Rathyatra in Puerto Rico

By Dhaniya devi dasi - 1.3 2017

Rathyatra in Puerto Rico and Dominican Republic

On December 28th, 2016, a balmy day in the bustling tourist city of San Juan, Puerto Rico, traffic came to almost a standstill as “Harmony of the Seas”, the largest cruise ship in the world, pulled into the harbor. Locals and visitors alike flocked to the port district to observe the impressive dimensions of the ship. Hundreds of cruisers stepped off the ship to explore the Boricua shore. Unbeknownst to the gathering crowds, they were about to witness a joyous procession of singing and dancing starring their lordships, Jagannath, Baladeva and Subhadra! The 3rd annual San Juan Ratha Yatra took place in Paseo la Princesa, in the area of Old San Juan. The colonial-style buildings and ocean views complimented the beautifully decorated chariot. The melodious voices of guest kirtaniyas Agnidev Prabhu, Bhadra Prabhu, and the Mayapuris resounded as the joyful devotees responded in turn. Devotees handed out flyers, passed along the ropes of the cart so that guests could pull the cart, and distributed prasadam treats. Crowds turned to observe the parade and several onlookers were invited to dance in front of the deities, between the cart ropes. As the Ratha Yatra cart made its way around the Las Raices Fountain in the plaza’s center, the deities faced the open seaside, and the kirtan came to a joyous roar.

The procession culminated near the stage tent, where local devotees were explaining the pastime of Lord Jagannatha’s parade to the crowds. Books and pamphlets were distributed at the nearby tables. Visitors were encouraged to accept a plate of free, sanctified vegetarian food at the prasadam tent just a few feet away and take a seat to enjoy the entertainment. Ganga Sheth, renowned Odissi dancer, performed a dance to the bhajan by Vasudeva Ghosh, describing Lord Gauranga as nondifferent from Krsna, who is nondifferent from Jagannatha. She also danced to an original song written by Mike Ferrera, who performed alongside the Mayapuris.

Local San Juan devotees performed a play to illustrate basic philosophical tenets of Krsna consciousness. A final kirtan, led by Mayapuris, included local musicians and dancers onstage, culminating joyously with the applause of the crowd. GBC Virabahu Prabhu was present to greet visitors and answer questions, as well as offer appreciation to the organizers who worked so diligently to put on the festival, including Bhadra Prabhu and Jaya Sita dasi.

Puerto Rico is certainly primed for preaching Krsna Consciousness. The cultural diversity, receptivity and natural inclination toward religiosity found here, as in many Latin American countries, provides an ideal environment to share our processes of devotional service. Any and all who are inclined to experience Ratha Yatra in this tropical paradise are encouraged to reach out and find a service for this year’s festival.

Puerto Rico Ratha Yatra is set to take place again between Christmas and New Year at the end of 2017. For information on this coming year’s Ratha-yatra in Puerto Rico and those in North and Central Florida, please visit Bhadra Prabhu’s web site: www.festivalofchariots.org.

SANTO DOMINGO RATHA YATRA AND 12 HOUR KIRTAN

As 2016 came to a close, devotees from the local ISKCON Dominican Republic community partnered with renowned Ratha Yatra organizer, Bhadra Prabhu to put together an epic four- hour procession for Santo Domingo’s 2nd Annual Festival of Chariots. The parade began in a bustling marketplace in the very center of the city. Surrounded by street shops in between busy intersections, Lord Jagannatha, Baladeva and Subhadra Maharani made their way atop their colorfully decorated chariot down the crowded avenues of Dominican Republic’s capital. Street vendors and their patrons couldn’t help but halt their business as the parade strode by, filling the avenues with joyous chanting and drumming. Dancers led the procession, and devotees and guests alike took hold of the ropes to lead the chariot down the roads. Visiting kirtaniyas Agnidev Prabhu, Bhadra Prabhu and Mayapuris sang alongside local kirtaniyas including Mukunda Madhava das.

As the parade weaved down the busy streets of Santo Domingo, flyers and prasadam were distributed to observers as onlookers were invited to dance between the chariot’s ropes, arm in arm with kirtaniyas. The chariot was pulled through busy marketplaces, plazas, residential areas, and finally the diplomatic district. There, Jagannatha was glorified amidst embassies from all around the world, reaffirming His position as Lord of all countries, Lord of the Universe! One couldn’t help but think that this was emblematic of Lord Chaitanya’s declaration that harinam sankirtan would be heard in “every town and village”.

The deities were then led to the festival site, where local devotees and guest artists The Mayapuris and Mike Ferrera performed traditional bhajans and original compositions. Ganga Sheth performed moving Odissi dances and original choreography. Bhadra Prabhu and local devotees explained basic principles of Krsna consciousness and invited guests to take books and pamphlets with them, as well as visit the Santo Domingo temple for the 12 hour kirtan to take place the next day. Sumptuous prasadam was distributed continuously throughout the evening program, and Virabahu Prabhu greeted guests and held a Questions and Answers session with visitors.

The next day, the close of 2016 was celebrated with a 12 hour kirtan held at the Santo Domingo ISKCON temple, where local devotees and visiting kirtaniyas alike took turns leading. Agnidev Prabhu led a joyous Gaura Arati and then the Mayapuris followed up with a rip roaring few hours of kirtan. As the clock counted down to midnight, devotees and guests from the previous day’s Ratha Yatra crowded the temple room for the arati, led by Bhadra Prabhu. The chanting and dancing went on for another hour, followed by a beautiful appreciation ceremony, and then local devotees provided ice cream and cake.

The Dominican Republic proved itself to be not only a hotbed of enthusiastic, powerful local devotees, but also a wonderful place for preaching. The people are inquisitive, receptive and looking for an opportunity to learn more about God consciousness. Latin America is brimming with chances to spread the Holy Names and any and all services are welcome from any devotees looking to participate in next year’s festival. For information on this coming year’s Ratha-yatra in Dominican Republic and those in North and Central Florida, please visit Bhadra Prabhu’s web site: www.festivalofchariots.org.