Huge Rolling Temples

BY: American Vedic Association

The Puri Ratha of 1822

Jul 28, USA (SUN) — RathaYatra: The Festival of the Chariots

The American Vedic Association invites all readers to participate in one of the most celebrated spiritual festivals that originated way back in the history of man. The name of the event is called “RathaYatra” and it was first celebrated thousands of years ago in the state of Orissa India.

What makes this particular event so interesting is that it is one of the oldest parades on record and it’s no small event. Every year the priests of the “Jagannatha” temple build three extremely large parade floats which serve as rolling temples and look like the real “Chariots of the Gods” which is where the festival name of RathaYatra comes from. In Sanskrit the word ‘Ratha’ means ‘Car’ or ‘Chariot’ and the word ‘Yatra’ means ‘festival.’ So in the West, RathaYatra is also appropriately referred to as the “Festival of the Chariots’.

The parade begins when the deities of “Jagannatha, Balarama & Subhadra” ascend to their respective positions on their own custom built Huge Rolling Temple. These huge rolling parade floats extend way into the sky and utilize 7 ft tall hand made wooden wheels for mobility. Lord Jagannatha's chariot has 16 of theses wheels rotating on honed logs while Lord Balarama's cart uses 14 and Lady Subhadra’s has 12.

The parade begins when the admiring devotees, who have come to see the deities, affectionately pull the rolling temple from one end of the City of Jagannatha Puri to the other end where they reside at another significant holy place known as the Gundicha temple. Seven days later there is another grand procession which returns the large deities of the Lord and his associates back to his primary residence until the following year where the annual event is repeated.

The Three Guests of Honor at RathaYatra

The Sanskrit origin for the names of each deity is also significant. “Jagat” means “World” and “Natha” is a term that denotes great respect. In this case, is equivalent to the word “Lord” which gives us a complete translation that literally means “Lord of the Universe.” Lord Jagannatha is a manifestation of Krishna Himself who appears in a very loving and playful mood. Even those who have never seen the Jagannatha Deity before can directly perceive this as soon as they see His large compelling eyes and world famous enchanting candid smile!

Those who are familiar with India’s epic story called the Mahabharata will also recognize the names of Balarama and Subhadra as the brother and sister of Lord Krishna - one of the more prominent personalities portrayed in that epic. “Bala” means “strength and “Rama” is synonymous with the presence of the personality of God as in Lord “Rama” Chandra, Parasur”Rama” and of course the Hare Krishna, Hare”Rama” recommended mahamantra for deliverance.

Subhadra is made up of the Sanskrit root word Subha which means “Good, Auspicious, & Pious activities.” These wonderful qualities describe the character of the Sister of Lord Krishna. Just as the image of Lord Jagannatha is a graphic expression of “Playfulness,” Lord Balarama has a look of great authority and forbearance, while Lady Subhadra enchants her audience with the charm of both beauty and virtuosity.

RathaYatra at Venice Beach California - August 7th, 2005!

Those who really want to experience the spiritual grandeur of India might be tempted to rush off to their travel agent and make reservations to go to Orissa India, but you need not go all the way to Jagannatha Puri and compete with three million other pilgrims, to experience this grand event. No. You can get a powerful taste for this historic festival simply by attending a replicated version of it held in West Los Angeles ALL Day on Sunday, August 8th. At that time, three 40ft tall parade floats will roll on 8ft wheels from the Santa Monica pier to a reception area at the Venice Beach pavilion where there will be an all-day Free festival celebrating the best of India’s art, culture, dance, music, food and philosophy.

The potency of the RathaYatra Festival is inconceivably great. Those who join in this ancient celebration are actually engaging in the highest form of all yoga, because simply by attending, they are engaging in devotional service.

The procession of opulently decorated Huge Rolling temples surrounded by thousands of people chanting and dancing ecstatically to the rhythm of God’s holy name has the power to attract even the most materialistic person. Only the most stone hearted individual will not be moved by this event which has been the catalyst for many to revive the lost love for God.

But What About Idol Worship?

It would be misleading not to acknowledge that some Westerners simply do not understand the excessive attention given to the presiding RathaYatra Deities. Some mistakenly consider it to be equivalent to the type of Idol worship condemned in the 2nd of the ten Biblical commandments which reads:

    "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image.” - Bible. Exodus 20. Text 4. Ten Commandments: Commandment Two.

It is easy to understand how those who do not know the history of Krishna, Balarama and Subhadra and have also been conditioned by several hundred years of misinformation about this particular Biblical reference might find it hard to fully appreciate the transcendental magic of RathaYatra. What few people realize is that idol worship means the glorification of a randomly chosen mundane material object, like a Crystal, a Pyramid, or any graphic representation of God that does not concur with an authorized description of what He looks like from a bonfire religious scripture.

This is a good example of where the Bible falls a bit short of providing a comprehensive understanding about the personality of God. It acknowledges that He has a personality, but it provides very little information about what He looks like, where He lives, and what His day to day pastimes are. Without that information it is a bit difficult to make a deity of God based on descriptions found in the Bible. None-the-less, the advantages of giving the eyes something to look at when one wants to focus the mind on God is so beneficial, that in nearly every church there is some physical object in the main sanctuary portraying the crucifixion of Lord Christ.

The Bible does give a lot of details about the different pastimes of Lord Christ so any nicely sculpted rendering of Jesus engaging in one of those pastimes consistent with those descriptions would be properly considered to be a “Deity” of Lord Christ.

The same principal applies to all of the thousands of deities created to remind us of the different pastimes of Lord Krishna. What He looks like and His activities are thoroughly described throughout the Vedas, the oldest and most comprehensive of all religious scriptures. That is what makes all the deities carefully rendered according to those descriptions no different than Krishna Himself, including the ones that ride on the Huge Rolling Temples at the RathaYatra festival.

Thousands of Bona-fide Krishna Deities!

Consequently, all over India there are thousands of deities found in Krishna temples erected by millions of people who acknowledge Him to be the original God, one without a second. Krishna is the source and sustainer of all entities, be they Christian, Hindu, Muslim, Jew, atheist, or even from the lower animals and plants species. He Himself declares this very point in the Bhagavad-Gita where he declares that He is the father of all living entities.

    “O son of Prtha, know that I am the original seed of all existences, the intelligence of the intelligent, and the prowess of all powerful men.” - Bhagavad-Gita Gita As It Is, Chapter 14 - “Knowledge of the Absolute”. Text 4.

    “It should be understood that all species of life, O son of Kunti, are made possible by birth in this material nature, and that I am the seed-giving father.” - Bhagavad-Gita Gita As It Is, Chapter 14 - “The three modes of material nature. Text 4.

Even the more advanced forms of life such as the demigods are under Krishna’s control. The only difference is that, although they are sometimes prone to forget this fact, they tend to be more aware of Krishna’s presence than we are because of their more developed consciousness. This is dramatically evident in the prayers of the first progenitor, Lord Brahma. His appreciation for Krishna has been nicely preserved in the fifty verses of the fifth chapter of the Brahma-samhita. There Lord Brahma describes in great detail the appearance, pastimes, and super-excellence of Lord Krishna:

    "Krishna, also known as Govinda, is the Supreme Godhead. He has an eternal, blissful spiritual body. He is the origin of all. He has no other origin, and He is the prime cause of all causes." - Sri Brahmasamhita, Chapter 5, Text 1.

Moreover, it is stated in Vedic scripture that Krishna appears in the incarnation known as arca-vigraha, the Deity form, just so the devotee may worship Him easily in His personal form. Because in our conditioned state, it is not possible for us to see Krishna in His original two handed spiritual form holding a flute. So to assist us in focusing our attention on Him, He kindly appears in the natural elements such as wood or brass or oil paint. The Deity incarnates in this way just so the devotees can worship Him, dress Him, offer Him foodstuffs and look upon His grace-giving countenance. This is not a matter of imagination; rather, it is Krishna’s grace. God is so kind that He becomes pliable to the devotees' worship. He allows the devotees to feed Him, and whatever they offer Him with love and prayers, He accepts:

    ‘Even if one offers Me with love and devotion a leaf, a flower, fruit or water, I will accept it. - Bhagavad-Gita Gita As It Is, Chapter 9 - “The most confidential knowledge.” Text 26

    Similarly, the Lord is pleased to ride in the Huge Rolling Temples built by his devotee so he can be seen by everyone. We therefore hope that all the readers of this newsletter try to understand the transcendental nature of the Rathayatra Festival. God actually agrees to ride on the Rathayatra cart in His form as the Deity and in this way everyone who attends becomes blessed just by seeing him.

Each of us are free to believe or not believe as we like, but Jagannatha, Balarama and Subhadra, will ride on their chariots to awaken the love for God that lies dormant in everyone’s heart regardless of how we interpret it. Those who willingly attend any one of the many RathaYatra festivals held in major cities around the world with an open mind will no-doubt get a taste of the divine love we all hanker for. This is why we hope you will accept this invitation and join us at Venice beach on August 7th, 2005 to experience that emotion for your self!

Further References:

To see several historic photos and sketches of the original RathaYatra festival of Orissa India please click here.

For more information about the History of RathaYatra: please click here.



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