Mini-Flood 65: Chariot Festival

photo by Joe Harrison

The Chariot Festival in Tower Grove Park, is an event with a 5,000 year tradition, known as Ratha Yatra (very roughly, “chariot journey”). It involves a parade that begins with hundreds of people pulling a 36′ tall chariot carrying the form of Krishna. The Festival is organized by the International Society of Krishna Consciousness (Hare Krishna), and was expected to draw a crowd of over 1000 people to the parade and an array of activities celebrating Indian culture.

photo by Joe Rakers

photo by Ann Aurbach

 

photo by Mike Matney

 

photo by Joanne Norton

Over fifteen years ago, as a naive, early twenty-something, I had my introduction to Eastern religion through a video internship at a TV station in St. Louis. My mentor was (or had been) a follower of the Bhagavad Gita, and knowing that I had very little money and loved vegetarian food, recommended that we try the buffet at the International Society for Krishna Consciousness. Until this meal, my familiarity with Hare Krishna was embodied of the unfair, and frankly, somewhat prejudiced or even racist, representations of them in Western media. Through that visit and subsequent conversations, I’ve grown to appreciate what Hinduism values, and in particular, ISKCON. When a Photo Flood member reached out to invite the Group to photograph this event, I was enthusiastic to return a kindness to the religion that was shared with me by so many practitioners on that visit to eat, many years ago.

photo by Jennifer Mishra

 

photo by Ann Aurbach

 

photo by Joe Rakers

 

photo by Jennifer Mishra

 

photo by Joanne Norton

 

photo by Mike Matney

Rather than try to summarize (and ultimately misrepresent) the religious organization, I am including a quote below from their website, explaining their principles and beliefs:

The International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), otherwise known as the Hare Krishna movement, includes five hundred major centers, temples and rural communities, nearly one hundred affilated vegetarian restaurants, thousands of namahattas or local meeting groups, a wide variety of community projects, and millions of congregational members worldwide. Although less than fifty years on the global stage, ISKCON has expanded widely since its founding by His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupāda in New York City in 1966.

ISKCON belongs to the Gaudiya-Vaishnava sampradāya, a monotheistic tradition within the Vedic or Hindu culture. Philosophically it is based on the Sanskrit texts Bhagavad-gītā and the Bhagavat Purana, or Srimad Bhagavatam. These are the historic texts of the devotional bhakti yoga tradition, which teaches that the ultimate goal for all living beings is to reawaken their love for God, or Lord Krishna, the “all-attractive one”.

God is known across the world by many names including Allah, Jehovah, Yahweh, Rama, etc. ISKCON devotees chant God’s names in the form of the maha-mantra, or the great prayer for deliverance: Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.

Many leading academics have highlighted ISKCON’s authenticity. Diana Eck, Professor of Comparative Religion and Indian Studies at Harvard University, describes the movement as “a tradition that commands a respected place in the religious life of humankind.” In the 1980s Dr. A. L. Basham, one of the world’s authorities on Indian history and culture, wrote of ISKCON that, “It arose out of next to nothing in less than twenty years and has become known all over the West. This, I feel, is a sign of the times and an important fact in the history of the Western world.”

ISKCON’s founder, Srila Prabhupada, has drawn appreciation from scholars and religious leaders alike for his remarkable achievement in presenting India’s Vaishnava spiritual culture in a relevant manner to contemporary Western and worldwide audiences.

Members of ISKCON practice bhakti-yoga in their homes and also worship in temples. They also promote bhakti-yoga, or Krishna Consciousness, through festivals, the performing arts, yoga seminars, public chanting, and the distribution of the society’s literatures. ISKCON members have also opened hospitals, schools, colleges, eco-villages, free food distribution projects, and other institutions as a practical application of the path of devotional yoga.

 

photo by Ann Aurbach

 

photo by Joanne Norton

 

photo by Joe Harrison

 

Despite a persistent rain, we hope that it is evident through the pictures shared in this post that ISKCON’s Chariot Festival is a beautiful, harmonizing event. It is scheduled to repeat annually in Tower Grove Park. The outing attracts people of many backgrounds, and all are welcome to participate.

photo by Mike Matney

 

photo by Jennifer Mishra

 

photo by Joe Harrison

 

photo by Mike Matney

 

photo by Jennifer Mishra

 

photo by Joe Rakers

 

Special thanks to PFSTL Member, Karthi Sundararajan for inviting the Group to share in this wonderful experience with many of his friends and family.

 

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