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Joy and bliss of Ratha Yatra in San Francisco

Tuesday, 28 July 2009 / Published in Announcements / 8,652 views

Ratha Yatra in San Francisco: A Vaishnava devotee dancing in front of chariots. (From archives)

Ratha Yatra in San Francisco: The three chariots and Gaura Nitai in the front. (From archives)

By HG Chaitanya Charitamrita Dasa and Girish Parikh

On Saturday, July 25, 2009; ISKCON (International Society for Krishna Consciousness) Berkeley Hare Krishna Temple celebrated Ratha Yatra (Festival of Chariots) in the Golden Gate Park, San Francisco. ISKCON of Silicon Valley (ISV) located in San Jose collaborated in the celebration.

The Ratha Yatra with three chariots of Lord Jagannatha, Lady Subhadra, and Lord Baladeva respectively started in the afternoon from Transverse and JFK Drive. The colorful chariots were gloriously decorated.

Jagannatha represents the Lord of the Universe and is simultaneously the same as Lord Krishna.

The ecstatic sannyasis and several hundred devotees chanted Hare Krishna Mahamantra (Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare; Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare), and glorified Lord’s names. Devotees pulled the ropes of the chariots with great enthusiasm and devotion.

The parade progressed East to Sharon Meadows for the “Festival of India” celebration. This event included music, dances, devotional songs, and kirtans glorifying the pastimes of the Lord. Some dances were performed by children captivating the viewers.

About 2000 devotees enjoyed the parade, the festival, and free prasadam (pure vegetarian food offered to the Lord).

The first Ratha Yatra in North America was held in mid 1960s in San Francisco, and since then ISKCON has been celebrating it every year. This celebration is performed by ISKCON in many cities in the U.S. as well as in other countries including India.

Many people do not or cannot come to the Temple. So merciful Lord Jagannatha comes out with His sister Subhadra, and brother Balarama to bless all.

ISKCON was founded by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada in mid 1960s in New York. There are many ISKCON temples in the U.S., and in other countries including India.

For more information about ISKCON’s programs contact Hare Krishna temple near you. Please also visit

(HG Chaitanya Charitamrita Dasa has been participating in Ratha Yatras since 1974 and is still serving the devotees. Currently he lives in Modesto, California, and is an instructor of Bhakti Yoga. E-mail:

Girish Parikh is author and journalist based in Modesto, California. He attended the first Ratha Yatra held in Chicago in 1974, which was blessed by the presence of Srila Prabhupada. Since then he has been participating in Ratha Yatras and even publishing reports about them in the newspapers.) E-mail:

6 Responses to “Joy and bliss of Ratha Yatra in San Francisco”

  1. caitanya caritamrta says :

    Apologies for misrep on HG, I am only a servant in training. My writing partner was too gracious.

    Hope you enjoy the article!

    caitanya caritamrta das, das anudas

  2. nrsimhananda says :

    Though there are now many Rathayatra’s worldwide, none can claim fame to being the first outside India except San Francisco – 1967, “summer of love.” The beginning of deity worship in Iskcon can be traced this manifestation of Lord Jagannath, Lord Balaram, and Subhadra in the Rathayatra, and those deities are still worshipped in the Berkeley temple today. Therefore, the SF Golden Gate Park Rathayatra is an event of special significance for all Prabhupadanugas. It will forever be valued for its historical significance. Gadadhara das and all the organizers and supporters in the Bay Area are staunch devotees dedicated to the mission of His Divine Grace, Srla Prabhuapda. Dandavats to all of you. Thank you for a wonderful festival.

  3. I just got back from LA Ratha Yatra and I am still intoxicated.

    As a Bay Area devotee, I feel a little sorry that, as wonderful as SF Ratha Yatra is, we will have to work very hard and very smart and very pure if we are going to come close to the standard set by Los Angeles.

    [I know there are some Bay Area devotees who will be angry or disappointed in me for expressing the obvious. It is not my intention to gripe but to inspire us to try to do better.]

    The L.A. festival site at Venice Beach is perfectly situated to reach thousands of nondevotees. The organization and cooperation of many devotees coming together in LA to put on such a grand and energetic Ratha Yatra is a delight to watch.

    This year’s L.A. Ratha Yatra was made especially wonderful by the participation of hundreds of gurukulis from around the world. ‘Kulis come every year (and the youth bus was in SF too), but this year a Kuli Mela was held in L.A. to coincide with Ratha Yatra, which brought a bigger turnout and a great symbiosis by having the two events on the same weekend. The extra youthful energy added a lot to the Ratha Yatra and to the big harinama sankirtan in advance of the event.

    During the L.A. festival, books and prasadam were flying out as if propelled by machine guns into the hands and mouths of satisfied guests. The series of high-quality performances on the main stage kept a large audience entranced, and the sound of bhajans and maha mantra filled the air all day from different areas of the site. The large, majestic chariots of Their Lordships inspired awe as They presided over the benediction of thousands of devotees and guests.

    In an area dear to my own heart, the Question booth was filled to capacity most of the day [I think we need a larger space next year]. The speaker line up was excellent: Kalakantha, Vaisesika, Vrindavan Priya, Caru, and Anuttama. The guests were impressed by the festival and by the wisdom and maturity and purity of the answerers. By comparison, in SF there was a very small turn out of guests to the booth and some self-absorbed hecklers for the second year in a row.

    [I am almost embarrassed to ask distinguished speakers to the booth in SF because of the small and lackluster reciprocation they can expect, but I ask them anyway and they usually decline.]

    Hats off to Svavasa, Ratna Bhusana, Nirakula and Vaisesika, Divyadristi and Bhagavat, Manu, and the hundreds whose sincere yajna makes L.A. Ratha Yatra such a success each year.

  4. pustakrishna says :

    Service to Srila Prabhupad takes many, many forms. The Rathayatra festival is a tremendous endeavour for the small number of bhaktas in the Berkeley yatra. After making the rounds at the Festival of India, I sat about 10 yards in front of the pandal housing Their Lordships Jagannath-Subhadra-Baladeva. There was non-stop melodious kirtan inside the pandal. One lady who I had seen in Santa Cruz before danced with feeling before Lord Jagannath. It was clear that she was pouring her heart out to Lord Jagannath. It softened my heart. I also had many very nice visits with old and new vaishnavas. We expressed our hearts and our ideals. What more can we hope for with devotee association. One young man, not an initiated bhakta, has gone regularly to hippie hill in Golden Gate Park to read out loud Srila Prabhupad’s books. He admits that he is not sufficiently well-versed in the philosophy to meet the challenges he gets, and so he simply refers people to Srila Prabhupad’s books. That young man has so much courage and more than a little determination. I met his mother at the festival and expressed what a nice son she has raised, really. And it is always a treat to see the 12 foot tall Dieties of Gaura Nitai dancing before the carts in San Francisco.

    I hope that with the grace of Lord Chaitanyadeva we will be able to re-manifest a temple in San Francisco in the near future. The devotees are to be commended for their sincere endeavours to please Srila Prabhupad and Krishna. I also attended the Rathayatra festival, the first ever, in Harrisburg Pennsylvania, in a park beside the Susquehana River. It rained intermittently but it could not hide the joy that the many participants showed. I met son of Bharadvaja Prabhu and his family. What a treat.

    We see in the eyes of so many bhaktas the spirit of Rathayatra. To serve the will of Srila Prabhupad, and to carry Krishna back to Vrindaban in their hearts. It is a wonderful feeling. Always feel that you are seated beside Srila Prabhupad, taking his divine direction, feeling his divine protection, and bringing sobriety to ones purpose. If there is any deficiency, then I must look within myself to find this, for the environment is Krishna’s. Humbly submitted, Pusta Krishna das

  5. I agree, the L.A. Rathyatra this year was truly fabulous. I especially liked the kirtans in front of each cart in the parade. Each one had its own special flavor. The best part was the presence of so many young, high-energy devotees, singing, dancing down the street, and playing drums and kartals. There seemed to be many more devotees involved this year over last year. There was a happy, joyful spirit throughout the festival. I am still feeling the bliss – a rare thing for me these days.

  6. One thing I failed to mention in comment #3 (because I did not know) is that the Question booth in L.A. continued strong late into the evening.

    I had to leave at 5:15 to catch a plane, and when I left Anuttama Prabhu was still carrying on an enlivening discussion.

    At some point Parama Karuna took over and went on for another 3 hours or so. The booth was practically full the whole time, and there were many seriously inquisitive guests. I must have been at least 8:30 or 9 p.m. (if not later) that Parama Karuna finally had to stop while the booth was physically being dismantled.

    These Question & Answer booths are an important part of the festival, because when you put on a good festival and you get people’s attention, they become curious about who these Hare Krishnas are. They want to know, “What do they believe?” “Why do they do this festival?” “Why are they embracing this foreign and exotic tradition?” “What is it all about?” “Does it have anything to offer me?”

    Of course, the best thing is if they also buy books and read them later, but the impression they get from talking to devotees may encourage them to buy books or to read the books they have already bought. Hearing qualified devotees discuss Krishna consciousness face to face helps them put their experience of the festival into context and contributes to their overall impression.

    We used to invite people to Sunday feasts and then sit next to them while they were eating and try to convince them to join us. For many people this was unsettling, because they just wanted to enjoy their meal in peace and not be proselytized. It was like the “awful price of admission”. Also, they would get the “luck of the draw”, and God help them if the devotee who sat next to them was crazy old Bhakta So-And-So.

    With a well-run Question booth, people cone to hear the devotees’ “rap” on their own terms, because that is what they have chosen to do. They get to hear excellent speakers with a good command of how to relate to people.

    We usually get a good mix of about half newbies and half devotees in the audience, and a nice dynamic develops where people can appreciate how the devotees interact and relate to each other and respect the speakers. The devotees in the audience are real people who also are getting questions answered about how to practically improve their spiritual life, and the newbies appreciate this and the rapport that develops.

    I really think we need a bigger tent in L.A. next year.

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