s hundreds of people. There was so much pushing and yelling that it was almost impossible to have a gentle walk by the chariot immersed in the nice kirtan. Devotees right next to the moving cart held on to it lest they lose their position. Others tried to run by the side and get to the front. In the above picture, you can see that in their attempt they even trampled over the nice garden.
The Lord, as usual, was untouched by all the commotion around His chariot. He was relaxed, looking out into the horizon and waiting eagerly for the next round. I think we went around the temple complex, 3 times. I must be honest here, but I really wanted to sit on top along with those priests. But nope. It didn’t happen. I suppose I ain’t pure at heart yet. I have a strange feeling that I might get a chance one day.
At one point, the priests decided to pass on some of the prasadam from the chariot to the devotees below. Bad idea, I thought. It was chaos !!! Everyone pushed to get a piece of the grape or apple. And I was caught right in the middle of it and I couldn’t do a thing. If I went that way, the Bengali matajis pushed me back in. If I went the other way, the Russian matajis pushed me back in.
The charioteer was placed under the new age chariot. It was motorized and had a slightly loud sound. At one stage, it stopped and let out a cloud of smoke which had devotees move away from the cart to get some clean air. That was my chance to get into position right next to the cart. It was then I saw that the charioteer had a large plate of prasadam. All kinds of fruits. I called out to him and indicated through hand signs if he would hand over some. Kindly. He looked at me. Looked at the dhoti, the kurta, the neck beads, the almost faint tilaka on the forehead. He was somewhat convinced. I moved my hand slightly up and he saw my large camera. He was fully convinced now. He dropped a piece of fruit into my hand. Woohoo !! I ate a portion of it and shared it with others around.
It was dark by the time we finished the final round. By now we had a very large crowd following, kirtans at many points, dancing everywhere…the energy was electric. The chariot moved towards the main entrance of the temple. We could already see people running quickly inside to get their vantage points to watch the deities come inside.
With much fanfare, the Lords made their way in. Once again, the energy went up, people jumped up and down, many fell to their floor to pay obeisances and many more cameras popped up to capture every moment.
The loving and excited devotees placed the deities back onto the altar. By now the temple was deeply packed. A nice kirtan followed with superb participation from everyone present. Nothing like a synchronized chanting of the holy name. And nothing like a day out in the open with the Lord.