ISKCON celebrates the Rathayatra festival in London

ISKCON celebrates the Rathayatra festival in London

By Antonia Filmer | 23 July, 2016
London’s Rathayatra festival is one of the largest annual Hindu gatherings in Britain. Photo: @TheWeeklyBull

The International Society of Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) was founded in New York by A.C Bhaktivedanta Swami Srila Prabhupada in 1966, and celebrates its 50th anniversary this year with 52 nationwide events in the UK. Last week in a gesture of appreciation to the City of London for making the Hare Krishna community feel so welcome, 5,000 anniversary cupcakes were handed out at London’s five major railway stations. The chocolate cupcakes made by Govinda were purely vegetarian, with no eggs and the milk of protected cows, in line with ISKCON’s commitment to Ahimsa.

London’s Rathayatra festival, “the festival of chariots” is one of the largest annual Hindu gatherings in Britain. From the ISKCON temple in Soho, true to historical texts the unfinished wooden carvings of the deities Lord Jagganath, Lady Subhadra and Lord Baladeva‘s chariots were pulled on ropes, by their devotees stopping the traffic in the busy streets of London, until they reached their position outside The National Gallery in Trafalgar Square. It was a colourful and family occasion with tents offering everything from yoga, spiritual information, puppet shows and deity face painting, about 20,000 plates of prashadam were served made in the kitchens at Bhaktivedanta Manor, cooked by devotees led by Parasurama Das. On the centre stage Avatari Devi, the beautiful dancer with a beautiful soul, performed an Odissi dance and the Mantra Choir team were recording some contributions to their Jayadev mantra, which aims to combine 1008 singing choices (1008 symbolising the Dharmic and astrologically significant number) in hymnal reverence. Mantra Choir have a website where devotees can add their virtual voice from wherever they are.

It was a colourful and family occasion with tents offering everything from yoga, spiritual information, puppet shows and deity face painting.

The atmosphere is 100% festive and the dress code is…. Imaginative.  It was a rare sunshine day and  celebrants were not just in western shorts and T-shirts or saffron/white saris, dhotis and kurtas but also wearing elaborately decorated and accessorised fusions of Indian traditional clothing and British eccentricity worn by both men and women, the effect is fun and in the spirit of celebrating diversity and unity, love and peace.

There are about 100,000 Hare Krishna followers in UK, all faith and all creeds are accepted into the community, the idea is to be the best Catholic/ Protestant/ Muslim/ Jew/ Dharmic you can be, the ISKCON values are to live life to render service without taking or expecting anything in return and to have propriety.

Pragosh Dasa is the head of ISKCON UK and Chairman of ISKCON GBC (Governing Body Commission). The GBC was a committee established by Srila Prabhupada as the ultimate managing authority and to look after the different aspects of the society. Pragosh is from Dublin and like most Irish and many Indians he talks at 100mph, and is very good value informationally; before answering my perfunctory questions about the Hare Krishna movement he told an anecdote about how he was asked in Northern Ireland if he was Catholic or a Protestant disciple of Srila Prabhupada. He also mentioned that the Brexit decision might make it difficult and more expensive to distribute the 1 million books that Hare Krishna sell over a year, he was concerned about tariffs being imposed on spiritual literature. Pragosh also worries about the concept of a visa, he believes eternal spiritual being are not demarcated by geography “if you are a nationalist you are in effect claiming a land which to be yours; proprietorship is fundamental to division and conflict”.

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