By Tara Duggan
Troupes of neon-vested Segway riders and strolling tourist families exploring Golden Gate Park on Sunday made way for an especially vibrant interruption: the Festival of Chariots, an annual Hindu parade and celebration with roots going back millennia in India.
Held since 1967 in San Francisco, the festival drew hundreds of smiling worshipers who helped pull three large chariots along John F. Kennedy Drive that carried likenesses of Lord Jagannath — who to many Hindus is known as Lord of the Universe or Krishna — his brother, Lord Baladeva, and his sister, Subhadra.
Men knelt to touch their forehead to the ground and women in jewel-toned saris danced with the procession. The large wooden carts were painted with elephants and swans, draped with garlands of carnations, and capped by tall red tents meant to resemble temples.
“This is a way to bring the lord outside and into the park,” said Haladhara Rupa of Dublin, who wore a traditional purple-blue kurta, or long shirt, and billowing white dhoti pants over bright green running shoes. “You can bring the lord in a joyous way.”
Celebrants encouraged bystanders to help pull the chariots, which they said would give them blessings. Different groups sang and chanted “Hare krishna, hare krishna, krishna krishna, hare hare,” while others played drums and blew on conch shells.
With roots in Puri, India, where it is known as Ratha Yatra, the chariot festival is meant to bestow the blessings of Lord Jagannath. The San Francisco version was started by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, the founder of the Hare Krishna movement in the United States, and is still organized by local Hare Krishna chapters.
Vani Devi Das of Sacramento, whose parents brought her up in the Hare Krishna movement on a farm in Pennsylvania, brought her three children to the festival. “I’ve been going to this for 30 years,” she said.
San Jose software engineer Malini Devi Dasi and her 9-year-old daughter were giving out pamphlets explaining their religious beliefs to cyclists and joggers. “This festival reminds me I can invite the lord in my heart,” she said. “I’m so confused in this world. I need some direction. I need to open my heart and clean it out a little bit.”
As the parade passed Lindy in the Park, a free swing dance class held every Sunday near the de Young Museum, it overwhelmed the class’ sound system for a few minutes. The parade ended with a festival in Sharon Meadow, where there was a free vegetarian feast as well as a stand selling “spiritual fashions” and exhibitions on Hare Krishna beliefs, including vegetarianism and reincarnation.
Amit Goswami of San Mateo shepherded his son, Nimai, 5, through the crowd. Nimai pulled a small likeness of one of the parade’s red chariots that he had built with the help of his mother and grandmother on top of a toddler push car.
“We keep it in the garage,” Goswami said, “and every year we remodel it.”
Source with more photos: https://goo.gl/BZGbyi