On the 10th of July, Radhanath Swami participated in the annual Ratha Yatra cart festival in Jagannath Puri. The festival, attended by over one million devout pilgrims from all over the world, is one of the most popular traditional celebrations of India. Radhanath Swami attended for the first time in seven years.

Ratha Yatra honors Krishna in the form of Lord Jagannath, along with His brother Baladeva and sister Subhadra, who travel in three giant carts to nearby Gundica. The procession is a reenactment of Lord Krishna’s transcendental pastime of returning to Vrindavan from Kurukshetra. The devotees happily pull the carts with the desire to get Krishna back to Vrindavan, and the journey is accompanied by continuous singing and dancing. On a more esoteric level, the festival represents a devotee’s sincere effort to invite the Lord into his or her own heart. The heart symbolizes Vrindavan, the eternal abode of the Lord, and the chariot festival is an expression of the desire to once again reunite with the Lord.

Early in the day, as part of the traditional rituals, the king of Puri (currently Gajapati Maharaja Dibyasingha Deb) personally sweeps the road to invite the Lord. Before Ratha Yatra begins, a regal procession led by an elephant travels through the parting crowds to Sri Nahar, the king’s palace. After a formal invitation, the king of Puri advances slowly by palanquin towards the chariots to perform the chera-pahanra ceremony of sweeping for the Lord.

The king performs the menial service of sweeping for the carts with a golden-handled broom. He then offers flowers with scented water on all three chariots – first Balaram’s, then Jagannath’s and finally Subhadra’s. These functions signify that although the king is leader among men, he humbles himself before Lord Krishna.

Radhanath Swami witnessed these events in the morning and then sang and danced the entire day in front of the carts with thousands of his students and friends.

[flickr album=72157634844504275 num=30 size=Square]