By Shyama Darshani dasi

Stepping out of the bus, the salty ocean air hit me in a wave. Tampa Bay was host to the Gasparilla Pirate Festival this January afternoon. Every way I looked I saw red and black. Young and old were all dressed in costume. Amidst this crowd was the Lord of the pirates – Jagannath Swami on His chariot!

Lord Jagannath’s devotees were no less dressed up. Eighty youth from ISKCON Alachua wore bright, vibrant, colored-coordinated outfits with Harinam chaddars draped over their shoulders. Flower garlands and Ratha Yatra pins adorned each devotee. The most attractive feature of the youth was their ear-to-ear smiles that mirrored the Lord of the universe.

Stationed in four straight lines, the youth were the only to dance the entire 4 ½ miles of the parade. The kirtan roared above all the other music and got everyone smiling and shouting. The crowds feasted on the colorful scene of Jagannath and His dancing devotees. The ladies in front swayed seamlessly with choreographed moves. Blissed out pirate onlookers’ shouts of “Beautiful!” “You go girls!” and “I love you guys!” enthused the devotees in their service.

The crowd was interactive and reciprocated with the devotees smiles and lollipop prasadam. Taking pirate necklaces right off their necks, they held them out to garland the devotees. Hands outstretched as far as the eye could see wanting to receive high-fives. Dancers on the exterior rows ran along the crowd touching their hands like a transcendental rock concert. Even the security guards couldn’t hold back a smile and wave as our group passed by.

There is nothing more inspiring than seeing Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s mercy changing people’s lives. The dedicated youth took on that spirit of sharing Jagannath’s mercy and the crowd was ripe to receive it. This parade was a transcendental party worth remembering.

As featured on /