Lord Baladev being paraded from the temple by devotee. Photo by Iskcon
Reimagining the Indian Festival of the Chariots required protective masks, drive-through worship, and to-go boxes as the Hare Krishnas honored the Lord of the Universe.
The Ratha Yatra, or Indian Festival of the Chariots, should have overtaken a large portion of Venice Beach on July 2, as it has every year. This year the pandemic made a gathering of such proportions impossible.
Prior to social distancing, the celebration, conducted by the International Society of Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), has involved three four-story chariots bedecked in flowers being pulled by festival goers from the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium to the Ocean Front Walk Plaza. The chariots carry a trinity of deities and their attendants. At the final Venice Beach destination, approximately 40,000 celebrants gather to spend the day honoring Lord Jaganath, the Lord of the Universe, his older brother, Baladev, and his younger sister, Subhadra. Obviously, this could not happen in 2020.
The Ratha Yatra was brought to the United States in 1967 by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, the founder of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, better known to most as the Hare Krishnas. It has been held in Los Angeles every year since 1977, but because of COVID-19, it had to be completely reimagined.
On July 30, 2020, everyone on the templeâ€™s mailing list received an announcement that Ratha Yatra would go on, sort of. The main chariot would be parked in the lot of the Culver City temple, and the deities would be carried by devotees from the temple to the chariot. Darshan, the opportunity to view the deities, would be conducted on a drive-through basis. Each car would get one minute in front of the chariot, and then it would be ushered forward to receive free prasad, food offered first to the deities and then served, on this occasion, in to-go boxes.