By Krishna-kripa Das
One of the most visible and popular festivals celebrated by Hare Krishna devotees, Ratha-yatra, came for the first time to Puerto Rico, on December 27, 2014. Lord Jagannath, rode through the streets of Old San Juan, accompanied by His brother, Baladev, and sister, Subhadra. The weather was ideal, sunny and warm.
When His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada brought this Hare Krishna movement to the West, Jagannath was in fact the first Deity to appear. The day before the Puerto Rico Ratha-yatra, Malati Devi, disciple of Srila Prabhupada, gave a wonderful class telling about the appearance of Lord Jagannath and His Ratha-yatra festival in the Hare Krishna movement in San Francisco in 1967.
Malati told us that in March 1967, she was shopping at Cost Plus Imports in San Francisco, and was attracted by some carved wooden figures that were made in India. She spontaneously popped a blackish one in her bag. Later when Shyamasundara and Mukunda showed the figure to Srila Prabhupada, he surprised them by greeting the figure with joined palms in obeisance. He inquired about the origins of the figure, and Malati explained. He asked if there were more, and she said there was a white one and a yellow one. Srila Prabhupada asked that she get them. He explained about Lord Jagannath, who was a form of Krishna, Lord Baladev, His brother, and Lady Subhadra, his sister, and expressed his desire that a devotee carve a larger replicas of them for worship.
Malati explained, “Shyamasundar liked wood and worked with wood, but he had not carved anything before. Still when Srila Prabhupada wanted someone to carve a large Jagannath from wood, he immediately agreed to do it. We were able to do things beyond our normal scope by the mercy of Srila Prabhupada. Because Prabhupada told us the story about how the original Jagannath was carved from a log from the ocean, we decided to find a log from the ocean to carve Lord Jagannath. There was a salvage company that sold things found in the San Francisco Bay, so we went there. We told the guy in charge what we wanted, and he said to look around for it, and so we did. We found a large log, and were ready to go, but the guy in charge was no longer around, so we just left with it.
“Prabhupada said he would remain in San Francisco until Shyamasundar finished carving Jagannath. So Shyamasundar decided he would carve very slowly so Srila Prabhupada would stay with us longer. When Srila Prabhupada unexpectedly came by our apartment to inspect the carving work, on the head of Subhadra was a pack of cigarettes. Shyamasundar said with genuine feeling, ‘I am sorry about the cigarettes.’ Srila Prabhupada said, ‘Yes, smoking is so hard to give up, but don’t let such a small thing as a stick of tobacco stand between you and your relationship with Krishna.’ With a flick of his walking stick he knocked the cigarette pack off the head of Subhadra. Then he gave Shyamasundar a practical strategy – to smoke one less cigarette each day until he was finished, and so he did.
“Srila Prabhupada explained that now the Lord Jagannatha had come they should observe the Ratha-yatra festival. The Skanda Purana gives a fixed date for Ratha-yatra, the second day of the bright fortnight in the month of Ashada [June-July], and the first one in 1967 in San Francisco was done on that day.”
Malati shared some of Srila Prabhupada instructions about the festival: “Srila Prabhupada wanted profuse prasadam distribution. He said, ‘The cart is not different from Lord Jagannath. By decorating the cart, we are decorating our heart.’ He also explained, ‘Just looking at the cart is auspicious or touching the rope, touching at the cart.” Malati Devi also advised the devotees: “During the Ratha-yatra, interact with the public, smile at them, wave at them, and inspire them to take part.”
Paseo de la Princesa was a good place for the festival because it is part of a tourist section of Old San Juan and tourists both from Puerto Rico and abroad stroll through that area of the town. Many copies of the Spanish version of “On Chanting Hare Krishna” were distributed. We had a book table at our festival site that was practically always busy throughout the day.
Bhadra Prabhu hopes to make Ratha-yatra in Puerto Rico between Christmas and New Years a yearly event. For information on this coming year’s Ratha-yatra in Puerto Rico and those in North and Central Florida, check out his web site: www.festivalofchariots.org