Thousands lined Main Street last Sunday to watch three hand-drawn four-story chariots decorated with flowers parade to Ocean Front Walk Plaza for the 31st Annual Festival of the Chariots.
The annual festival celebrates Lord Krishna’s return to Vrindavan, where he spent his childhood cavorting with the gopis (cow herding gals), playing his flute and falling in love with Radha. It is put on by the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) and dates back thousands of years to Jagannatha Puri, India. His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada brought the tradition to the West in 1967 and today the festival is celebrated in major cities throughout the world.
Every year the chariots are restored for both safety and beauty. They were originally engineered 31 years ago by Jayanada Dasa, the father of the Festival of the Chariots, to be facsimiles of the ancient festival chariots. The 25-foot solid wood chariots are colorfully decorated with Indian textiles and flower garlands made out of roses, carnations, marigolds and Hawaiian plumeria. The chariots are drawn down the parade route by people pulling 20-foot jute ropes. Each year the Deity of Jagannatha – Krishna’s incarnation as Lord of the Universe – as well as some Brahmins (Indian Priests) rides in the chariots.
Fundraising for the event begins in April of each year when coin banks are distributed to the Hare Krishna community throughout Southern California. According to Janice Gunn, Communications Director of the Hare Krishna Los Angeles Temple, this year’s festival cost $100,000. She also mentioned there are about 200,000 Hare Krishna followers in Southern California.
In addition to the chariot parade, the festival included entertainment on three stages from Viji Prakash and the Shakti Dance Company; Vishnu, a classical Odissi dancer; Karnamrta, an Indian modern-classical singing artist; and Gauravani and his east Indian rock band. There were also cultural exhibits including Indian arts, vegetarianism and animal rights as well as a free feast prepared for 10,000 people.
Gaura Nga Kishore came from West Virginia for the festival since “it’s wonderful every year and a great way to spend time with your friends from all over the country. It’s real big in New York every year too.” He used to attend as a child when he lived in Los Angeles.
Fusion music performer Ananta Cuffee mentioned this was the fifth time he was invited to perform at the festival and that he really loves participating by playing ancient songs on a two-headed drum.
San Fernando Valley resident Edward Rubio told the Mirror this was his first festival and that he found the music “very enjoyable” and was learning a lot about Indian culture.
Throughout the Festival, the air in Santa Monica and Venice was filled with the great ancient chant of “Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare. Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.”