After a three-year break, the vibrant Rathayatra is returning to Leicester next weekend, with organisers looking forward to “spreading some joy and love” around the city.
The event, which is now in its 29th year, will take place next Sunday (August 7). It begin at ISKCON, in Granby Street, with a tumultuous welcome ceremony called a pahandi, while the inauguration will commence at 11.30am in the presence of community leaders.
Festival goers from all over the country will hand-pull the 40ft chariot carrying the magnificent Deities of Lord Jagannatha (Krishna), his sister Subhadra, and Lord Balarama through the city centre accompanied by music, singing, and dancing.
The lively procession, with spiritual sounds and instruments from all over the globe, will travel to the city centre along the Golden Mile and finally into Cossington Park.
At Cossington Park, there will be a variety of experiences for the family, including a stage show, mantra meditation, children’s fun activities, and a free vegetarian meal for all.
Nima Suchak, a spokesperson for the event, told the Leicester Times that they were expecting around 10,000 to attend the event, which is the second largest of its kind in Europe.
“We’re all very excited about it. It’s the largest festival that we put on, and it’s really nice to be back engaging in the community after a long break,” she said.
“This festival is always very uplifting, very loud and very colourful, and we’re all looking forward to getting our dancing shoes on, and spreading some joy and love around Leicester!” she added.
Pradyumna Das, President of ISKCON Leicester said the organisation was “over the moon” to finally be able to celebrate Rathayatra in Leicester again after a three year hiatus.
“This is a joyful festival that brings together people of all backgrounds and communities,” he added.
“On this day, the Lord comes out of the temple to glance upon all people of the city, so it is very special and gives us all an opportunity to recognise our true identity as spirit souls in connection to God and go beyond colour, nationality and even religion. Our essence is spiritual and Rathayatra celebrates that by inviting and including everyone, sharing food and experiencing the Hare Krishna chanting.”
The traditional Jagannatha Rathayatra is a celebration over 5000 years-old, observed in the ancient holy city of Jagannatha Puri in Orissa, India, making it the oldest street festival in the world. Devotees believe that if they get the honour of pulling the ropes of the giant chariot, carrying Lord Krishna, known as Jagannatha – Lord of the Universe, then at the end of this life, they will be granted a place in the spiritual world. Rathayatra in Puri attracts crowds of of over 15 million people.
This ancient festival was first brought to Western shores in 1967 by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami, Founder-Acarya of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness. Since then, this festival has become a popular cultural event in major cities around the world. Leicester is proud to host the second largest such celebration in Europe.