Once a familiar sight in airports, these days the Hare Krishna sect is doing it big:  if you want to have a festival, rent an island.

In this case it was Belle Isle, and the event was the annual Rathayatra Festival of Chariots.

Celebrated all over the world, Rathayatra is the International Society for Krishna Consciousness' biggest street festival, and in the Detroit version features a huge, wooden chariot pulled by hand and accompanied by singing, chanting, drumming, cymbals, and dancing. It ends with a stage show and a free vegetarian prasadam feast.  Although thousand turned out on the crystal clear September Saturday to join in the infectious joy of the Hare Krishna, it is amazing that this colorful and happy festival is not better known throughout Metro Detroit.

In India, Rathayatra is a major Hindu festival associated with Lord Jagannath, and is held at Puri in the state of Orissa during the months of June or July, which is typically the rainy season. Most of Puri’s society is based around the worship of Jagannath (Krishna), with the ancient temple being the fulcrum of the area. The festival commemorates Krishna's return to His home in Vrindavan after a long period of separation from the people there.  Many Krishna devotees from all over the world attend the festival, just as Detroit’s Rathayatra festival saw participants from as far away as San Francisco and West Virginia, where many are members of the live in New Vrindaban, a spiritual farm community.

Unlike most local festival commemorating a particular faith, holiday or ethnic background, the core of Rathayatra seems to be a simple celebration of life.  ‘Life Comes From Life’ is a Krishna phrase, and a partial explanation for the magnificent free vegetarian feast provided.  Happiness seems to animate these colorful devotees, who eschew meat eating.

“When the cows are happy, Krishna is happy,” they’ll tell you.

"My dear earthly planet, how many austerities and penances you must have undergone to have the lotus feet of Krishna always touching your surface."





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