A few weeks ago, my sister-in-law Sarah called to tell me that there was an Indian festival happening in Tampa called Rath Yatra. She and my brother Philip didn't know anything about it, but they invited us to come down for the weekend and join them. So we did.
Rath Yatra, it turns out, is the festival of the Pilgrimage of the Chariot of Lord Jagannath, originating in the state of Orissa in eastern India. More to the point for our adventure in Tampa, in the United States Rath Yatra is a major Hare Krishna festival, organized and funded by the International Society for Krishna Consciousness.
The festival wasn't all white guys with bald heads in saffron robes - though there were some of them around - and we had a great time. The Hare Krishna folks served us a yummy free meal which we ate while watching Lord Jagannath's chariot go by.
We wandered around for a while, browsing the very few vendors' tents that were there - only the movie tent was irresistable to me, and I came home with a few new Bollywood DVDs - and looking at the lovely saris and kurtas worn by some of the attendees. There were some terrific colors to be seen, and we enjoyed the warm sunshine while trying to decide which sari was prettiest. Eventually, the dance performances began - girls ranging in age from about 6 to maybe 18 or so in resplendent costumes gave challenging, impressive classical dance performances. (Click on the pictures for a larger version, except the second one for some reason.)
While the girls were performing, the chariot parked beside the stage and Krishna devotees lined up to present offerings to Lord Jagannath and receive his blessings.
All in all, we had a very pleasant afternoon.
After the festival, in the Tampa airport, I met a woman who, it turned out, was a Krishna devotee from Los Angeles who is involved in organizing the enormous Rath Yatra festival in that city. But she wasn't in Tampa for Rath Yatra - she didn't even know it was going on. She was in Tampa to visit her mother for Greek Orthodox Christmas. (I'm sure her spiritual path makes an interesting story!) When I showed her the program for Tampa's Rath Yatra, she exclaimed in some surprise, "Hey, this was organized by actual Indians!" Tells you something about how the Hare Krishna community in L.A. is a bit different from the one in Tampa.