The Festival of The Chariots has become an integral part of the April calendar in Durban, the holiday city on the East Coast of South Africa.
Durban, a city of over three million people is a vibrant, cosmopolitan city with one of the largest Indian communities outside of India.
Indians were brought to Durban in the mid 1800s by the British colonial rulers as indentured laborers to work on the sugar plantations. They were nothing more than slaves. The Indians brought with them to Africa the rich cultures, cuisine, religions, art, music and dance from India. Now, a decade and a half later, their descendants are some of the most prosperous and respected members of the Durban community.
The Hindu community in Durban has many subdivisions, and the Hare Krishna’s (International Society for Krishna Consciousness) are one of them. Settled at the magnificent Temple of Understanding, with its superb vegetarian restaurant Govinda’s in Chatsworth, the Hare Krishna’s are very much a respected part of the city’s diverse community.
Rathyatra spreads across the world
Rathayatra is celebrated by devotees of Lord Krishna and other people who want peace, all over the world since it was introduced to the west in 1967 in San Francisco by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and his first American disciples.
It is known that every year, for thousands of years now, this tradition has continued unrivaled in its opulence. An annual event, dating back to ancient times, the Festival of the Chariots draws pilgrims from all parts of the globe, by the millions, to celebrate the glories of God and is one of the oldest continuously celebrated festivals in the world.
Jaganatha Puri is an Indian temple city
To fully comprehend this tradition, we must travel to the ancient land of India. In the state of Orissa, located on the eastern coast of India, to a city by the name of Jagannatha Puri where a festival is carried out that leaves one awe-struck.
Over a million people gather annually within this ancient city of Jagannatha Puri, the temple town in Orissa, to celebrate Rathayatra: The Festival of the Chariots.
To set the scene: picture three giant chariots which each measure about 45 feet high looming over the streets of Jagannatha Puri. Sitting majestically on these chariots are deity-forms of the Lord and His siblings, the presiding deities of the main temple, Sri Mandira, Lord Jagannatha, Lord Balabhadra and Goddess Subhadra.
Every year, this great festival of Rathayatra, which stemmed from Jagannatha Puri, is now celebrated in the major cities of North America, in the capitals of Europe, in South America, Africa, and Australia. People from all faiths attend the festival, all around the world, which has drawn millions upon millions to Jagannatha Puri for thousands of years.
Jagannath is also the etymological origin of the English word ‘Juggernaut’ for those who are interested.
The attraction of the Festival of the Chariots for non-Hindus seems to be the love, peace and harmony of all people that this festival symbolizes and of course the delicious Krsna-prasadam (the free food ) that uplifts souls and purifies spirits.