Several temples in the U.S. have been hosting the Jagannath Rath Yatra, a nine-day-long festival that celebrates the annual journey of three Hindu deities- Lord Jagannath, Lord Balabhadra, and Goddess Subhadra to their aunt’s place in grand chariots. Rath Yatra has been celebrated for nearly 5,000 years and originated in Puri, a coastal city in Odisha.
In Baltimore, Maryland, the ISKCON Temple of Baltimore hosted the Rathyatra & Festival of India 2021 on July 24. Devotees pulled the chariot and sang songs in praise of Lord Jagannath and his siblings. The parade culminated in a daylong event with food, vendors and a cultural program.
This year’s celebrations were marked with enthusiasm and pomp, despite the pandemic, with Covid-19 safety protocols such as social distancing, sanitization and masks where appropriate, since last year, many celebrations were canceled. Some states like Rhode Island hosted a car parade instead of the traditional path yatra.
In Indiana, the Jagannath Association of Indiana (JAI) hosted the oath yatra at the premises of the Hindu Temple of Central Indiana in Indianapolis on July 10. “The temple was abuzz with excitement and frenzied activities before the deities made their customary trip to their aunt’s place,” Odisha Dairy reported. Satya Tilusaram, the Chairman of HTCI, performed the customary Chhera Pahara ritual, after which the chariot was pulled by the devotees to reverberations of Ghanta and chants of Jai Jagannath.
In California, the rath yatra was celebrated with great devotion at the Fremont Hindu Temple, organized by members of the Odia community in the Bay Area, the first Jagannath temple founded in the Bay Area. More than 600 people attended the event including the Consul General of India in San Francisco, Dr. T.V. Nagendra Prasad and his wife Padma, Anuraag Pal representing State Assemblymember Alex Lee, Mayor of Fremont Lily Mei, and Fremont City Council Member Teresa Cox. “This year rath yatra at Fremont Temple was held in a form of a mini Utsav, one of a kind memorable event that our devotees enjoyed and praying that the COVID- 19 pandemic will go away soon,” Reena Patnaik and Mahesh Pakala, trustees of the temple, told Odisha Diary.
The festivities began in June, with the 46th Annual Hare Krishna Parade and Festival hosted by Hare Krishna Center (ISKCON NYC) at Washington Square Park, June 11-13. The rath yatra, held on June 12, was one of New York City’s first public festivals since the start of the pandemic. A parade of people pulling a chariot walked down 5th Avenue, alongside thousands of celebrants playing drums and cymbals and kirtan. It continued at Washington Square Park with a free vegetarian feast, and booths selling popular Indian snacks, religious gifts, clothes, and worship items, exhibits about the Krishna tradition and teachings, books, and performances
Similar events were held in Texas, New Jersey, Connecticut, Michigan and West Virginia.