The History or Ratha Yatra

The inspiration to inaugurate the Festival of the Chariots was sparked in simple circumstances. Malati devi brought to Srila Prabhupada, the founder of the Hare Krishna movement, a small wooden figure from a San Francisco import store.The figure had a wide smile and round, affectionate looking eyes painted on it. 

The figure had a “made in India” sticker, and because her spiritual teacher was from India, she wanted to ask him what it was. Prabhupada  recognized the carving as the traditional Deity of Lord Krishna.The Deity is carried  in a huge annual chariot parade which attracts over one million pilgrims to a town on the east coast of India, Jagannatha Puri.

 Prabhupada was very fond of this Deity, called “Jagannatha”, since the time of his childhood. When He saw the little figure in his American disciple’s hands he was very pleased. A staunch devotee of Lord Jagannatha and a devoted pilgrim of the parades, as a child Prabhupada had created his own neighborhood procession, that was the nature of his childhood play. 

As a favor to them, Prabhupada decided to instruct Malati and her husband how to begin the worship of Krishna in the form of Lord Jagannatha. Soon a special disciple named Jayananda came forward at the San Francisco storefront center to help Prabhupada initiate the traditional Ratha-yatra procession, engineering and constructing by hand several huge, towering chariots with brilliant canopies to be used as carriers for the Deity in first version of the parade in America.

The first Festival of the Chariots in the west were held in San Francisco and New York. Now Ratha-yatra festivals are held in many major cities of the world, London, Moscow, Mexico City, Toronto, Delhi, Johannesburg, etc. The Los Angeles version was established in full grandeur with its brilliant transcendental exhibits, tents and large chariots in 1976. Devotees of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness in Los Angeles continue to hold the festival as a loving offering to Srila Prabhupada for over forty years.