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Devotees gather about Lord Balarama, Lady Subhadra and Lord Jagannath at the St. Augustine Rathayatra parade. (Photo by Sheldon Gardner)

Devotees will stage their fourth annual Daytona Beach (Florida) Rathayatra parade on Saturday, May 26. The parade begins at 10 a.m. at the Holiday Inn, 903 Atlantic Avenue, and goes to Sun Splash Park, 601 S. Atlantic Avenue, for a free feast and cultural program that lasts till 3 p.m. Daytona Beach mayor, His Worship Glenn Ritchey, will inaugurate the parade and officiate at this festival, which draws about a thousand participants each year.

There will be lots of family-friendly activities and live music entertainment at Sun Splash Park, including the famous Mayapuris dance and music troupe, classical Indian dance and a table with books on Indic spirituality. The big draw this year is the Festival of India, along with delicious vegetarian food. There will be a sumptuous feast served free of charge to all. All are welcome; free admission.

The procession route is about a mile long and can be easily walked by all age groups. The parade will move in a leisurely fashion, stopping here and there along the route, giving way to song and dance. The procession’s unique feature is a huge chariot with a blue, red and yellow canopy decorated with swans, lotus flowers, flags, Hanuman and a brass chakra on top.

This chariot has two very thick ropes attached that are over 100 feet (30 metres) long. Parade-goers may take turns pulling on the ropes, propelling the chariot along the parade route. Riding on the Chariot are the beautiful Deities of Jagannath, Baladeva and Subhadra, decorated with stunning silk outfits and real flowers. Accompanying the procession is lively Indian music and dancing, backed by double-headed mrdanga drums and karatala hand cymbals. It's an ecstatic, exciting event — a vision from another world.

The festival is sponsored by the Alachua branch of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, whose Founder Acharya, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, came to America from India some 45 years ago and introduced the timeless tradition of the Chariot Festival (called Rathayatra in India). The original Rathayatra Parade held in Puri, India, is believed to be the oldest known parade in the world.

Since the '60s this festival has been held yearly in over 100 major cities in the United States, Canada and around the world. Nine Rathayatras are held yearly in the state of Florida alone: Miami, Jacksonville Beach, Tallahassee, Orlando, Tampa, Gainesville, Daytona Beach, Clearwater Beach and St. Augustine.

For news coverage of this year's Florida Rathayatra festivals:

"Decorated chariot rolls through St. Augustine" (St. Augustine Record, March 24)

"Ratha Yatra Parade and festival comes to Clearwater Beach" (Tampa Bay Times, April 27)

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