The “Festival of the Chariots” (Rathayatra Festival) involves a parade with people pulling three chariots by ropes throughout Golden Gate Park. It also includes free vegetarian feast, live music, ancient Indian dances, etc. Thousands of people have reportedly been attending these free festivities in the past.
This parade is organized by International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) Berkeley (New Jagannatha Puri). ISKCON Berkeley Temple, said to be one of the ISKCON’s oldest temples in the world, opens daily at 04-30 am with Mangal Arati and holds Tulsi ((Holy Basil, Ocimum tenuiflorum) Puja (worship) everyday. Jagannatha Swami Dasa is the Temple President. According to ISKCON, Lord Krishna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, or God.
Meanwhile, distinguished Hindu statesman Rajan Zed, in a statement in Nevada today, commended efforts of the organizers and San Francisco area community to realize this wonderful festival, said to be exhibiting the richness of Hinduism.
Rajan Zed, who is President of Universal Society of Hinduism, further said that it was important to pass on Hindu spirituality, concepts and traditions to coming generations amidst so many distractions in the consumerist society. Zed stressed that instead of running after materialism; we should focus on inner search and realization of Self and work towards achieving moksh (liberation), which was the goal of Hinduism.
Rath Yatra is said to be the oldest known parade in the world and it is believed that pullers of this Lord Jagannatha’s chariot receive immense spiritual benefit. Popularized outside India by ISKCON founder A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, this annual parade festival has reportedly been held annually in over 100 cities around the world since 1967.
The original Ratha Jatra is held on a grand scale in Puri (Odisha, India), where the presiding deities of Sri Mandira—Jagannatha, Balabhadra and Subhadra—with celestial wheel Sudarshana are driven on the chariots to about two miles north Gundicha temple in an elaborate ritual procession, where the huge colorfully decorated chariots are drawn by thousands of devotees. After a stay for seven days, the deities return to their abode in Sri Mandira. A glimpse of Lord Jagannatha on the chariot is considered to be highly auspicious and even a touch of the chariot is believed to yield benefits equivalent to several pious deeds. Many poets have written its glories. This year, it was held on June 25.
Rajan Zed points out that ancient Hindu scripture Katha Upanishad talks about the concept of chariot, where soul is the deity, body is the chariot, and intellect the charioteer. Skanda Purana glorifies Rath Jatra’s sanctity.