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More than 2,000 people gathered for the Rath Yatra festival Sept. 17 at the Daley Plaza in downtown Chicago as part of the national kickoff celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, better known as the Hare Krishna Movement.Prior to the advent of ISKCON movement Jagannath and the “Ratha Yatra” were relatively unknown in the West. However, after its founding, A. C. Bhaktivedanta, founder of ISKCON popularized the festival when he selected Jagannath as one of the chosen forms of Krishna, installing an idol of Jagannath in ISKCON temples around the world. Today the “Ratha Yatra” festival is celebrated by ISKCON in many cities in the West where they are popular attractions.

The yatra, or the parade, which started from Clark and Adams streets, featured a colorful 40-foot chariot decorated with thousands of flowers, with “Lord Jagannath” the presiding deity of the festival placed in the center.

Hundreds of devotees, pulled the chariot by hand across large city blocks, dancing, playing drums and cymbals and euphorically chanting the mantra “Hare Krishna Hare Rama.” It was an eye-catching spectacle as many Chicagoans watched the procession and took to their phones to capture pictures.

The yatra concluded in Daley Plaza where religious ceremonies were performed by Romapada Swami and included arti, and food offering of 56 items to Lord Jagannath prior to the commencement of a free fun-filled afternoon for families which included a spectacular kirtan, devotional singing performance by Gauravani Buchwald; classical Odisi by Sigma, and performances by Natya Dance Theater depicting the stories of Sri Krishna.

Romapada Swami, member of governing body commission of ISKCON and Chicago area dignitaries – Clerk of Cook County, Dorothy Brown, Chicago 49th District Alderman Joe Moore, and Chicago philanthropist and trustee of FIA Chicago Iftekar Shareef, spoke about the impact of the “Hare Krishna” movement in the their state, district and personal lives.

Romapada Swami talked to Desi Talk Chicago in an interview about ISKCON’s 50th Anniversary and the organization’s vast growth and goals for the next 50 years.
“Two things are very important to highlight, when an organization endures for 50 years, at least here in America, it is taken as We are here to stay because often times after a great personality establishes an organization and passes away, things change. Here in ISKCON there is still a continuation and growth. For us the 50th anniversary is a time for celebration and communication.

The communication part is the “Rath Yatra” which is a message of the mercy of Lord Jagannath for everybody. Just like in celebrations in Puri, our founder very much wanted this Rath Yatra all over the world so that people can experience his mercy and so here we are; we need to celebrate the mercy of Lord Jagannath being given to millions across the world, ” said Romapada.

“There are areas of the world where ISKCON is expanding explosively and when an organization expands so vastly, my personal concern as a leader is making sure we are maintaining the purity of the principles and teachings through the Bhagavad Gita and teachings of Prabhupada and then surely everything will be fine” commented Romapada.

The Daley center was surrounded by booths providing information on topics such as Sri Krishna, ISCKON vegetarianism, reincarnation, meditation, yoga, handicrafts, idols of worship, and henna application. There was also an activity center, especially for children where they could make arts and crafts related to Sri Krishna.
“ Although I am not a member of ISKCON I wanted to bring my children to see and learn all about our culture, and it was great fun for them, I hope that this will make them more inclined to learn about our culture and religion ” shared one of the attendees.

The 50th anniversary celebrations will continue later this year with Rath Yatra parades in cities worldwide, including San Francisco, Washington D.C., Los Angeles, London, and Paris, and gala events at the Sydney Opera House, European Parliament, and other major venues.