What are they doing? a rather timid lady asked me as she pointed in the direction of noise. She was referring to a mish-mash of paper dragons, bagpipes, and a giant cart being pulled by hundreds of chanting people, some of whom were tiny but energetic women in saris. From behind, people and a truck were keeping the cart from rolling too far forward.
I’m not sure the purpose of the paper dragons and bagpipes, but I immediately recognized the cart and the group pulling it. It seems the Hari Krishnas were out in Atlanta and this was the Festival of Chariots (Jagannatha Ratha Yatra).
I was out looking for lunch and got trapped on the other side of Marietta Street by this procession. I’m not complaining. After being in Mathura, meeting Hari Krishnas around the world makes me happy because they’re welcoming people who let me sing and dance without ever passing judgement.
In a nutshell, the Festival of Chariots is simply the transportation of Lord Krishna (in his worshipable form: Jagannatha) on a chariot; devotees will chant, sing, and dance around the cart as it moves down the streets. The festival originates in Jagannatha Puri on the east coast of India and was brought to the United States by Srila Prabhupada in his travels to promote the Krishna Consciousness. This has been a regular Atlanta occurrence since the late 60s / early 70s.
During the crescendo of the procession, it looked like people on the cart were going to throw a heavy idol of Jagannatha into the crowd (it took two people to lift it). Rather than move out of the way, these people closed ranks and prepared to catch the idol. But, it wasn’t thrown. Instead, after the excitement built, it was passed down and swallowed into the throng of people.
At this point it was time for me to leave and head back to my event. On my way, I passed the timid lady who was still looking perplexed by the whole celebration. It’s the Festival of Chariots… it’s an Indian celebration where people sing, dance and pray, I explained. This she seemed to understand. She smiled and in a Southern accent said, well hallelujah! God bless you child.
I love it when different cultures come together.