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San Francisco Ratha Yatra 2002
—The Best in Years

By Bhakta Jerry
Hare Krishna 
Hare Krishna 
Krishna Krishna 
Hare Hare 
Hare Rama 
Hare Rama 
Rama Rama 
Hare Hare

Tears of joy and chills of amazement overcame me as I stood in the midst of the Festival of India in Golden Gate Park. How could a festival of such ecstatic grandeur be the result of one individual? This festival is proof that His Divine Grace AC Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada is indeed Jagad Guru, as he single-handedly created a spiritual family of epic proportions. No matter what Vaisnava group one is following these days, we were all celebrating together at San Francisco Ratha Yatra only because of Srila Prabhupada's unlimited mercy on the world.

I was filled with anticipation and excitement the days before the festival as devotees began to arrive at Berkeley's New Jagannath Puri Dham from all over the world. I knew that kirtan would be reaching heights rarely achieved during any other time of the year. And I knew this would be mostly due to the presence of the Vaisnava Youth, who arrived in separate caravans; the Festival of India, Ritadhvaja Maharaj and his army of Gurukuli boys; and a bus of Alachua teens, headed by Manu Dasa. A large group of us overtook Berkeley's Telegraph Ave on a Maha Hari Nam on Saturday afternoon. Then, Gaura Devi Dasi led one of the most fired-up Gaura Arati kirtans ever, and reaffirmed that some of the best kirtan leaders are women. After prasadam, we engaged in more nectarean kirtan for the rest of the evening.

Being relatively new to the Hare Krishna movement (I joined 5 years ago), I am continuously blown away by the spirit of the Vaisnava youth. Having been born as devotees, kirtan is part of their nature. Their mridanga skills rank them as some of the best drummers I have ever heard, and when they dance, look out!

So, a Sunday sunny morning lifted my spirits as I headed to Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. In previous years, the spirit of the festival was somewhat dampened by very cold San Francisco fog, but this year, the sky was clear.

Trivikrama Swami began a sweet kirtan as devotees finished up decorating the chariots. The crowd grew, and a few more prominent sannyasis arrived, including His Holiness Ballabha Tirtha Maharaja, His Holiness Tripurari Swami, His Holiness Jayadvaita Swami, His Holiness Hanumat Prasaka Swami, His Holiness Visnu Swami, and His Holiness Radhanath Swami. (Forgive me if I left anyone out.) Ballabha Tirtha Maharaj and Tripurari Swami swept in front of Lord Jagannath's chariot in a landmark gesture of cooperation to begin the procession.

During the parade through the groves and gardens of Golden Gate Park, I mostly played mridanga for Lady Subhadra's chariot, as the Vaisnava youth led. They danced with choreography of joy, waving their arms in the air and chanting "Caitanya! Caitanya!" Towards the end of the parade, I went to Lord Jagannath's chariot, and was submerged in a sea of saffron, in the midst of many sannyasis and brahmacaris engaged in a thunderous kirtan.

As the parade ended, many of these devotees took to the festival stage, and Tripurari Swami led kirtan. Afterwards, the Vaisnava Youth from Alachua performed a transcendental play. I roamed around the site and received blessings from many venerable Vaisnavas, including Tripurari Swami, and Radhanath Swami who peacefully sat together amongst a group of devotees. I felt insignificant and foolish as I sat before such spiritually advanced souls. Then, devotees performed a Maha Guru Puja for Srila Prabhupada, and many senior devotees led a kirtan that seemed to shatter through the material sky to Vaikuntha.

The spirit of Krishna Bhakti was much stronger this year than in previous years. Unity was present amongst the devotees. One visitor told me that devotees were much more friendly and helpful than in previous years. Thanks to the organization of New Jagannath Puri's leadership— Hari Vilasa Dasa (GBC), Rasaraj Dasa (pres.), Rajahamsa Das (VP), and Grantharaj Das (VP)— as well as countless devotees, this Ratha Yatra was one of the sweetest.

Well, it is the day after Ratha Yatra, and I am savoring the memories. I went back to work today and never felt so much like a fish out of water in my entire life.

Lord Jagannath Ratha Yatra Maha Mahotsava Ki Jai!

Until next year,

Hare Krishna.

Bhakta Jerry

© CHAKRA 16 October 2002

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