Philadelphia Ratha Yatra Report to Srila Prabhupada
Posted October 24, 2011
“We're fortunate to have what is probably the most beautiful parade route and festival site on the east coast. The most enlivening feature of Ratha Yatra for me is the energetic, creative, and responsible participation of so many of our congregation members who fantastically organized everything from the fleet of children's Ratha Yatra carts in the parade to the various workshops on yoga, meditation, and kirtan at the festival sites. I'm especially pleased by the huge participation we had in producing what many festival-goers claimed to be the best Ratha Yatra feast they've ever tasted." – Ravindra Svarupa prabhu, TP
To alert as many Philadelphians as possible to the Jagannatha Ratha Yatra Festival, the RY communications team took the campaign to the streets, having our best graphic designers created powerful images of Lord Jagannatha. His smiling face then appeared with a festival invitation on a billboard over I-95 near downtown Philadelphia, where over 100,000 cars travel past each day. Sixty RY posters were mounted on city buses and trains, which included large images of Lord Jagannatha posted on the exterior of eight center city buses. Even now, two weeks past our event, Lord Jagannath is still traversing the city, traveling through the bus routes downtown, bestowing His blessings on the on-lookers.
On top of the Philadelphia Electric Company (PECO) skyscraper in center city, a revolving lighted RY invitation ran for three days and nights, seen for miles around the city.
Our team’s desire was to provide as much exposure as possible. We ran a full-page color ad in the Philadelphia Daily News, and two full-page color ads in the Metro, a free city paper on two Fridays so the paper would be available in its circulation boxes all weekend. Print and on-line ads were run in two spiritual/holistic magazines with circulations of thousands. These tactics enhanced the standard exposure of the festival through Harinama sankirtana, the Philly RY website, RY souvenir books, posters, postcards, along with e-mail blasts, and Facebook. The whole city was abuzz with Lord Jagannatha sightings and folks anticipating the festival. -Jahnava prabhu and the RY communications team
Book Distribution Report
For a week before the festival, the city had been battered by relentless rain, with no sign of relief. But on the festival day, an overcast but pleasant morning arrived with the balmy breeze. Then, Sri Jagannatha, Sri Baladeva and Srimati Subhadra Maharani appeared to shower their blessings on the people of Philadelphia.
The book distribution team set a goal to distribute 400+ books. To reach the goal, two book distribution seminars preceded the event. At the festival site, books were placed in seven different locations where devotees enthusiastically distributed Srila Prabhupada's books tirelessly from noon till dusk. By the mercy of Sri Sri Guru and Gauranga and the sincere efforts of all devotees, the team distributed 700+ books during the event. The enthusiasm was contagious, inspirational and unifying.
An astonishing number of people searching for inner happiness, relief from anxiety, and understanding of the purpose of life, approached the book tables. One African-American girl who spent half an hour seeking answers to her questions, left with several books and a Meditation Kit. I saw her at the Sunday Feast at the temple the very next day. She said she had been drawn to and deeply touched by how the devotees she met were constantly thinking of and serving Krishna.
A young man from Detroit, now studying at Temple University, approached our booth earnestly seeking to understand his relationship with God. After not being satisfied with what he had learned from Christianity, Buddhism, and other paths, he had started to read Bhagavad-Gita. When a devotee from our team told him about the pastime of Lord Krishna and Sudama brahmana, and how Krishna reciprocates with his devotees, he was surprised to learn that Lord Krishna had other pastimes and he immediately took the Krishna Book, The Science of Self-Realization, and Hidden Glory of India. All in all, about two out of every three people who came to the bookstall bought books. Spreading the mercy of Lord Krishna through Srila Prabhupada’s books was and is an extremely satisfying experience. - Ramcharan prabhu and the book distribution team
“I thought the festival was exceptionally well-organized and very attractive: the devotees around our society should come and take notes. I'm very grateful for the opportunity to have finally made it to a Philly Ratha Yatra and to have been able to make some small contribution to its success. The accommodations were wonderful.” – Hari Kirtana prabhu
Prasadam seva is one of the best places to interact with devotees and the public. I served in the vegan line and also helped my mother serve bhel puri. There was such a wonderful feeling of gratitude that was expressed by devotees and the public alike. They were so happy to be receiving this wonderful food, but little did many of them know they were eating Jagannatha prasad, the best and most delicious of all food. I felt honored to be able to serve them and to be a part of a wonderful team of devotees. It was very inspiring and I cannot wait for next year. My favorite moment was when one of the devotees was looking at all the preparations being served in total amazement! We served over 5000 feast plates: Urad vadas, Chutney, Navaratan Korma, Sweet and Sour vegetable with panir, Rotis, Rice, Srikhand, Dry Fruit Laddu, Halavah, Salad, Chole, and Spring water!– Asha Jyoti devi and the prasadam team
One of the special attractions at the festival site is the Mantra Yoga Tent where we offer free-guided mantra meditation sessions mostly to new people who want to try chanting Hare Krishna. This year we had four sessions lasting thirty minutes each. On an average we had fifteen to twenty participants in each session, and a total of seventy-five participants through the four sessions. Our first session was full even before we set up the tent. While setting up, two young people walked up very excitedly and said they had done this last year and they had a wonderful experience. They wanted to sign up for a session this year too. When they were about to do so they became confused and one of them said softly, “Is this the sign up sheet from last year? Our names are here already”... but soon they started laughing when they realized what had happened. They saw the names of two of their other friends who had signed them up for the session too! It was a moment of conviction and enthusiasm in the holy names that these young people shared with us right there!
During the session the participants were led through deep breathing and relaxation exercises, followed by a brief explanation of the Hare Krishna maha-mantra, which included the meaning, the proper mood to chant and some tips on attentive chanting. Everyone then chanted one round of the Hare Krishna maha-mantra together, trying to apply in practice what he/she had just heard. After this the session was open to questions and comments from the participants. It was inspiring to see how the Hare Krishna mantra had affected people who had such a brief contact with the holy names. Srila Prabhupada always said that Krishna consciousness was scientific. The Mantra Yoga Tent was a dynamic proof of that statement. Each session was like a live laboratory of several individual experiments, which gave consistent results. It certainly strengthened my faith in the holy names. At the end of the session some of the participants walked away with beads and small books of Srila Prabhupada. We have been doing the Mantra Yoga Tent for the past four years, and each time we have been fully enlivened to do it again! - Anindita prabhu and the Mantra Yoga Team
Our second workshop tent consisted of specific topics discussed by senior devotees. The topics included:
Finding True Happiness in a Chaotic World 2pm- 3pm: 23 attendees Balabhadra prabhu
The Yoga of Love 3pm- 4pm: 20 attendees Lakshmi Nrsimha prabhu
Overview and Relevance of the Bhagavad-Gita 4pm- 5pm: 8 attendees Ananda Vilas prabhu
Our third workshop tent was the Yoga Tent, which included demonstrations by Yoga Instructors from various studios around Philadelphia. Participants had the opportunity to actively experience the different forms of yoga practices. Yoga Instructors remained in between sessions to further discuss techniques and philosophy with our enthusiastic crowd.
To entertain their Lordships Sri Sri Jagannath, Baladeva, Subhadra-devi and Panca-tattva, the entertainment team put together a variety of stage programs, beginning with a presentation of Chenda - a traditional and cultural Kerala drum performance to welcome their Lordships from the parade to the festival. This was followed by an Odissi dance, Bharatanatyam, Yoga of Comedy by Yadunath dasa and his wife, Beth, and Kirtan by Amala-Kirtan and team. The stage show concluded with an Arati and prayer to offer the events and services at the lotus feet of Srila Prabhupada and their Lordships, kindly requesting it to be accepted for their pleasure. Jai Jagannath! – Ramana Kumar prabhu and the entertainment team
“This was my first year to participate in Ratha Yatra and be a part of the committee. I can for sure say that I was a fortunate soul as the vaishnavas gave me this opportunity to serve Lord Jagannath. I know there are many devotees who do not have access to this kind of big event. I got the opportunity and felt very happy to serve. I was appointed Vendor Coordinator. People said it would be a difficult job, but with the help of senior devotees and blessings of my Guru the job was simple. The seventeen vendors were happy to come to our event and want to come in the future. I think most of us prayed to Lord Jagannath to make the event a success and He reciprocated.” - Muralidhara Keshava Das
Clean up report
What can I say about the trash? There was a lot of it :-) Many plates of prasadam were served. It was all picked up and the area was left as we found it, if not cleaner. We had nice help from the City workers. Eakins Oval, at the end of the Ben Franklin Parkway, just at the foot of the Art Museum, is a beautiful, spacious spot for a Ratha Yatra. It was nice to have a welcoming letter from the Mayor in our program. Next year, with a little luck, we can do even better and get the Mayor himself to come out. I must admit I had some irritable thoughts late Saturday while finishing the clean-up after a long day. But, I am always inspired by those who do much more and the selfless and cheerful leadership. Thanks for giving me a chance to do some service in this great event. – Bhakta Bob C., Esq.
Site Planning report
As I sat on the steps of the Washington Monument fountain in front of the Art Museum, overlooking Eakins Oval and the ongoing Festival of India, From my vantage point at the fountain, it was amazing to see hundreds of people moving about through the well-orchestrated festival exhibits—from the traditional main festival stage with kirtan and dance, the multimedia reincarnation exhibit, the local favorites of the yoga and mantra meditation tents, to the children’s stage and moonbounce. As I watched the throng of happy Philadelphians flowing from one tent to the next, it was satisfying to see such an organized and beautiful site, all for the glory of Lord Jagannatha. -Kali-pavana prabhu and the site volunteers
We had an adequate number of rooms and sets of bedding. Next year we should arrange for more sheets and one or two fans. Shridhar did a great job cleaning the rooms on the third floor. Anindita was very hospitable and practically took care of the rest. She distributed the bedding as needed in the rooms, handed over the keys to the guests as they showed up, and is now washing the bedding so that it can be stored until next year.
Though everything went well, there were some challenges that we can improve on next year. The room assignments that we made were all changed at the last minute. I think it will be better if I have the contact information for the devotees we are hosting. This way, I can directly confirm with them their arrival and departure times, etc. That would be more efficient. My husband, Venkat and I would like to congratulate all of you for another successful Rathayatra. You should be proud of what you have accomplished here. We look forward to next year. I’d like to include a short note written by my father about his experience of the RY. He is a 76-year-old man going through chemotherapy and is in a lot of pain.. – Surya Kolluru prabhu
The participation in Rathayatra last Saturday was a unique experience. In the past, I had the opportunity of pulling the Chariot at Denver, but never traversed the whole length. But here, the dedication, enthusiasm and steadfastness of the Organizers has truly inspired me to go whole hog, from start to finish. All other arrangements like prasadam distribution, yoga classes, dance recitals, etc. were commendable. The parade was conducted very efficiently and the public response was excellent. The police force did a great job in making the entire program very smooth and enjoyable. The other highlight was the presence of Ben Franklin with Bhagavad-Gita As It Is in his hands - Raju Mamileti
The core Ratha Yatra Committee met weekly for several months in person and via conference calls in an attempt to make the festival both a genuine spiritual experience and lots of fun for attendees of all ages, backgrounds, and persuasions (think kevala ananda kanda). It was noted that the trend around ISKCON lately has been a more enthusiastic involvement with festivals organized by others than with traditional Ratha Yatras. We hope to develop this festival so it is at least on par with the others. An event that will capture the interest, imagination, and involvement of tens of thousands of newcomers and devotees while remaining pleasing to Srila Prabhupada. We welcome the help, input and suggestions from devotees and well-wishers worldwide about how this task might be accomplished. Feel free to write at firstname.lastname@example.org
“I was fortunate to have been in Philadelphia in 1975 when Srila Prabhupada was physically present to help lead the kirtan in the Ratha Yatra Parade. The tradition continues. Every time I attend, I am reminded of that special time with Srila Prabhupada blissfully traveling down the Benjamin Franklin Parkway to the Art Museum Circle, one of the most beautiful locations on the east coast. He encouraged us to follow his lead in recreating the feelings of Radha and Krishna returning to Vrndavana through this festival. Philadelphia's Ratha Yatra is a major Krsna Conscious event for the season and the highlight of my year. I encourage everyone to mark your calendars for next year’s proposed date of September 22, 2012. I'll see you at the parade." - Balabhadra Bhattacharya prabhu
Please view the Philadelphia Ratha Yatra photos at https://picasaweb.google.com/102351137265053950384/PhiladelphiaRathyatra2011?authkey=Gv1sRgCJGUr7XDqLakgwE&feat=email
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