Celebrating ancient chariot festival

By Mike Dinsdale

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A 7-metre tall colourful chariot is being prepared by Whangarei's Hare Krishna devotees, from left Suvarna Manjari Dasi, Maia Cooper, Vaanipriya Diwan and Buddhi Wilcox, under the chariot, ahead of next week's Ratha Yatra Chariot Festival. Photo / John Stone
A 7-metre tall colourful chariot is being prepared by Whangarei's Hare Krishna devotees, from left Suvarna Manjari Dasi, Maia Cooper, Vaanipriya Diwan and Buddhi Wilcox, under the chariot, ahead of next week's Ratha Yatra Chariot Festival. Photo / John Stone

Northland's Hare Krishna community will celebrate one of the religion's most important festivals later this month with a colourful chariot ride through the city and free food and entertainment in Cafler Park.

For the first time in Northland, the Krishnas will hold a Ratha Yatra Chariot Festival on January 18 when a colourful chariot - symbolising transporting deities - will be pulled through the streets of Whangarei.

The chariot will be pulled from the Town Basin Carpark at 11am then wind its way through the city before the festival is held in the Cafler Park Rose Garden.

Spokesman Buddhi Wilcox said the event was an ancient traditional festival from India and the community was delighted to be able to hold it in the region for the first time.

"It is an event which has never been held before in Whangarei. Ratha Yatra is a very ancient traditional festival from India and is now seen in every major city of the world," Mr Wilcox said.

"It is a fun and colourful festival that involves a large - over 7 metre high - decorated chariot [Rath] which is pulled by ropes by the public through the main streets of town accompanied by music and dance.

"There is much spiritual and cultural significance to the festival."

The festival will conclude with a free vegetarian lunch in Cafler Park, although the public are invited to help pull the chariot through the city, if they wish.

Ratha means chariot and yatra means journey.

The festival refers to the annual journey of the divinity in the form of idols to their aunt's house. "Aunt" here refers to the feminine creative aspect of divinity.

The festival is also responsible for a common word used around the world. A figurative reference to a chariot containing Lord Jagannath has resulted in the English word juggernaut to refer to an unstoppable force.

The Krishna community will then take the chariot on tour starting from Cape Reinga on January 22 and hauling it for 10 days down to Karikari Peninsula, a trip of about 150km.

The walk is called Walking for a Change to encourage people to make some necessary changes in their lives and get back to a more simple, slower, and saner way of life, Mr Wilcox said.

- Northern Advocate

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