Tampa’s fleeting chariot

Colorful floats will honor one of India’s most popular deities Saturday afternoon at the second annual Rath Yatra celebration at Curtis Hixon Park in downtown Tampa. Approximately 4,000 people are expected to attend.

Rath Yatra, also known as the Festival of Chariots, is an ancient East Indian tradition. According to their website, it celebrates a form of Krishna known as Jagannath, the Lord of the Universe. It includes a procession of three chariots modeled after the temple in Puri, which is the homeland of Jagannath. Seated inside each chariot are images representing Lord Jagannath and his two deity siblings, Balaram and Subhadra.

According to Sarijv Astavans of the Tampa Bay Rath Yatra Association, Rath Yatra is an “ancient festival that has been going on for hundreds of thousands of years.” A festival is held each year in Puri on the day of Rath Yatra. The festival has become a major pilgrimage for Indians, and has now spread outside of Puri to festivals such as the one held this weekend.

Astavans said that by holding the festival in the Bay Area, he hopes to “bring the cultural richness of India to the West.”

With more than 1.5 million Hindus living in the United States, it is not surprising that Rath Yatra would make its way to the West. Other cities in the United States hold a Rath Yatra festival.

Lord Jagannath brings with him a message of peace. “People of all religious beliefs and all walks of life are welcome to join in and participate,” Astavans said.

The event will include prominent singers from the Bay Area, including Guru Radha Raman Kirtane, Smt Lavanya Dinesh, Sri Kiron Senapati and Smt Sharmistha Banerjee. It will also feature regional Indian dances and skits as well as a free vegetarian feast provided by the Tampa Bay Rath Yatra Association. The event will run from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.