Ratha Yatra: Window into Philly’s Indian Culture

Jeremy Del Valle

After a serene nap on the luscious grass of Rittenhouse Square it was time to move towards Ratha Yatra or The Parade of Chariots, The Indian Festival. The Philadelphia version of this event is in motion every year in the early weeks of September by the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) of Philadelphia.

The movement, more colloquially known as The Hare Krishna movement as well as simply Krishna Consciousness, is a Gaudiya Vaishnava Hindu religious organization founded by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada in New York City in 1966. The focus of ISKCON is devotional worship (bhakti) of Radha and Krishna. The Ratha Yatra, which literally means Chariot Festival, is celebrates Lord Krishna’s return to Vrindaban.

Originating 5,000 years ago on the East Coast of India in a city called Jagannatha Puri, Lord Jagannath is considered a Form of Vishnu, or his avatar Krishna. Jagannath can be translated to English as “Lord of the Universe.” This deity, fashioned from neem wood and brightly painted, along with deities Lord Balarama and Lady Subhadra each occupied their own chariot with canopies overtop, decorated beautifully with flowers and balloons. These were pulled by hundreds of people with long thick ropes. Accompanying the three chariots were devotees, dancing ecstatically, chanting the lord’s holy names:

Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare

Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.


This parade, a rainbow of sound, set sail at the renowned landmark Love Park, and worked its way down Benjamin Franklin Parkway, finally culminating fantastically at the front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art at Eakins Oval. Once here, the chanting and dancing moved to a centrally located tent while educational tents offered insightful information on various topics such as vegetarianism and reincarnation.hare-krishna-festival

The tents outlined the border directly across from the main one full of chanting energy. On the opposite side were vendors, the most welcoming of people selling goods. Sale items ranged from paintings to blankets. One in particular was a small press book organization specializing in books by fellow members of the Krishna Consciousness movement.

The Ratha Yatra helps put the vastly diverse culture of Philadelphia into perspective, showing that specific niches of the City’s society can express themselves in such a huge way. All that is required for attendees is a little digging or a quick Facebook event search provides numerous diverse events. Philadelphians should take the opportunity to broaden their horizons and perhaps even pick up new knowledge along the way.

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