NY Ratha Yatra: The Good and the Bad


(photo from Baltimore Ratha Yatra)

I could not have been more excited for this year’s Ratha Yatra. As we drove into NY City from Connecticut, we chanted the morning prayers. When my husband and I stopped, Venumadhava shouted from the back seat, “more kirtan”. After Yasomati Nandana and Radhe Jaya Jaya we were downtown, looking for a place to park.

Venumadhava was enthusiastic for the subway but the cauldronous effect of the underground train caused Madhumati to shrink into my arms. She wanted out. We got off the train at Rockefeller Center and walked the rest of the way.

Once we got upstairs, amongst the manicured and shiny haired uptown crowd, I was jolted back to the un-reality that New Yorkers…care. They care about their toes and their butts and their clothes and they care about their friend’s toes and their friend’s butts and their friend’s clothes. Just as Krishna doesn’t like ugly Gopi’s, uptown New Yorker’s surround themselves with the freakishly beautiful, at least from the materialists’ point of view.

The site reminded me of a time, about 9 years ago, on harinam in State College. We were just a bunch of messy farm devotees surrounded by gym going college students. As we danced passing restaraunts, chanting the Holy Name, some of the young men in our kirtan party were obviously mesmerized by the pretty girls on the other side of the glass windows. And then, at least to me, their magazine-ready beauty morphed into some sort of horror movie as they raised pieces of dead bodies to their glossy, smiling lips, ripping off a bite of flesh with their chalky white teeth.

Ooh, the horror of illusion exposed.

And that is just what NY is, a place of illusion. Tripurari Swami tells a story of him with Srila Prabhupada just after taking sannyas. Prabhupada says something like, “Have you noticed the ladies in New York? They are so interesting. All these buildings are being built to impress them.” Maharaja makes the point that this is Krishna’s maya sakti.

Thankfully, when we came to the Ratha Yatra site at Central Park South, it was as if we left New York and entered into the Jagannatha Puri Embassy. If only for a half a second.

Actually, the start of the procession was an experience for me. I had Madhumati on my back and Venumadhava in the stroller. We chanted waiting for the cart to near. Then the ropes to Jagannatha’s cart were released. Hand over hand, hand over head, the yellow ropes made their way down the avenue. I grabbed onto one and instantly there was some feeling inside me. It was the feeling of doing something meaningful with my life as I worked with the group of devotees to move Jagannatha’s cart.

Despite the brevity of the moment, it was defintely the highlight of my day.

This year’s Ratha Yatra was tremendously attended. It was great to see Lord Caitanya’s mission doing so well. However, for the rest of the day, I seemed to exist in a mist of Krishna’s maya sakti.

I did more talking than chanting. I did more looking around than taking darsana of Jagannatha.

I could not control my senses as they came in contact with the surrounding sense objects.

There was just so much to look at.

I tried to focus my mind by appreciating the devotees and their chanting (Jaya Lokanatha Maharaja!). Even the devotees not chanting. My meditation for the day was to appreciate that devotees from all different backgrounds, executing all different levels of practice, could come together for a significant public event.

It was difficult for me to get into the consciousness that we were bringing Krishna back to Vrindavan. Especially when teenage devotee girls were doing shoulder rolls in front of the kirtan party (a la The Cars’ hit “Shake it Up”).

Another memorable part of the Ratha Yatra was seeing H.H. Veda-vyasa Priya Swami chanting on (Subhadra’s?) cart. He had the right idea.

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