Clearwater Beach Festival of Chariots and Ratha Yatra 2017
Saturday, May 6, 2017: A group of four of us drove the 168 miles from Alachua, Florida to Clearwater Beach, Florida. It was very beautiful as we drove for miles across Old Tampa Bay with the ocean on both sides of the road. As we neared the venue I saw Clearwater Beach Mayor George Cretekos walking down the street with a huge maha flower garland around his neck, and looking happy. Narayani devi dasi later told me that when he spoke at the Ratha Yatra opening ceremony a few minutes earlier, he had thanked the devotees for coming every year and purifying the negative elements at Clearwater Beach.
Arriving at the venue, Pier 60, we had to wait 20 minutes for a parking spot, but we could see that this was one of the best locations for a Ratha Yatra in the state of Florida, due to the crowds of people drawn to this particular beach every weekend.
We were able to chant bhajans in the big pavilion that was provided for us, and as the Ratha cart with Jagannath, Baladeva & Srimati Subhadra Devi was returning from Their chariot ride on the beach, we joined in, helping the myriad of devotees pull the ropes, pulling God back into our hearts. It was particularly enjoyable as the chariot was rolling through balmy, shallow ocean water part of the way.
There were hundreds of devotees; we set up Their Lordships inside the pavilion, so They could watch the cultural program along with the crowd. Simultaneously, hundreds of plates of Ekadasi prasadam were passed out, with two continuous lines for three hours. It was sumptuous and very well-cooked.
Anapayani devi had six of her students perform a stunning rendition to Chakrini’s version of Om Namo Narayanaya. It was totally transcendental and sublime. Some of the Tampa Indian children danced; later the Alachua devotees put on a play. Finally, the Mayapuris, headed by Vishvambara Sheth, had the entire beach rocking to the melodies of the Holy Names: Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare. Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
Ratha Yatras are always amazing and wonderful events, but I was trying to pinpoint why this venue felt more auspicious than usual to me. I did not realize the answer until the next day when Shranti devi informed me that Their Lordships Radha Damodar had presided at the exact same venue, Pier 60, when His Holiness Vishnujana Swami and the traveling party brought Then there over forty years ago! One of our godbrothers, Akincana Krishna Prabhu, got his first Bhagavad-gita there around that time, and the books have been distributed there ever since. These things happened because of the inspiration of our Founder-Acharya, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada; one of his main goals in coming to America was to hold Ratha Yatras everywhere for the benefit of the living entities. For this reason Bhadra Prabhu and the Festival of Chariots organize at least seven or eight Ratha Yatras each year throughout Florida. Jagannath, Baladeva and Subhadra Devi ki Jaya!
Written by Nartaka Gopala dasi