Spirituality knows no borders and Swami Rasananda Das stands testimony to this fact. Formerly known as Hyman Zuckerman, who hails from Canada, Swami Rasananda joined ‘The International Society for Krishna Consciousness’ (ISKON’s) in 1969 in Montreal and since then dedicated his life for spirituality.

As part of his association with ISKON, the Swami builds chariots for “Rath Yathras”. Till now he made 15 chariots around the world and recently made one more for the ‘Sri Jagannath Rath Yatra’, which is scheduled at Neredmet today. The procession will start from Ganesh Temple on Saturday and will conclude at Kushaiguda. Swami Rasananda will be leading the procession.

Recalling his first brush with the cause, Swami Rasananda says, “I was passing by a place and I heard chants. I stopped there listening to it and couldn’t move. I became a devotee on the spot. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada guided me a lot.”

His immense inclination towards engineering pulled him towards making chariots, though he is not a formally trained engineer. “I always had an inclination towards engineering but, I could not pursue it due to personal reasons. In my graduation, I joined ‘Sciences’ and later I studied ‘Medicine’. I was pursuing an internship in ‘Medicine’ when I heard the chants and at that point, I realised that if I became a doctor I would only heal people externally.

However, if I joined the movement, I could heal their soul,” shares Swami Rasananda. “After joining ISKON, I took some formal training in engineering,” he adds. Swami Rasananda visited many institutions of the organisation pan world and across the nation. He first visited Hyderabad in 1975 and stayed for a couple of years finally settling in the city in 2006.

Giving details about the chariot for the ‘Sri Jagannath Rath Yatra’, the Swami says, “It took me a bit longer to construct the chariot this time. I am 73-years-old now and building a 25-tonne structure needs a lot of money. So raising money for the same and things like that took this much time.”
The chariot is 26 ft tall; 9 ft wide and 18 ft long and it weighs 21 tonnes. Rasananda follows Puri (Jagannath Temple, Puri, Odisha) style design for his chariots; he wrote a manual on designing the opulent chariots as well.

“I looked up a number of books of Indian Temple architecture and liked the Puri style. Of course, South Indian architecture is authentic and traditional; however, it is stagnate and has not evolved. Whereas in Puri, it is dynamic,” he opines. Swami Rasananda’s zeal for spirituality is infectious and is mirrored in his followers and the people around him.

“My follower, G Anand helped me a lot in building the chariot for the Rath Yatra. Although, we have been working on it for five years, in essence we put in work summing up to three to four months. When it comes to materials, we ask shopkeepers to donate it to us instead of selling it. Many people came forward and helped us in completing the chariot,” he concludes.

By Navin Pivhal