Rath Yatra on the streets of the Czech capital

via PTI published on July 7, 2010

 Come July 18, thousands of people cutting across religious faiths will converge into the main square of this city to participate in a Rath Yatra, the festival of chariots, which will criss-cross the main streets here, illuminated by wonderful colours and sounds of the annual Hare Krishna Festival.

The devotees will pull a 40—foot high colourful chariot carrying the sacred deities of Lord Jagannatha, Lady Subhadra and Lord Balarama accompanied by a procession of singers, musicians and dancers.

“We are expecting several thousand people to participate.

This will be the fourth time that we are organising the Rath Yatra in Prague,” said Narakriti Das, president of Czech ISKCON temple, which organises the festival.

Mr. Das, a Czech citizen whose original name was Ilona Nejkovova before joining the ISKCON movement, said that more and more people are joining the Rath Yatra every year as this has been considered one of the most attractive festivals.

The chariot is being brought from London in pieces before being refitted into a full-fledged one.

At the conclusion of the procession, more people will gather to witness cultural and educational displays and exhibitions linked to the Rath Yatra.

The festival of chariots is a celebration dating back to over 5000 years, annually observed in the ancient holy city of Jagannatha Puri in Orissa, making it the oldest street festival in the world.

Devotees believe that if they get the honour of pulling the ropes of the giant chariot, carrying Lord Krishna, known as Jagannatha — Lord of the Universe, then, at the end of this life, they will be granted eternal service to the Lord in the spiritual world.

“Each year, we try to make the Chariot a more vibrant and colourful one,” said Rasabihari Dasi, a trained Bharat Natyam dancer.

Ms. Dasi, originally Nenad Nejkov, said that she and her husband Narakriti Das, have been trying their best to expand the ISKCON movement across Czech Republic and in their endeavour, people’s response are every encouraging.

Director of Institute of South and Central Asia in the Faculty of Arts in Prague’s Charles University said many Czech citizens are interested to know Indian customs and culture and organising Rath Yatra is a big step in the right direction.

“Many people come to our library to get books on Indian culture, customs and Hindu religion. They know that India is country with vibrant culture and festivals,” he said.

This ancient festival was brought to the West by Bhaktivedanta Swami, founder of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness.

The first Rath Yatra festival outside of India took place in San Francisco in 1967. This festival came to London in 1969, where it has been faithfully observed every year for 40 years attracting more than 30,000 people throughout the day.

“For the Rath Yatra, at least for a day in a year, we Indians in Prague get a feel of India in every nook and corner of this beautiful city,” said Prof. Nabanita Saha of faculty of technology in the Thomas Bata University in Zlin.

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