Plans Afoot for Festival of Chariots

BY: IRENE KUPPAN


Apr 12, SOUTH AFRICA (DAILY NEWS) — At least six months before the Rathayatra - Festival of Chariots - gets under way, Champakalatadasi and her team begin the preparations for one of the biggest cultural events in the country. Now in its 18th year, the festival attracts 200 000 people over the four days.

Hosted by the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, the festival dates back thousands of years to when, in India, three colossal chariots with the deities Jagannath, Baladeva and Subhadra were paraded through the main streets.

Over the years the festival has been celebrated in most major cities of the world, including Durban.

The local event involves more than just the chariots, with entertainment in the form of music, dance, a fireworks display, food demonstrations, book stalls and meditation demonstrations.

While what visitors to the local festival see is an extravaganza of culture, entertainment and parades, the logistics in putting the event together can be a nightmare.

Champakalatadasi, one of the organisers of the event, said preparations for the event began at least six months before the festival itself, which takes place over the Easter weekend.

"As soon as the festival ends, we have to book the site for the next year. Months before the festival we meet with various role-players involved. We've got to meet with the department of health, parks and recreation, refuse removal, fire department, SAPS and Metro Police."

She said that the route for the parade had to be carefully planned and the police needed to be consulted to ensure that traffic disruptions were kept to a minimum.

"The greatest hurdle in putting together the festival is all the red tape you have get through before things are finalised," said Champakalatadasi.

During the festival, meals are distributed to people at no cost over the four days. Champakalatadasi said that it felt as if they were catering for an "entire army".

"We have about 200 people, most of them volunteers, helping with the cleaning of vegetables, serving of meals and other arrangements. All the devotees work on a roster so there are always people to help with the meals," she said.

At least 30 tents are put up in the week before the festival to accommodate all the stalls and entertainment areas. Champakalatadasi said that the budget for the festival was in excess of R1 million and that it had no sponsorships from corporates.

"All the money comes from well-wishers in the community," she said.

The Festival of Chariots takes place at the Durban's North Beach, on the former Military Museum grounds from Friday, April 14 to Monday, April 17.

Champakalatadasi said that this year's chariot parade would start from the City Hall at 10.30am on Saturday and end at the beachfront.

All other events take place at North Beach and admission to the festival is free.



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